The adynaton: the hyper-annoying hyperbole

Language is a complicated phenomenon and consequently etymology is an odd and difficult study. Luckily like most challenging jobs we have others to do them for us and the fruits of their labor are presented for the more casually curious to enjoy. One bit of oratory flavor with branches wrapped in mystery and winding history is the adynaton. An adynaton is a comparison one makes to imply impossibility, to relate a hyperbole to an event one reckons very unlikely. As far as one of the more famous examples go pigs will fly before man determines its origins.

Everyone has heard this silly phrase: when pigs fly and everyone knows what one is conveying when they use it, however who knows its source? Apparently it finds its roots in a much older saying: pigs fly in the air with their tails forward, which is an ages old proverb. Its use was very similar to its modern descendent, being used to counter some over estimation or unlikely prediction. While this one is rather concerned with the pigs form and flying posture it boils down to the fact that a pig is flying and that’s frankly not going to happen. Adynatons clear meanings are not particularly shrouded in mystery nor complicated wordplay, often being easily reasoned; it is clear that a pig which is fat and makes its life in the earth would never fly and it is equally clear that Satan will not be getting a snow day in the foreseeable future.

If you’re waiting for me to tout the adynaton as some elegant and artful masterstroke of wordplay you’ll be here ‘til Hell freezes over because they are frank, they are simple and they’re downright colloquial. The adynaton is a goofy branch of idioms, conjuring images of absurd events and odd happenings. One shall be writing for a month of Sundays before they hope to produce a serious passage containing an adynaton. There are many ways to convey impossibility and one can do so more eloquently than grounding themselves so. One finds them as children’s fantasies, suitable for any mature sentence on the day the Moon turns to green cheese.

While they are of course attractive in conversation and if one can manage to think of an appropriate one at the right time they surely have at least a slightly blunted wit they have no place in genuine literature and it bugs the petty man in me that they are deemed worthy of such a fancy sounding name. I plead that when you next feel that your conversational partner is grasping for straws of probability you with think twice before mentioning any pigs, or gun barrels if you’re Polish. Yes the Poles have taken this distasteful tragedy of language further by playfully adding depth to the things! If I were to say that a libertarian shall be elected president in 2016 they would ask me if I saw a tank rolling into the place, the cheeky goofs. If, being the ever so reasonable man that I am reply with some qualification, “Perhaps not a libertarian, but perhaps a less insane Republican?” I’d be countered with the suggestion that maybe just a gun barrel is poking through the door. Truly a furnishing for the tricksters conversational handbag the adynaton can be made an insult as well. The adorable freshman boys streaming into North Springs for instance, I shall sooner sprout a beard from my hand than they from their cheeks. And with that I leave you to torment your slightly post-pubescent peers and to hopefully not wreak too much societal havoc with the contents of Miss Pandora’s package I’ve cracked open here today.