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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(v.) to turn upside down; to invert the expected or natural order of things

Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the word hysteroproterize in the early 1800s, writing in the footnotes to fellow poet Robert Southey’s Life of [Methodist pioneer John] Wesley that, “We must explain the force of the horse by the motion of the cart-wheels, and hystero-proterize with a vengeance!”

Playing on the idea of putting the cart before the horse, Coleridge needed a word to sum up the notion of inverting the natural order of things, and fell upon a term from rhetoric to do precisely that. Hysteroproterize derives from hysteron proteron, the name for a figure of speech in which the expected or normal order of words or phrases is intentionally inverted.

Hysteron proteron essentially means ‘the latter as the former’ in Greek. As well as referring to formations in which the natural order of things is played upon (as in “Let us die, and charge into the thick of the fight” from the Aeneid), it is also sometimes used of phrases in which the established order of two things is inverted (“I put in enough here and they may peper and salt it as they please”). In Coleridge’s derived from, it is simply the sense of inverting something, or making it topsy-turvy, that matters.

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