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§ 2. Historical Interjections. 203. The interjections which we have been considering thus far, may be called the spontaneous or primitive interjections, and they are such as have no basis in grammatical forms.
But we now pass on to the other group, which may be called the historical or secondary interjections; a group which, though extra-grammatical no less than the former, in the sense that they do not enter into the grammatical construction, are yet founded upon grammatical words. Verbs, nouns, participles, adjectives, pronouns, have at times lost their grammatical character, and have lapsed into the state of interjections.
Our first example shall be borrowed from the manners and customs of the British parliament. That scene may fairly be regarded as presenting to our view the most mature and full-grown exhibition of the powers of human speech, and it is there that one of the most famous of interjections first originated, and is in constant employment. The cry of 'Hear, hear,' originally an imperative verb, is now nothing more nor. less than a great historical interjection. The following is the history of the exclamation, as described by Lord Macaulay, History of England, ch. xi. (1689).
The King therefore, on the fifth day after he had been proclaimed, went with royal state to the House of Lords, and took his seat on the throne. The Commons were called in; and he, with many gracious expressions, reminded his hearers of the perilous situation of the country, and exhorted them to take such steps as might prevent unnecessary delay in the transaction of public business. His speech was received by the gentlemen who crowded the bar with the deep hum by which our ancestors were wont to indicate approbation, and which was often heard in places more sacred than the Chamber of the Peers. As soon as he had retired, a Bill, declaring the Convention a Parliament, was laid on the table of the Lords, and rapidly passed by them. In the Commons the debates were warm. The House resolved itself into a Committee; and so great was the excitement, that, when the authority of the Speaker was withdrawn, it was hardly possible to preserve order. Sharp personalities were exchanged. The phrase .hear him,' a phrase which had originally been used only to silence irregular noises, and to remind members of the duty of attending to the discussion, had, during some years, been gradually becoming what it now is; that is to say, a cry indicative, according to the tone, of admiration, acquiescence, indignation, or derision.
The historian could not have chosen more suitable words had it been his intention to describe the transition of a grammatical part of speech into the condition of an interjectional symbol, whose signification depends on the tone in which it is uttered. The fact is, that when a large assembly is animated with a common sentiment which demands instantaneous utterance, it can find that utterance only through interjections. A crowd of grown men is here in the same condition as the infant, and must speak in those forms to which expression is imparted only by a variety of tone.
Nothing is too neutral or too colourless to make an interjection of, especially among a demonstrative people. In Italian altro is simply other, and yet it has acquired an interjectional power of variable signification.
• Have you ever thought of looking to me to do any kind of work?'
John Baptist answered with that peculiar back-handed shake of the right forefinger, which is the most expressive negative in the Italian language.
No! You knew from the first moment when you saw me here, that I was a gentleman ??
• ALTRO!' returned John Baptist, closing his eyes and giving his head a most vehement toss. The word being, according to its Genoese emphasis, a confirmation, a contradiction, an assertion, a denial, a taunt, a compliment, a joke, and fifty other things, became in the present instance, with a significance beyond all power of written expression, our familiar English • I believe you !'-Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, Bk. I. ch. i.
204. The Liturgy, when it was in Latin, was a prolific source for the minting of popular interjections. Where vernacular words are changed into interjections, some plain reason for their selection may generally be found in the grammatical sense of such words. But where a Latin word of religion came to be popular as an exclamation, it was as CHAPTER III.
193. The term Interjection signifies something that is 'pitched in among' things of which it does not naturally form a constituent part. The Interjection has been so named by grammarians in order to express its relation to grammatical structures. It is found in them, but it forms no part of them.
The interjection may be defined as a form of speech which is articulate and symbolic but not grammatical. It is only to be called grammatical in that widest sense of the word, in which all that is written, including accents, stops, and quotation marks, would be comprised within the notion of grammar. When we speak of grammar as the handmaid of logic, then the interjection must stand aside.
Emotion is quick, and leaves no time for logical thought : if it use grammatical phrases they must be ready made and familiar to the lips; there is not time to select what is appropriate or consecutive. Hence the limited variety of interjections, and the almost unlimited use of single forms.
An interjection implies a meaning which it would require a whole grammatical sentence to expound, and it may be regarded as the rudiment of such a sentence. But it is a confusion of thought to rank it among the parts of speech. It is not in any sense a part; it is a whole (though an indistinct) expression of feeling or of thought. An interjection bears to its context the same sort of relation as a pictorial illustration does.
We rightly call an adjective or an adverb a Part of Speech, because these have no meaning by themselves without the aid of nouns and verbs, and because their very designation implies the existence of nouns and verbs. But an interjection is intelligible without any grammatical adjunct; and such completeness as it is capable of is attained without collateral assistance.
194. Ancient grammarians ranked the interjections as adverbs, but the moderns have made them a separate class. If it were a question to which of the parts of speech the interjection is most cognate, it must be answered to the verb. For if we take any simple interjection, such as, for example, the cry Oh! Oh!' in the House of Commons, and assign to it a predicative value, it can only be done by a verb, either in the imperative or in the indicative first person. Either you must say it is equivalent to ‘Don't say such things,' or else to “I doubt,' 'I wonder,' 'I demur, 'I dispute,' 'I deny,' 'I protest’: by one or more of these or such verbs must ‘Oh, Oh!' be explained; and thus it seems to present itself as a rudimentary verb. But this again rises, not out of any singular affection that it bears to the verb in its formal character, but out of the general fact that the verb is the central representative and focus of that predicative force, which unequally pervades all language, but which in the interjection is wrapped round and enfolded with an involucre of emotion.
It may stand either insulated in the sentence, or by virtue of this obscure verbal character, it may be connected with it by a preposition, as
Oh for a humbler heart and prouder song! This is the nearest approach which it makes to structural relations with the sentence, and this sort of relation it can have with a noun or pronoun, as
They gaped upon me with their mouths, and said : Fie on thee, fie on thee, we saw it with our eyes.—Psalm xxxv. 21.
From that same germ of verbal activity it joins readily with the conjunction. Operating with the conjunction, it rounds off and renders natural an abrupt beginning, and forms as it were the bridge between the spoken and the unspoken :
Oh if in after life we could but gather
The very refuse of our youthful hours !—Charles Lloyd. Because of the variety of possible meanings in the interjection, writing is less able to represent interjections than to express grammatical language. Even in the latter, writing is but an imperfect medium, because it fails to convey the accompaniments, such as the look, the tone, the gesture. This defect is more evident in the case of interjections, where the written word is but a very small part of the expression; and the manner, the pitch of tone, the gesture, is nearly everything.
195. Hence also it comes to pass that the interjection is of all that is printed the most difficult thing to read well aloud; for not only does it require a rare command of modulation, but the reader has moreover to be perfectly acquainted with the situation and temperament of the person using the interjection. Shakspeare's interjections cannot be rendered with any truth, except by one who has mastered the whole play.
In the accompaniments of tone, air, action, lies the rhetoric of the interjection, which is used with astonishing effect by children and savages. For it is to these that the interjection more especially belongs; and in proportion to the march of culture is the decline of interjectional speech.