There is no denying that his is a warren of an essay, thereby making it hard for the general public like us to pin point the exact pith of what he is trying to say, but I should say that that(what I have put forth thus far) is as definite an encirclement as we could ever get, of his main point.

What does this mean? I know what he is trying to say but I don't understand the exact nature of the metaphors that he is using here...


It's not really very good writing - even a native speaker might stumble over the convoluted structure. The difficulty in identifying figurative "pith" within a figurative "warren" strikes me as perilously close to a mixed metaphor, and the two different usages of "point" are potentially confusing and/or clumsy. But...

...his [essay] is a warren
the author likens the structure of the essay to a (rabbit) warren (a dense network of interconnecting "threads, arguments, ideas")

hard for ... us to pin point
the verb pinpoint (which should be written as a single word) can be defined as find or identify with great accuracy or precision. It metaphorically alludes to the sharp point of a pin representing a very precise position, and to the idea of "capturing" something (such as a butterfly) by attaching it to a surface with a pin.

the exact pith of what he is trying to say
the "literal" pith here is spongy cellular tissue in the stems and branches of many higher plants, metaphorically representing the essence, central point of what the essayist is saying.

that ... is as definite an encirclement [of his main point] as we could ever get
to encircle is to form a circle around, surround. The author likens the essayist's primary argument (what he has to say) to a point (defn 4.1 there), which at least partly alludes to the sense of to point = to indicate [the direction or destination of his argument]. In this context, the author means what he's just written earlier encapsulates, surrounds, defines the boundaries of the essayist's argument as well as is possible. The clause is thus an extended spatial figurative usage wherein the essayist's particular (point-like) thoughts are located within an extended metaphoric space, and the author is trying to tell us exactly where in that "space" those thoughts are to be found.

  • Are you saying that this writing is grammatically wrong, setting aside his style? – user2492 Jun 10 '14 at 14:35
  • @username901345: Not at all - it's "grammatically" impeccable - giving every indication that the writer is well-educated (or at least, wishes to appear so). But surely the mere fact that you have trouble with it should be evidence that it's not as clearly-written as it might have been. It's easy for me, because I'm a Literary Studies graduate, but that's hardly the point. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 10 '14 at 14:43
  • Oh I see. About the last metaphor,"encirclement"...Is it saying that this writer's explanation kind of explains this esoteric writer's point but not in a precise way? – user2492 Jun 10 '14 at 14:45
  • 1
    @username901345 yes; if the original writer had a "point" in his essay, this author's explanation has "drawn a circle" that includes that point somewhere within its boundaries, and the author claims that even though his circle may seem relatively large, it's still as small as anyone could make it and be sure of including the original "point". – Hellion Jun 10 '14 at 15:01

Warren: the underground burrows of rabbits (thus a hidden, intricate maze) Pith: the heart or core of something (e.g. plant stem or bone) Encirclement: to make a circle around something

So the 'essay is an obscure maze' and 'you cannot figure exactly what it is saying'.

By the way, this a terrible piece of writing, exhibiting the same problems of the the essay of which it speaks (as well as a poor choice of mixed metaphors).

  • 1
    Your standard of what great writing ought to be is no indication of what is best in writing. Hemingway would say no to Elizabethan writing, but by the same token, Elizabethan writers would come back to him with the same degree of disdain, if not more. – user2492 Jun 10 '14 at 14:28
  • I think this is an excellent answer (better than mine, if we value brevity more highly than painstaking detail). Except I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to say it's terrible writing. I'd never class it as good in any context, but it would be Normal for Norfolk in some "scholarly" contexts. On reflection though, since the author explicitly says both he and his target readership are "the general public", perhaps your assessment is fully justified! :) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 10 '14 at 16:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy