Aureation is a rhetorical device that involves the "heightening" of diction by the introduction of Latinate or polysyllabic terms. The term is derived from Latin "aureus", meaning golden or gilded. In aesthetic and historic terms it can be seen as the equivalent in language to gothic ornamentation in carving, painting or ceremonial armour. Aureate works are often associated with the Scots Makars who commonly drew on the rhetoric and diction of classical antiquity in their language.

Elaborate use of aureation can be seen as a development from processes in which vernacular languages in Europe are expanded through loan words from classical languages. The medieval and renaissance periods were a fertile time for such borrowings and in Germanic languages, such as Scots and English, Greek and Latinate borrowings were particularly highlighted. While many such words become useful new terms in the host language, aureate loan words that are mannered and experimental remain decorative curiosities. Some of the more fanciful terms include words such as "conservartix", "pawsacioun", or "vinarye envermaildy".

Aureation stands in direct contrast to plain language in prosody. In literary taste today it is often regarded as overblown and exaggerated, but in the best practitioners, such as William Dunbar, its use does not necessarily mean loss of authenticity or precision in expression.

Aureation in diction can also involve features such as circumlocution which (for example) bears a relation to more native literary devices such as the kenning.


An example of considered diction in Scots with an aureate inflection occurs in the couplet

:Up sprang the goldyn candill matutyne, :With clere depurit bemes cristallyne ("The Goldyn Targe", ll.4-5)

The circumlocution in the first line stands for "sun" and the lines can be translated: "up rose the sun with clear pure crystal light".

The couplet is from Dunbar's poem "The Goldyn Targe", a work not otherwise especially aureate in terms of vocabulary, although its diction is highly ornate throughout.

Of interest is Dunbar's use of the actual term later in the poem, in a passage employing the "limits to expression" topos; Dunbar is describing an army of all the goddesses seen in a dream vision

:Discrive I wald, but quho coud wele endyte :Hou all the feldís wyth thai lilies quhite :Depaynt war bricht, quhilk to the heven did glete? :Noucht thou, Omer, als fair as thou could wryte, :For all thine ornate stilís so perfyte; :Nor yit thou Tullius, quhois lippís suete :Off rhetorike did in to termés flete: :Your aureate tongís both bene all to lyte :For to compile that paradise complete.

"I would describe (the scene), but who could satisfactorily put in verse the manner in which all the fields were radiantly adorned by those white lilies (the army of goddesses) that shone up into the sky? Not you, Homer, for all the sublimity of your writing, your ornate and perfect diction; nor even you, Cicero, whose sweet lips were a flowing source of rhetoric: your aureate tongues are inadequate fully to describe that paradise."


*Fowler, Alastair. "The History of English Literature", Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA (1989) ISBN 0-674-39664-2
*Kinsley, James. "William Dunbar: Poems", Oxford Clarendon Press, (1958) ISBN 0198710178


ee also

*literary language

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