Connotation & Rhetoric: The Semantics of Suspicion in the Writings of Desmoulins

Ivy Taylor Gilbert


An exacting command of language in his employ, journalist Camille Desmoulins was arguably one of the most dangerous and cunning players in the political arena of revolutionary France. His work is a clear synthesis of linguistic and political theory but what, precisely, made it so effective? When his works are regarded collectively, a theme emerges wherein Desmoulins uses language designed to categorically perpetuate suspicion. Using the principles established by semantics and its more intricate theories regarding connotation, this project seeks to examine the semantic undercurrents of Desmoulins’s works as they relate specifically to the public perception of suspicion, and to define the linguistic parameters within which he operated.  A close analysis of selected examples will demonstrate how the evocative language speaks to the author’s acute cognizance of his audience and his talent for inflaming the collective unrest and promoting suspicion, specifically through the use of the neologism brissoter, the impact of the repetition of “suspect” and use of converse antonyms in the oration “Live Free or Die,” and the substratum of references which liken the monarchy to feral animals, effectively modifying the sense and reference of terms associated with the Second Estate. Additionally, this project seeks to conduct a feature analysis of nouns, verbs and modals in Desmoulins’s work as compared to several of his contemporaries, Maximilien Robespierre and Jacques René Hébert, in an effort to tangibly demonstrate that Desmoulins’s language differed from the language of his peers and that, through these differences, he was able to sow suspicion among the mercurial Third Estate.


Semantics; Camille Desmoulins; French Revolution

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