Eg. "the green and climbing eyesight of a cat" ("Sir, Say No More"); "[the quarry] whose trail soon vanished in the antlered wood" ("Arrowhead Hunting"). The cat is climbing, not its eyesight, and the quarry is antlered, not the wood.
Is there a word for the device where an adjective or descriptive verb is applied to a nearby word rather than the word it actually describes?
An exchange of the relationship between words or phrases is known as hypallage.
hypallage, n. A figure of speech in which there is an interchange of two elements of a proposition, the natural relations of these being reversed.
Oxford English Dictionary.
This was a common device in Greek and Latin poetry: a famous example is Aeneid 3.61 where Virgil wrote “dare classibus austros” (give the winds to the fleets), and the grammarian Servius commented “hypallage est; nam classes austris damus” (this is hypallage; actually we give the fleets to the winds).
In English, the most common form of hypallage is the transferred epithet, whereby an epithet that properly belongs to one thing gets transferred to another. Here are some examples from John Keats, who was fond of this device:
Still warble, dying swan! still tell the tale,
The enchanting tale, the tale of pleasing woe.
John Keats (1814). ‘To Byron’. Wikisource.
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold
John Keats (1820). ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’. Poetry Foundation..
Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn
John Keats (1820). ‘Hyperion’. Poetry Foundation.
Another common kind of hypallage in English changes an adverb to an adjective. In the examples below we can understand the meanings as “blows them deviously into the air” and “singest melodiously in some plot” respectively:
A violent cross wind from either Coast
Blows them transverse ten thousand Leagues awry
Into the devious Air
John Milton (1668). Paradise Lost, book 3, lines 487–489. Wikisource.
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
John Keats (1819). ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. Poetry Foundation.
Excellent answer. This is one of my favorite literary devices simply because it’s actually very natural to have words simultaneously in your mind and sometimes for the syntactic relationships to come out slightly wrong, yet the meaning is understood. It hints at how humans could communicate with concepts without much or any syntax if they wanted to, since faced with a cluster of nouns or concepts they can probably infer/draw the lines between them. I believe it’s very related to “catachresis”, we want to say something literally wrong just because there’s a salient association present. Oct 21, 2022 at 8:02
For example, one time I said “passing through his binocular’s glaze”, about someone the person was looking at. Glaze sounds like gaze, so it’s seems like a hypallage, because he’s gazing through binoculars, so gaze would have been the verb, connected to the subject. But “glaze” implies a glassy shimmer, implying the reflective surface of binocular lenses. It’s something of a catachresis because glaze is the wrong word, mistaken for a different one. Yet the words are chosen because of their mental associations: glaze and gaze being present are enough to inject those ideas into… Oct 21, 2022 at 8:09
someone’s mindspace and they get the simultaneous yet discombobulated relevance of the words and implied meaning. Oct 21, 2022 at 8:09
A figure of speech where you refer to something by naming something closely related to it.