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The beginning of prehistoric wars is a disputed issue between anthropologists and historians.

Source: http://ask.yahoo.com/20070404.html

I was reading that article and I noticed that sentence and it made me laugh for a moment. Is that a specific literary device being used there? Or is it just coincidence that it sounds weird and cool at the same time? It's like the sentence has meaning on two levels; the reals wars fought and the ones the historians are having over the real wars. I hope you guys understand what I'm saying.

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This might not be a good example of the literary device you're thinking of. After all, the beginning (of the wars) is what is in dispute, not the wars. This is almost certainly a coincidence. But I think there may be a literary device you're thinking of, which is poorly illustrated by the example you've given, but of which you might be able to devise a better example. – Eliah Kagan Nov 25 '11 at 0:12
Is this like the black lady's purse? Is the purse black, or does it belong to a black lady? – Snubian Nov 25 '11 at 1:03
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I'd say it's a form of mimesis, defined by Wikipedia as

a critical and philosophical term that carries a wide range of meanings, which include: imitation, representation, mimicry, imitatio, nonsensuous similarity, the act of resembling, etc., etc...

I don't disagree with @Eliah Kagan's comment, to the effect that actually it's largely just coincidence that anthropologists and historians happen to be (metaphorically) "at war" over how/when prehistoric wars started. Arguably from that point of view, OP's example could be called surreal (bizarre, characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtapositions ).

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Thanks. i think incongruous juxtapositions is probably the best way to describe that sentence. – Brandon_R Nov 25 '11 at 13:16

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