Epithets are words, phrases or clauses which in their attributive use disclose the individual, emotionally coloured attitude of the author towards the object he describes by emphasizing a certain property or feature. The choice of epithets is supposed to be one of the primary characteristics of a writer's style.
It should, however, be pointed out that epithet is a somewhat controversial term because it is generally maintained that a distinction should be drawn between this figure, as an artistic detail, and a logical attribute. According to I. R. Galperin, the epithet is markedly subjective and evaluative while the logical attribute is purely objective, non-evaluative. But often it is difficult to draw a clear line of demarcation between them because it is a matter of gradience.
Indisputable epithets are all adjective metaphors and transferred attributes. What other attributive elements should be treated as epithets is still open to discussion.
Strictly speaking, metaphorical and metonymical epithets are tropes while non-metaphorical and non-metonymical epithets are not. What binds them together is their common syntactic function — that of attribute which affords to treat epithet as a distinctive figure of rhetoric. Structurally, epithets fall out into simple, compound and hyphenated. Simple epithets are adjectives, nouns or participles used attributively (silvery laugh, meteor eyes, burning plumes). Compound epithets arc compound adjectives (apple-faced woman, silver-sandalled feet). In hyphenated epithets whole phrases or even sentences are used attributively; the Formal indication of this use is the fact that the words of such phrases or sentences are linked with hyphens — hence the name of the epithet.
The hyphenated epithet with its complex syntactic structure and built-in predication is capable of conveying a large amount of expressive information in a concise way. I. R. Gal-perin notes that such epithets are generally followed by the words expression, air, attitude and others which describe behaviour or facial expression. Another structural feature of the hyphenated epithet also pointed out by I. R. Galperin, is that after the nouns they refer to there often comes a subordinate attributive clause beginning with that which serves the purpose of decoding the effect of communication.