Friday, October 21, 2005

Subterranean holophotal extemporaneousness

Michael Kinsley writes, "The court's equation of money with speech is the despair of biens-pensants everywhere, but especially at the New York Times." A bit of parapraxis? Four bits for sure. With the help of a librarian--did you know that word "librarian" used to refer to a bibliopole, a word of absolutely no currency?--I was able to find an entry for bien pensants in the Oxford Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases, a volume which isn't technically or practically incunabulum, for incunabula are within reach of the common netizen, as are the writings of Marcel Proust--You know Proust, the guy who wrote A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, which I won't attempt to translate for fear of sounding, well, I won't even say it, because nobody talks like that among right thinking people--it's the kind of opinion that carries a lot of baggage, or goods--whatever. The moment's passed. Anyway, I don't believe Proust is the proximate source for the expression, and the clue is the hyphen, which shouldn't be there of course, but often is, even when used as Kinsley uses it. The source for that particular usage may be Georges Bernanos' la Grande Peur des bien-pensants, which, if the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to be believed, is a broadside against divagations, and I think there's a linguistic argument to be made for this or something like this as the source of the usage, for although the Oxford Dictionary's usage notes would be quite correct were bien and pensants smuggled into English separately, in fact the two French words are conjoined in editorialist parlance in such a way as to strongly suggest the psychic unity of the word. But this happens in French too, so it's not a very good argument. Besides, I didn't consult Oxford for a definition or usage notes. I just wanted to find the origin of the phrase. (It was pretty useless, hence my grasping for clues.) Maybe it's kind of like "fifty-cent word," a phrase frequently attributed to Mark Twain (not his real name, btw), although if he did coin the phrase surely he wasn't paid more than 21¢ for it.

--That word "holophotal," it's funny I had just been searching for insights into Ibn al-Haytham's phenomenology, such as it might be (he's known as a mathematician and physicist), and isn't it funny what we take for granted, like we "know" where light comes from, and just this morning I had been humming "Ain't Going to Work on Maggie's Farm No More," which pops in my head whenever I notice the floor needs sweeping, so I came accross the phrase "Subterranean holophotal extemporaneousness" and it just clicked.

posted by Fido the Yak at 3:38 PM.


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