Saturday, July 20, 2024

Customizing the Corpse for the Coffin

The title of this essay is an allusion to an episode in Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of The Tin Drum (I don’t know if this episode occurs in Gunter Grass’s novel, as I have never read it)—the episode towards the end of the film wherein during a funeral reduced to the bare ceremonial essentials by wartime austerity, the deceased’s body is found too long for his coffin, and so the mourners saw off his hands or feet (the scene horrified me so much the first and only time I saw it, more than thirty years ago, that I shrink from refreshing my memory of the details of it) to allow the remainder of him to fit into it. I was reminded of the episode in connection with a point of English usage about midway between my viewing of the film and the present, and so about fifteen years ago, when I was working for a state-level governmental agency and required to edit some of the documents produced and promulgated by them. I noticed that a remarkably high proportion of the sentences in these documents consisted of clauses and phrases that didn’t fit together properly; that although in isolation the constituent clauses and phrases made perfect sense to the admittedly limited extent permitted by the especially stilted and opaque version of officialese peculiar to the agency, they failed to convey any sense at all in conjunction with each other. I noticed, moreover, that while these misformed sentences were technically worthy of designation by that wonderfully monstrous-sounding word anacoluthon, inasmuch as each of them was, to quote the definition of that word in my 1990 Concise Oxford Dictionary, “a sentence which lacks grammatical sequence,” none of them partook even ever so slightly of the particular spirit of inconsequentiality exhibited by the illustrative example attached to that definition, namely, while in the garden, the door banged shut, the spirit of absent-mindedness. The original author of while in the garden, the door banged shut had plainly meant to report one of two events—either that while a certain person had been in the garden, the door had banged shut or that while a certain person had been in the garden that person had heard the door bang shut—and owing to the near-interchangeability of the two events, he had plainly lost his train of thought in the course of composing the sentence. He had plainly started out writing while in the garden with the expectation of following it up with I heard the door bang shut or Mrs. Smith heard the door bang shut, but by the time he had gotten to the end of garden, he had thought he was only obliged to report on the banging-shut of the door, and so he had written the door banged shut. The anacoluthons in these government documents were manifestly inhabited by an entirely different spirit, an altogether more froward and malevolent spirit, and indeed a spirit so froward and malevolent that I would not have then scrupled to term it a demon, and so, inasmuch as I abhor it as heartily now as I abhorred it then, I shall not scruple to term it a demon now. It was a spirit consubstantial with the will to get certain prefabricated chunks of jargon into each sentence by hook or by crook, come hell or high water, or what have you. If the spirit noticed that a given required jargon-chunk happened to include words that were grammatically incompatible with the immediately preceding jargon-chunk, it would simply ignore the incompatibility and ram the second jargon-chunk into next place. As I took no pleasure in refashioning these decidedly inexquisite corpses into bodies that at least looked presentable at the joints, however unsightly the intervening flesh may have inevitably remained, I retain no memory of a single one of them, and so I cannot now quote you an example of one of them—although if I were to visit the agency in question’s website I would doubtless still find it a veritable morgue or necropolis of similar corpses from which I could retrieve a serviceable enough succedaneum for our dissecting table. But as I would prefer to spare myself the trauma of revisiting that morgue or necropolis, to say nothing of my preference for sparing my listeners the trauma of beholding in their mind’s eyes the handiwork of the agency’s corpse-butchery absent the cosmetological improvements of the mortician, I shall try to fashion if not a replica then at least an analogue of one of these deliberately misshapen sentences out of the elements provided by our sentence from the COD’s definition of anacoluthon, a sentence that I trust evokes nothing even conceivably objectionable to the reader apart from the argotic sense of bang, a sense which I trust my listeners have the matooritymatoority, mind you, not machurity, for matoority is the proper way of pronouncing the word chez its de facto proprietors, the tribe of late-twentieth century elementary school guidance counselors—to exorcise from their minds for the duration of the essay. While working in the garden is good, the door banged shut is probably a decent such analogue; while in the garden, the door outside the garden banged shut is probably another. In each case, we have two syntactical units each of which makes perfect (or at least adequate) sense on its own but makes absolutely no sense in conjunction with the one to which it has been conjoined. In neither case is the sentence one whose potential sense-bearing forms we can reconstruct on our own; in neither case can we divine a probable range of intentions behind the sentence; in neither case can we manage to bring ourselves to believe that the writer simply stumbled into writing the sentence out of absent-mindedness. Accordingly, in both cases we cannot but infer that the writer was aware of the mutual incompatibility of the two parts of the sentence and joined them together as they were because he could get away with it. Of course—or, not really of course—because the point I am about to make has only just occurred to me; still, it is a point whose apodicticity will become clear once I have finished making it; so of cours-ish, in neither case does it by any means follow from the fact that the two sentence-parts do not fit together as is that they could never be made to have anything legitimate to do with each other; for indeed, it is quite possible that with a bit of tinkering, a bit of lengthening of the one or shortening of the other, they could be made to fit together quite logically and gracefully. Unfortunately, in each of these cases as in those of so many of the monstrosities I encountered in reviewing the abovementioned government documents, the reader qua editor is in no position to add or remove the necessary words because he is only privy to as much of the idea or state of affairs the sentence is supposed to convey or evoke as is already conveyed or evoked by the sentence in its present defective state—he is, after all, “no mind reader” as they say. Accordingly, one might not inaptly say that there is something like a coffin too small for its corpse about the coffin-stuffing conceit itself, inasmuch as with regard to these sentences, the production of a full-length integral corpse would not be a matter of pure restoration, of stitching preexisting and contingently severed limbs or limb-portions back into place but rather of a composite of creation and restoration, of conjuring into existence entirely new limbs or limb-portions and then and only then sewing them into place (and perforce sewing them into place for the first time). In any case, or any coffin, I must confess that this entire discussion about certain types of sentences qua mutilated-corpse analogues has been something of a digression, if it be possible to digress from one’s subject at the very start of an essay, before one has even mentioned that subject; for it is not against the malformation of sentences that I am set to rail in this essay. To be sure, in the welter of current journalism that I cannot seem to avoid wading through every day I frequently encounter sentences that may not unlicentiously be regarded as echoes or descendants of the anacoluthons I had to grappled with at that government agency a decade-and-a-half ago; sentences in which there is a lack of grammatical sequence that does not seem to be the result of absent-mindedness; still, I cannot in good faith complain that very many of these new sentences are like those old ones fully irrecoverable; in all faith I must admit that I can without too much trouble imagine how these sentences should have read, which of course isn’t to say that they are acceptable as they are, which suggests that it would probably be worthwhile to write a separate essay on a handful of these sentences and on how to go about recovering them and on how to avoid writing sentences like them oneself, which in turn suggests that, given that I have already shot my wad with the conceit of corpse-customizing I am ironically going to have to come up with an entirely new and different conceit to introduce to the reader or listener the very phenomenon by which the conceit of corpse-customizing was catalyzed. But before I can write that essay I am going to have to collect some of those sentences, which collection-expedition will of course take some time, time in which I may lose the argument-thread that I have already taken up, and in any case the impetus and purpose of this essay is to address and correct a problem that is bidding fair to render the entire project of constructing well-cast sentences impossible because nonsensical, namely the spreading of the phenomenon of corpse-customization from the relatively coarse-grained resolution of clauses and phrases to the fine-grained resolution of individual words; in other words, the problem of people extending and curtailing words at will by way of coercing them into meaning what they are determined to make them mean. I suppose the most widespread example of this problem is the wildly popular new adjective relatable, which does not mean, as its construction suggests, able to be related—and small wonder in the light of the just-mentioned wild popularity, because virtually every entity imaginable—every entity able to be imagined—is relatable in that sense, or rather in relation to some sense of related, such that what with the principal and perhaps even sole purpose of an adjective’s being to draw attention to what distinguishes a given entity from other entities of its class, a version of relatable that meant able to be related would not be of much use to anyone. For of what use would it be to say, say (sic on the repetition of say), “That’s a relatable event” if what a relatable event meant were an event that could narrated or recounted? For after all, cannot any event be related “given world enough and time”? Oh, I suppose given world enough and time, relate might become more widely used than describe as an alternative to narrate or recount, such that one would hear “that defies relation” instead of “that defies description” or that’s “unrelatable” instead of “indescribable.” But to suppose this is to make a very sorry case for relatable in the sense in point, for it is not as if in today’s describe- dominated world one ever hears an event described as “eminently describable” or “supine to description.” It is of the de facto nature of everything that is the case to be describable or supine to description, such that the indescribable thing is very much an instance of “man bites dog” if not something even more nearly chimerical or numinous like “man bites god” or indeed uppercase God himself. And of course while it is true that one can only employ relate in this sense to phenomena that unfold in time, that while one can relate the story or narrative of a man biting a dog or a dog biting a man, one cannot relate the man or the dog himself or itself, this impossibility makes relatable even more superfluous as the near-universal describability of entities and events renders describable superfluous, inasmuch as the notion of a relatable, recountable, or narratable man, dog, or any other entity considered in non-temporal terms is oxymoronic. Of course, relate has another sense, the sense in which one thing relates or is related to another thing or one person is related to another whether by marriage, kinship or some other form of relationship. And in connection with this sense we also find relatable essentially superfluous and virtually all constructions employing it essentially pleonastic, because virtually everyone and everything is or can be related to someone or something else, the only entity exempt from relatedness and relatability in this sense being, as near as I can discern, the set of all entities en bloc, whether one terms that set the Whole, the One, the Universe, Being, or God. But this sense also possesses an attribute that is absent from the other sense and that therefore makes the extraction of an –able ending adjective from it not only superfluous but contentious—namely its inalienable association with the preposition to. This preposition is so intrinsic to the conveyance of the meaning of the sense that relate to must really be regarded as essentially a different verb from plain relate, and verbs of this sort, verbs made up of a verb that can function on its own plus a preposition, or even two prepositions, are quite common in English. Think of get to, get at, pick up, put down, and put up with, to name a very few of them. Such verbs are so common, indeed, that the grammarians have a special name for them—phrasal verbs. And so by all rights the able-ending adjective derived from this phrasal verb relate to should be relate to-able lest it fail to convey the fact that it has been derived from that verb rather than from plain relate. It is, I concede, not the most elegant sounding word, relate-to-able, but my COD me that the English lexicon contains at least one such adjective, an adjective derived directly and wholly from a phrasal verb, namely unget-at-able, derived from to get at and defined as inaccessible. But the COD labels this word colloquial, and an explanation un-get-able has ended up having that mildly stigmatizing label attached to it is suggested by that one-word definition, for inaccessible is, after all a highly, well, accessible word, a word readily intelligible by most users of the language, and withal an -able (or in this case -ible) derived adjective rooted in a verb, access, whose meaning is intelligible on its own, such that un-get-at-able cannot but exude the appearance of being something of a joke word, a word that in tone or register bears roughly the same relation to, or is relatable to, inaccessible, in roughly the same way as transmogrify is to transform or absquatulate to take off (to mention yet another phrasal verb). In the course of composing the immediately preceding sentence, I found myself employing a construction that initially bade fair to derail my entire argument, namely relatable to, and the fairness of this bidding only increased when I noticed that the electronic ghost of Mr. Gates’s schoolmarm had not seen fit to scrawl a scraggly red line under the world relatable in that sentence and confirmed the uncontroversialness of that schoolmarm’s ruling by finding that the COD definition of relate that I had already cited was immediately followed by the proffering of relatable as an authorized adjective. Naturally I was, to say the least, not particularly pleased at this discovery. But in the course of subsequently taking a few turns around my mind’s quadrangle while munching on a hearty slice of humble pie, I was relieved to conclude that my argument was fit to proceed to its next stop and indeed bade fair to make it to its final destination in at least several still-conjoined pieces. For the unflagged construction had after all included to in it, and the proffering of the adjective had after all not been followed by a separate definition of its own, it being the irksome if somewhat understandable practice of the COD as a concise dictionary not to define words bundled into definitions of words from which they are derived. I am fairly confident that if one were to buttonhole the editor of my edition of the COD, R. E. Allen, as one might conceivably still be able to do, as the Library of Congress cataloging data in the book informs me that he was born in 1944 and so may still very well be alive; I am fairly confident, I say, that if one were to buttonhole Mr. or Dr. Allen and ask him if the occurrence of undefined relatable in that definition of relate constituted an endorsement of the use of relatable in as liberal and freehanded a manner as one might apply to one’s use of the most grammatically pliant adjective under the lexicographical sun (say, blue or tall or cold), he would, provided he is still compos mentis and capable of recalling the editorial policy that guided the compilation of that edition roughly thirty-five years ago, answer with a firm “no” if not of a spit-taking “of course not!” And of course in the construction I just reflexively made use of, relatable was immediately followed by to, and that to was not a mere space-filling optional addition like of in constructions like all of the king’s horses, a construction whose of-less version, all the king’s horses, sounds perfectly fine and intelligible in the nursery rhyme. My relatable-employing construction would in fact be completely nonsensical in the absence of its appended to, such that one cannot but conclude that it is grammatically identical to my counterfactual phrasal adjective relate-to-able, a conclusion reinforced when one substitutes relatable to for bare relate in it, whereupon one finds oneself reading relate to-able to and realizes that the able is standing in the way of the connection of the preposition to its object, such that the most sensible action to take is to drop the first to and thereby establish that connection. So I think I’ve made a serviceably near water-tight case for relatable to qua integral freestanding adjective. But I’ve also by default left the reader wondering what cause for complaint I can still cling to, and presuming that “the end of my commonwealth has forgotten its beginning,” for I did after all introduce relatable into this essay as an objectionable neologism, and if it has been around for at least thirty five years, I cannot rationally object to it as such an entity. And the truth is that the reader is partly right in his presumption, inasmuch as when I introduced relatable hereto and herein, I was under the impression that it was a complete neologism and thought that it was at least in part its newfangled ring that had been putting me off my lunch whenever I heard or saw it (or at least whenever I heard or saw it while eating lunch or soon after having eaten it), and my own reflexive use of the word only a few sentences after that introduction proves that my impression was completely mistaken and indeed seems to diagnose me with a case of galloping senility. But the truth is that from the very beginning I was only technically wrong in terming relatable a neologism because the use to which I have lately been seeing it put is entirely new, and I can hardly be blamed for having failed to recognize my old friend relatable to in it than I could be blamed for failing to recognize an old human friend whom I have only ever seen clean-shaven and suit-and-tied when I happen unexpectedly to cross paths with him sporting a Rasputin-length beard and a hoodie and shorts. The use is new in two senses in addition to its alienation of relatable from to. I have already touched on the first of these senses—viz., “the use of relatable in as liberal and freehanded a manner as one might apply to one’s use of the most grammatically pliant adjective under the lexicographical sun (say, blue or tall or cold).” By grammatical pliancy I mean the amenability of the adjective to be used in both an attributive and predicate position—i.e., before a noun and after a linking verb like is or seems. Blue, tall, and cold are all grammatically pliant adjectives because one can use them in both sentences like “That is a blue car” and “That car is blue”; “That is a tall man” and “That man is tall”; and “We’re in for some cold weather,” and “The weather is going to be cold.” Whether there are any adjectives apart from phrasal adjectives that are absolutely and categorically grammatically stiff, adjectives that can only be used in one of these two ways, I dare not venture to say, but I am quite confident in asserting that there are certain non-phrasal adjectives that one tends to see or hear only rarely in the attributive position. Glad is a good example of such an adjective. One hears glad used all the time as a predicate adjective—in expressions like “I’m glad to be of service” and “I’m glad about that” and “I’m glad that that happened,” but one seldom if ever hears it used in attributive position, in sentences like “I am a glad man” or “He’s a glad customer” or “I’m in a glad mood” or “I smiled a glad smile” even though each of the glad-preceded nouns in these sentences is readily describable in terms of one of “glad’s” COD-defined meanings—“pleased,” “willing,” “marked by, filled with, or expressing, joy,” “bright,” and “beautiful.” And if for some reason or other we are equally heck-bent on drawing attention to an entity’s gladness and doing so by means of an attributive adjective, we will sooner employ a word denoting a mere gladness-adjacent state—satisfied, say, or happy—rather than employ glad in that position. And in point of fact the only three set expressions in which glad occurs in that position—glad rags, glad-handing, and glad eye—seem to bespeak our discomfort with the use of attributive glad in virtue of their association with three manifest vices—vanity, flattery, and lechery. Each of them finds its designation of something unseemly enhanced by the unseemliness of its preposterous placement of glad. Relatable is not quite in the same category as glad, because its inalienable association with to makes its use not only unseemly but nakedly impossible in even the bare predicate position. One does not even have to know the meaning of relate or relate to to notice that a sentence like “That is relatable to” is wrong, that even in the absence of a tail of ellipses it seems to represent a thought that is awaiting its completion. Still, detached from to, relatable is eminently amenable to being placed in both positions in constructions that at least look like real sentences, and one is now seeing it all over the place in such constructions; in constructions like “That experience is relatable,” “That’s a relatable experience,” “That story is relatable,” and “That’s a relatable story”; and as I’ve already implied, in these constructions relatable is not being employed in a quasi-pleonastic sense: it is not being used to specify an experience as describable or a story as capable of being told. And the specification of this non-quasi-pleonastic sense is coextensive with my specification of the sense in which the use of relatable now in point is new. The use is perhaps not only new for relatable itself but also for the entire category-cum-set of adjectives; at any rate, I can’t recollect encountering it in connection with any other adjective. It is new in pertaining not to the entity nominally described by the adjective but rather to the human being interacting with the entity. When we say a ball is kickable we mean that it is amenable to being kicked by the average human foot—or, say, a range of human foot-sizes. By contrast, a relatable story, experience, or what have you, is relatable rather, or perhaps even exactly, in the way in which a kickable ball would be kickable if and only if a given person was both capable of kicking it and inclined to kick it no matter how small or big his feet were or even if he had neither of two feet. The new use of relatable exerts this peculiar property in virtue of being parasitic on the expression I can relate to X, as in I can relate to your story about your misplacing your dentures in an ashtray because I, too, have misplaced my dentures in an ashtray. In this expression it is the ability of the listener or reader of the story to relate that is in point, and the ability of the story to relate is quite beside the point; or to put it another way, the subjectivity of the listener or reader is the only thing that matters in the expression. If the oddity of deriving relatable from this expression still eludes the listener or reader—my listener or reader, not the listener or reader in the expression—perhaps that oddity will fall into his clutches if I invoke a counterfactual derivation from an expression that people employ in a genre of meta-subjective context very nearly coextensive the one in which they employ I can relate to X, namely, I can identify with X, wherein X can refer either to an experience or to the experiencer of that experience—so one can say either I can identify with your experience of misplacing one’s dentures in an ashtray or As someone who, like you, has misplaced his dentures in an ashtray I can identify with you. The common adjective identifiable bears no discernable relation to—i.e., is apparently unrelated to and more than likely unrelatable to—the use of identify with in expressions of the type just referenced: when we say that something or someone is identifiable, we mean merely that it can be classed as a member of a certain set, even if that set is only a set containing one member; and so That thing is identifiable as a set of dentures merely means that the thing in question is a member of the set of sets of dentures, and That person is identifiable as Jeff Stuckenschmidt merely means that the person in question is a member of the set of people who are Jeff Stuckenschmidt (which is by no means to be confused with the set of people who are named Jeff Stuckenschmidt [for an account of the metaphysical distinction between the two set-types, see my essay “Kripkean Metaphysics and Personal Eschatology,” or, if you don’t want to take my word for it, see the immediate and ultimate source of that account, Naming and Necessity by Saul Kripke]). In describing a thing as identifiable as a set of dentures or a person as identifiable as Jeff Stuckenschmidt, one gives no thought whatsoever to the mood, attitude, or state of mind of the would-be identifier, even though it as assuredly takes a subjectivity to identify someone or something as it does to identify with someone or something. Of course, there are –able (or -ible)-ending adjectives in which the attributes of the agent of the action denoted by the verb from which they are derived are much more important than the attributes of the object of that action. Edible is a good example of such an adjective. In describing a piece of fresh cheese cake as edible and a piece of spoiled cheese cake or fresh Uranium cake as inedible, one is solely concerned with what is likely to ensue if a person (or, conceivably, a beloved animal) takes the piece in question into his mouth and swallows it, and one could not care less about any of the piece’s intrinsic qualities that have no bearing on that act of ingestion, let alone about what the cake-piece itself might think about being regarded in an edible or inedible light (or, perhaps rather, odor). “Fine,” the reader or listener might concede before immediately going on to demur, “but in describing one of these cake-pieces as edible or inedible one is at least indirectly concerned with the mood, attitude, or state of mind of the would-be eater, inasmuch as falling violently ill of food poisoning or radiation sickness is not only a biochemical event but also a dramatic succession of somatic sensations and consequently also a significant mental and emotional experience.” “Indeed one is, and indeed it is,” I would then concede before immediately going on to demur, “but in describing one of those cake-pieces in one of those ways, one is not even indirectly concerned with a particularized state of mind even vis-à-vis the act of eating the particular cake-piece in point. In such a case one is not concerned with such and such a person qua, say, fan or foe of cheesecake or qua expert on Uranium or person so ignorant of the properties of Uranium that he might mistake a piece of Uranium cake for a piece of cheesecake; rather, one is solely concerned with him qua everyman in the fullest sense of the word, as any or every human being considered solely as a would-be ingestor of that cake-piece.” “Ah yes,” the congenital demurer demurs yet again, in an insufferable gotcha-esqe tone, “but what about that secondary sense of edible, that extended or metaphorical sense in which it means pleasing to the palate?” “OK,” I rejoin with arms quite sufferably akimbo (note well the just-occurred occurrence of an –ably ending adverb derived from suffer, as well as the able-ending adjective derived from the same verb in my in my description of the demurer’s demurral in the preceding sentence, for mutatis mutandis, both the adverb and the adjective are beholden to the same metaphysical regime as the one ruling the sense of edible now in point), “What about it?” “You say ‘what about it?’, I take it, because palate is a part of the body and therefore goes to show that this extended sense of edible isn’t so extended after all, that it’s ultimately just as all about physiology and not at all about subjectivity as the primary sense.” “By no means is that the reason I say ‘what about it,’ for having already conceded honorary meta-subjective pertinence to edible and edibility, I must perforce concede honorary meta-subjective pertinence to the part of the body most immediately involved in the act of gustation (for not even the tongue touches the food as quickly and fully as the roof of the mouth does). I said ‘what about it’ because even the secondary, extended, or metaphorical sense of edible is utterly indifferent to the particular characteristics of the subjectivity of the person who finds something edible or inedible—i.e., pleasing to the palate, i.e. pleasant to taste and eat; or unpleasing to the palate, i.e., unpleasant to taste and eat. And in point of fact this indifference is just as strongly in force in -able or -ible derived adjectives like delectable in which every connection to the somatic has been severed and the phenomenon referenced is purely subjective. The cooking-show chef who describes his latest batch of Linzer tortes or quiche(s) lorraine(s) or gazpacho as delectable means by this that it is capable of imparting delight to anyone who tastes it. Of course, no matter how abundantly and justly he prides himself on the quality of his cooking he knows that not absolutely everybody is going to like it, but unless he is genuinely ashamed of it, he thinks that everybody should like it. His appraisal of it as excellent is universal in its scope, as Kant has taught us all aesthetic judgments must be—and judgments of taste in the strictly culinary sense are after all aesthetic judgments, as Kant’s bugbear Hume has taught us. The scope of appraisal that people apply to experiences in referencing them in and via the expression “I can relate to X” is emphatically not universal in scope; in stating that one can relate to an experience one emphatically does not mean that everyone can and should feel the same way towards this experience as one does oneself; to the contrary, one means that only someone who has already experienced a substantially identical experience can feel that way. The person who says “I can relate to your experience of losing a spouse” means that only you and I and the other widows and widowers in the world can feel as I do about losing a spouse. Of course a would-be gate-crasher of the relating-to party can always (or at least very often) refer to an experience of his that is analogous to the related-to experience in the hope that it will be close enough to qualify him to relate thereto. He can say, for example, I have lost a pet, and so I can relate to your loss of a spouse. But more than likely his proffering of the analogy will be met with an indignant rejoinder of “You can’t relate to what I’ve been through at all, because that’s not the same thing at all,” and indeed, far from being ever-expanding bastions of inclusiveness, collectivities of relaters-to evince a tendency to become ever smaller as differences between the related-to experiences come to light and come to be regarded as categorically substantive. The young widow who lost her equally young husband after only a few years of marriage rejects the commiserating arm of her fellow-widow who was privileged to accompany her consort well past the threshold of old age; the childless widower with no-one to provide for but himself finds himself rebuffed by the widower whose wife left him with a pair of school-aged children, who finds himself rebuffed in turn by the widower left with a trio thereof. In short, there is no such thing as an experience that is relate-to-able by even a finite set of people, let alone an experience that is universally relate-to able, an experience to which everyone is expected to relate after the manner of food vis-à-vis edible or delectable. Why, then, was this decidedly clunky adjective relatable coined in the first place and in the snaggle-teeth of its above-much-discussed awkward dependence on a phrasal verb, and why has it proved so wildly popular? On the evidence of the locales in or at which I have been hearing it most frequently, namely the platforms of certain so-called influencers suspended among various subcultures, I very faintly conjecture that relatable was coined to address what one might term the terminal skunking of all the mass-medial kennings by which journalists and other so-called talking heads formerly designated the collectivities to whom they were attempting to appeal, collectivities that they deliberately conceived of in the most general terms possible but that perforce could not encompass everyone who was listening to, reading, or watching them. Long, long ago, roughly eighty years ago—i.e., when Aaron Copland wrote his famous fanfare tribute to him—they would most often refer to “the common man,” in this connection, but “the common man” risked alienating women, so it did not retain currency long past the mid-mark of the twentieth century. Somehow “the common man or woman” never took off, but the repurposing of “the common man’s” contemporary, “the man on the street,” as “the man or woman on the street” seemed to enjoy a fair amount of popularity until fairly recently, but I can’t remember when I last heard it. Perhaps at a certain point it began to be mistaken for an evocation of the urban homeless, perhaps specifically as a consequence of increasing Stateside prevalence of the British alternative, “the man or woman in the street,” which, if my own reaction to the Madness song “Our House” as an eleven-year-old may be taken as typical, tends to make a Yank think that the man or woman in question is standing not on the sidewalk but in the street itself, perhaps while obliviously impeding the flow of vehicular traffic in a pharmacologically induced stupor. “Joe Sixpack” did yeoman’s (or, in the argot of its time, “Yo, man!”’s) service for a least a good decade-and-a-half beginning in the early 1990s, somehow failing to receive so much as a single BB-gun salvo of “Sexism!” all the while (perhaps simply because of its homophony with the girl-interpellating “Jo Sixpack”), only to receive a near-fatal broadside of meta-political grapeshot in 2008 when a widely contemned and ridiculed vice-presidential candidate employed it in one of her more heavily sound-bited speeches, and concurrently to be dealt a coup-de-grace by a thousand cuts as a goodly proportion of even midfalutin beer-drinkers jumped ship for wine and an equally goodly proportion thereof became semi-teetotalers consuming only one or two beers (typically unslammably bitter so-called pale ales rather than the eminently slammable genuinely pale lagers that typify the six-pack format) at a time. Since then, the thitherto-perennially unobjectionable “parents just trying to put food on the table” and “people trying to put gas in their car” have come to draw ire from and give umbrage to the childless and the carless.  Basically, one can’t make the faintest or most passing allusion to any attribute, hobby, or preoccupation without running a substantial risk of putting out of joint the nose of a member of some collectivity (why, even in employing the idiom “put someone’s nose out of joint” I risk alienating someone whose nose has already been put out of joint in a boxing or fencing match, to say nothing of someone who has lost his [or, if you insist, their] nose altogether in whatever circumstances. [I also have some misgivings about my most recent use of “member,” but as these ultimately spring from a different cesspuddle of the Zeitgeist than the one now in point, I shan’t dwell on them]). “That said,” there is no honestly denying (even by a non-vulgar pessimist like the present writer) that the Anglosphere is still chock-full of things and phenomena whose capacity to elicit curiosity and interest transcends numerous subcultures and even certain subcultures that are at daggers drawn with one another, things and phenomena eminently amenable to being transformed by a so-called influencer into what is none too accurately (if not quite erroneously) known as content. Accordingly, the so-called influencer must somehow alert prospective viewers, listeners, or readers to such content without explicitly flagging it as a specific sort of content, let alone as a sort of content likely to appeal to a specific sort of person; she (and there’s no honestly denying that so-called influencers are prevailingly shes) must refrain from letting the cat-video out of the bag under the auspices of the label cat-video until the viewer (or listener or reader [for the cat-video is of course only serving as a synecdoche for widely appealing content, such that not only these but all other reasonably potential mutatis mutandi apply to everything that follows this parenthesis]) is already watching the video and reveling in the shenanigans of the cat, and is too immersed in his or her enjoyment (for there’s no honestly denying that even the most rugged male dedicated dog-lover loves a good cat video) of those shenanigans to switch it off—for he or she, being a dedicated dog-lover or decrier of the very concept of pet-ownership, very well might have switched it off before it started had he or she known that it was going to be a cat video. And so she simply promises that some relatable content is on its way; this promise assures the prospective listener, viewer, or reader that whatever the content might consist in, it will at least not be too abstruse or abstract to engage his or her attention. Here it is both only fair and strategically advantageous to acknowledge in a sort of antigraph of the televisual pitch for the “hair-club for men” of thirty years ago that I am not only “relatable”’s most ardent foe and detractor but also at least one of its most successfully prostrated victims, for I have become something of a fan of the so-called podcast of a so-called influencer who prominently presents her so-called content as relatable, a so-called podcast that I never would have listened to had I known the identity of the demographic niche from which the greatest part of its listenership hails. If I have not stopped listening to her so-called podcast simply because she uses this execrable word relatable, this is because, unlike the average relatable user, she generally employs the English language with exemplary competence and lack of argotic clutter, at least for a person of her generation (for she is a so-called millennial), and makes a point of not dancing around the point, such that I do not despair of someday bringing her round to purging relatable from her lexicon and rebranding her content via some unobjectionable –able or –ible-ending adjective like, well, unobjectionable. But as to the prospect of purging relatable from the general lexicon of English, so useful has relatable proved as a rhetorical fig leaf in the current micro-epoch that I am afraid that my argument on grammatical grounds is going to carry but little force even with the happy few capable of understanding it, such that I am afraid that the aforesaid purgation is going to have to wait for a sea-change in the Sprachesvolksgeist that is as yet not even in the remotest offing. When and only when, if ever, the average English speaker reacquires the matoority to sit patiently for a few minutes while someone who does not look, smell, sound, feel, and (for pending that idyllic moment we certainly mustn’t snub the cannibals!) taste exactly like him is addressed by name and walk of life by someone whose material impingement on his well-being is effectively nonexistent, then and only then will relatable be suffered to the unrelatable death it deserves.


The second mere word-length corpse-customization that I wish to discuss fortunately does not appear to answer a social need so exigently as to defy the grammarian’s arguments thanks to meta-social causes; unfortunately, owing to an entirely different sort of cause it is perhaps even less likely to expire in the near future; nay, owing to this selfsame cause, it is all too likely that its chances of survival will only improve over time. I am referring to convicted. “What’s this?” the reader or listener here queries through an eminently good-natured but flagrantly indulgent-cum-super skeptical belly laugh, and continues in an interrogative vein, thus: “What could you possibly have against good old super-standard convicted? Is there any word more solidly established in the English lexicon? How could a newspaper of even the smallest of jerkwater towns or sleepiest of villages of as far back as a century-and-a-quarter ago have survived a week without a mention of a convicted felon or a convicted rapist or a convicted murderer?” Ah, your bemusement is a case in point of illustration of the likelihood of convicted’s longevity. For like the present writer when he first heard convicted (for it did first reach me through the ear), and more than likely also like a still substantial but doubtless-ever-dwindling majority of first-time espiers or hearers of convicted, you quite naturally but fatally assumed that convicted is the past tense and past participle of convict, but it is in fact a mere homonym of that word. The new-fangled convicted now in point derives from a different if kindred word, conviction, via a process or maneuver that the linguists call back formation. Back-formation occurs when the grammatical form of a self-contained word leads people to believe that it is an extension of another, shorter, word and thereupon to lop off the part that they believe to be merely extensive and start using the remaining part on its own. The lexicographers tell us that such familiar units of today’s English lexicon grid, diagnose, and sidle (along with such unfamiliar units thereof as laze, drowse, and bant) are the products of back-formation. We have, they tell us, ended up with grid only because someone once assumed that gridiron was a compound of grid and iron; whereas it was merely a corruption of an older word, gredire, a variant of griddle, the ire part of gredire apparently being mistaken for iron by another form of linguistic misrecognition, one known as folk etymology, whereby people—generally with reference to the attributes of the thing denoted by a word—erroneously regard that word as a corruption of an earlier word and attempt to restore to the later word its supposed purity by adjusting its spelling to that of the earlier one. It would seem that because most griddles or gridires were made of iron, certain people assumed that the ire of gridire had used to be iron qua denoter of that essential constituent, and they thereupon turned gredire into gridiron, and thence it became obvious to start using grid on its own to denote not only griddles and gridirons but other things that incorporated or comprised a matrix of lines intersecting at right angles. Sidle arose when for no discernable reason the adverb sidelong temporarily or intermittently swapped its o for a second i and thereby became sidling, which was inevitably mistaken for the present participle of a verb. Diagnose arose from diagnosis by a process that I initially expected to be immediately inferrable, most likely owing to my incurable predisposition to regard doctors as infallibly rational and sophisticated types, but I am now completely stumped for a creation-myth for diagnose, whose derivation from diagnosis by no means seems straightforward and for which I cannot now think up an analogy in another word. After all, a hypnotist does not practice hypnosis by hypnosing people. In any case, convicted seems to have been derived—or at least to wish to pass itself off as having been derived—from conviction in the same straightforward manner as the one in which sidle was derived from sidling, which is to say by grammatical analogy underwritten by numerous examples in the standard English lexicon. There are scads upon scads of tion-ending nouns paired with verbs that are identical to the nouns minus ion—thus instruction is paired with instruct and consequently with the past tense and past-participle of instruct, instructed; constriction with constrict and consequently with constricted; defection with defect and consequently with defected, etc., etc., etc., and so it seems entirely natural to pair conviction with convict and consequently with convicted. Here of course the reader is fully entitled to chime in, “But isn’t conviction already paired with convict and convicted? And hasn’t it been paired therewith for presumably centuries?” Ah, but you see—and here drops at last the penny or other shoe that I have kept in suspension since asserting that the new conviction is a mere homonym of the established one—the conviction that is already paired with convict and convicted is conviction in the sense of “the act or process of proving or finding guilty” or “an instance of this” as in he has two previous convictions (both the definitions and illustrations just cited and the definitions that immediately follow this parenthesis are taken from the eighth or 1990 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary), whereas the new convicted is derived from conviction in the sense of “the action or resulting state of being convinced” or “a firm belief or opinion” or “an act of convincing,” and as the wording of this sense strongly implies, this sense of conviction is paired not with convict and convicted but convince and convinced. (Both verbs, convince and convict, derive from the Latin verb convincere; convince from that verb’s present stem and convict from its past participle. Certain other Latin verbs have analogously given rise to pairs of English ones—for example, construere, which has given us both construe and construct.) In the established world of civilized English users one says, “It is my conviction that turkeys can fly” because one has been convinced that turkeys can fly. In the new world of post-civilized English users at least a few barbarians within the Anglophone gates have taken to saying the likes of “I am convicted that turkeys can fly” because it is their conviction that turkeys can fly. “But why can’t they, the people who say “I am convicted that turkeys can fly” simply behave like civilized English-users and say “I am convinced that turkeys can fly?” First because, at least possibly because, they have started out with conviction and only conviction in their mind and it hasn’t occurred to them that there’s any connection between conviction in any sense and convince. After all, while, as I have just pointed out in slightly more specific terms, there are other English word-pairs derived from different stems of a single verb, there aren’t all that many of them, and the etymological connection between the members of such pairs isn’t often altogether transparent. Consider, for example, extinguish and extinction, both of them derived from the verb extinguere. I’m not sure that it had ever occurred to me that the two of them might be etymologically related to each other until at the age of 27 or 28 I read Extinction, a translation of a Thomas Bernhard novel in which the connection between them is foregrounded via a great deal of juxtaposatory (or juxtapositive) repetition of both of them. And the practical semantics of the two words certainly had not encouraged me to notice the relationship, for I had really only ever heard of fires’ being extinguished and dinosaurs and dodos’ suffering extinction. “But surely,” the reader or listener demurs, “the practical semantics of convince and non-jurisprudential conviction are such as not only to encourage but positively to force one to notice their etymological kinship to each other.” But are they really? Pace my own earlier example employing the mutually substitutable flying turkeys, don’t we actually tend to use convince and non-jurisprudential conviction in types of settings that are slightly different from each other and to convey degrees of gravity that are slightly different from each other? Don’t we tend more often to use convince and its immediate derivatives convinced and convincing more often negatively than positively, to say I am unconvinced of your argument or I fail to find your argument convincing more often than I am fully convinced of your argument or I find your argument strongly convincing; and don’t we, moreover, as in these examples, tend to say that we are convinced or unconvinced by or to find convincing or unconvincing a specific argument rather than an abstract principle, and finally, when we do venture to use convince and company positively, aren’t we more likely to use them in connection with something we regard as relatively inconsequential and insignificant; aren’t we much more likely to say, “You’ve convinced me to omit anchovies from tonight’s pizza order” than “You’ve convinced me of the rightness [or wrongness] of the death penalty”? But as for conviction, isn’t it a word that that like a fire-extinguisher is kept in a compartment reading “In case of emergency break glass” but that functions rather like a flame-thrower? Don’t we tend to harbor or to assert convictions about lofty abstract principles and matters that we regard as highly consequential and highly significant? Don’t we tend to use conviction in sentences like “It is my firm conviction that the death penalty is categorically wrong” (or “absolutely just”), often while thumping the nearest firm horizontal surface with a fist? And don’t we find it well-nigh impossible to utter a sentence like “It is my firm conviction that a pizza with [or without] anchovies is no pizza at all” or “A pizza brimming over with anchovies is the Platonic ideal of pizza” except through a rueful smirk acknowledging the preposterous burlesqueness of the assertion? Such being the case, a word like convicted in the neologistic sense I have been discussing would prove mighty useful, which is why I hedgingly termed the generation of this sense a process or maneuver rather than merely a process. More than likely, the users of convicted in the neologistic sense have just stumbled into employing it out of obliviousness of the etymological connection between convinced and convict, but it is not particularly improbable that at least some of them quite knowingly started bandying it about owing to its niche-filling value, its capacity to convey in three syllables the meaning otherwise conveyable only in five to eight syllables, in phrasal constructions like “have formed the conviction” and “have been brought to the conviction.” Why, then, don’t I applaud its coinage unreservedly? Why, for what I take to be an absolutely sound if admittedly not categorically unchallengeable reason that is already glaringly apparent in the reaction to conviction that I have not unreasonably imputed to the reader–viz., that we already have a convicted that carries quite a different meaning from the meaning carried by the neologistic one, such that there is simply no room in our lexicon for this new convicted. “But,” an only half-waggishly captious reader or listener here interjects, “as you have already reminded us, we evidently do have enough room for two different convictions—one denoting a belief, the other denoting a judicial decision.” To which and whom I reply, “Yes, we have room for both of those convictions, or more properly speaking, a bivalent conviction, in the same way that a house has room for a tree that has grown through its floor and ceiling, which is to say we allow room for a bivalent conviction because it has become a fixture of our language, but we would not have deliberately sought out a bivalent conviction any more readily than a builder of a house would deliberately plant a tree underneath its foundation. Or, to ‘tweak’ the eponymous conceit of this essay, we have room for it in the way that a church has room for the two bodies that several years ago an unscrupulous undertaker managed to stuff into a single coffin that now lies in the churchyard beneath six feet of earth and a tombstone bearing the name of only one of the persons in that coffin.” Even from the most ruthlessly utilitarian point of view, the time and energy saved by deducting the extra dozen or so keystrokes or breathing the extra half-breath entailed by typing or saying “have formed the conviction” and “have been brought to the conviction” is too dearly purchased at the rate of the uncountable hours of befuddlement and disgust occasioned by the misassumption that one’s author or interlocutor is a chain-ganger rather than someone sure of his belief. Of course there is a possibility that this befuddlement and confusion would merely be temporary albeit initially universal, that after having been experienced by each and every Anglophone accustomed to the old monovalent “convicted,” it would gradually disappear as the new sense of “convicted”   gradually displaced the old one in the manner in which the modern sense of “discomfit”—“disconcert or baffle”—presumably displaced the original sense thereof—“defeat in battle,” as those Anglophones familiar with the old sense accustomed themselves to the new one and then died off even as new Anglophones familiar only with the new sense took their place. But there is no obvious reason to assume that this displacement will occur, nor is there any obvious reason for thinking it desirable. For how would we cope with inhabiting an Anglophone lexical universe in which convicted always and only meant “have formed or have been brought to the conviction” and never meant (per the COD once again) “proved to be guilty (of a crime etc).” or “declared guilty by the verdict of a jury or the decision of a judge”? Why, presumably (supposing the advent of such a lexical universe was not felicitously preceded by the end of crime and criminality thanks either to a universal revolution in manners and morals or the abolition or disintegration of all judicial and juridical systems), by writing or stating approximations of one of these two definitions, i.e., via recourse to the same sorts of makeshift periphrastic formulas by which all of us until very lately coped (and most of us still cope) with inhabiting an Anglophone lexical universe in which convicted always carried an exclusively judicial denotation, i.e., by re-expending the time and breath originally saved by the introduction of convicted in the meta-creedal sense. But speaking of wasted time and breath, I strongly suspect the very argument I have been propounding against meta-creedal convicted deserves to be a locus classicus of such wastage, for in the unlikely event that any exponent of this new sense reads or hears this essay, he is almost certain to be absolutely unswayed by it, not because he will deny the truth of any of the major or minor propositions contained in it as because those propositions will carry no weight with him. As far as such a neologizer is concerned, because a meta-creedal convicted will be useful to him, he must have a meta-creedal convicted, and there’s an end on’t. In this micro-epoch of histrionic iconoclasm and wanton hedonism one hears quite a lot of talk of Chesterton’s fence from the would-be preservers of old institutions and usages—including usages in English usage; these would-be preservers are nowadays incessantly adjuring would-be destroyers to heed G. K. Chesterton’s adjuration not to knock down a fence or any fence-like thing unless and until they ascertain why it was put where it was to begin with and ascertain that it no longer answers to that purpose or that that purpose is no longer amenable to being answered to. But these would-be preservers would do better to term that there beloved fence of theirs Schmesterton’s fence, inasmuch as that there appellation, reframed as an interjection, is what any empirical would-be destroyer is bound to retort on lending a complete ear to that there proposal of theirs. In other words, the would-be destroyers take absolutely no interest in the purpose of any already extant fence or fence-like thing and are utterly incapable of acquiring any interest therein: they have their own fences and fence-like things to build—mostly just because it has occurred to them that these new structures can be built, not because they have given any thought to the purpose of these new structures—and if another fence or fence-like thing happens to be where they want to build their own fence or fence-like thing, they are most likely just going to build their own fence or fence like thing on top of that old one without even bothering to demolish it properly first, such that their destruction of the old edifice is but a byproduct of their construction of the new one, that the old structure is obliterated only thanks to the overwhelmingly crushing weight of the new material placed on top of it. At this point it may seem as if “the end of my commonwealth has forgotten its beginning” inasmuch as the process I have just described is quite a different sort of process from the process that is my government conceit: the just-described process is both constructive and destructive and proceeds along a vertical axis, whereas customizing a corpse for a coffin is purely destructive and proceeds along a horizontal axis, but in point of fact, at least in the domain of linguistic usage the second process is but a different aspect of the first. Because a language is what one might term--albeit at the cost of introducing yet another figurative conceit, and a far more pretentious one than either of the two preceding ones--a supercharged force-field, a system or structure of which every component that can possibly mean something already does mean something, it is almost impossible to abbreviate or otherwise modify a word without infringing upon already occupied semantic territory. This near-impossibility has become most abominably glaringly apparent in our microepoch’s ever-burgeoning trove of new monosyllabic slang words. Mind you, I am not saying that the monsosyllabicness or monoyllabicity or whatever the proper word for “the fact of having only one syllable” is—I am not saying that the fact that these new argotemes have only one syllable apiece is itself unprecedentedly abominable. For Jonathan Swift was complaining about that quality in such words a full three centuries ago: he objected to mob for mobile vulgus and rep for reputation if not precisely because they consisted of one syllable then at least because they contained fewer syllables than the words for which they stood. Not that I am the world’s biggest fan of such monosyllabic lexemes. I certainly could wish that such words were used more sparingly for the same reason that I could wish abbreviated forms in general were used more sparingly—viz., that while they are often beneficial when employed singly, when used in combination with others of their kind they tend to cause irremediable bemusement. As long as all or nearly all the other words are fully spelled out in a message containing an abbreviation, the reader of the message will most likely understand the message even if he has never before come across the abbreviation, but if a message contains several or more abbreviations, the reader stands a good chance of not understanding the message even if he has come across every single one of the abbreviations thousands of times—this because there are not all that many abbreviations that are short for one and only one word even at a particular moment in their containing language’s history. Take one of these monosyllabic argotemes of which Swift complained, rep. That word still stands for reputation, but it also stands for representative, most often in a specifically commercial context, and perhaps even most often in the phrase sales rep. Because reputation, although technically a count noun, isn’t often used in the plural, uncertainty as to which sense of rep is being used cannot be very common, but it is certainly not inconceivable. Indeed, I have not required more than a few seconds to come up with a conceivable instance of such uncertainty: viz., in the mind of someone who has just heard the head honcho of a commercial company say, “I’m worried about our rep” apropos of a junior sales representative’s first manning of the company’s booth at an important trade conference. The honcho might with equal plausibility be taken to mean “I’m worried about our sales representative’s well-being, what with this being his first booth-manning session and all” or “I’m worried about our company’s reputation, what with this being our sales representative’s first booth-manning session.” So these sorts of monosyllabic coinages and usages, these abbreviational ones, aren’t exactly great, but they aren’t inherently objectionable. Their mutual confusability is their only serious defect and it is certainly not a fatal one. The monosyllabic coinages and usages that have aroused my ire and opprobrium do a degree of violence to the language that is not merely barbarous but barbaric and evince a degree of effrontery to readers and listeners that merits a slap with a pair of gloves and a demand for satisfaction. These are such monosyllabic coinages and usages as cringe employed as an adjective. Where is one to begin attacking such a pestiferous specimen of vermin with the tip of one’s shovel (a shovel that is merely metaphorical by metaphysical accident, for were adjectival cringe to take material form I would unhesitatingly attack it with a material implement)? I suppose for smoothest continuity with what has come before in this essay, I shall start by pointing out that cringe is already anciently established both as a verb and as a noun meaning “an act or instance of cringing,” such that it is already doing more than its fair share of lexical work, and a far larger share than the above discussed established senses of “convicted” and “conviction,” each of which is at least secure against the danger of being mistaken for the other or for a completely different part of speech. From here I suppose it’s best to proceed to point out that unlike the above-discussed neolgistic sense of convicted, adjectival cringe is not doing any meaning-bearing work that is not already being adequately done by established usages, for whenever we wish say that something tends to make us cringe, we have at our disposal a highly evocative compound adjective,  cringe-inducing, and if we find cringe-inducing a smidge too formal or highfalutin, we can always employ the delightfully slangy cringeworthy instead. Wherein, then, lies the charm of utility of adjectival cringe? Why, nowhere at all as far as any sane and decent person is concerned, but for some years the reins of our language have been out of the hands of even vaguely sane and decent people and in the hands of the so-called Millennials, a generation who have clung to the trashiest bric-a-brac of childhood—not merely adolescence but childhood—into middle age; a generation who will doubtless not need to transition into wearing adult diapers in old age because they will have been recreationally wearing resized baby diapers for decades; a generation to whom absolutely nothing whatsoever is appealing absent at least a dash of infantility—whence the appeal to them of adjectival cringe, which, like its apparent exact contemporaries, adjectival mid and adjectival sus, sounds like something invented by a toddler, by a child too young to differentiate between nouns, verbs, and adjectives. But is all hope lost? Are all the rest of us, oldsters and youngsters alike, doomed to follow the Millennials into the nursery doubling as a nursing home? Perhaps, if the increasing popularity many of the just-discussed coinages seem to be enjoying in the mouths and under the fingertips of grizzled Gen-Xers, Boomers, and even Silent-Generationists marks the beginning of an intergenerational trend. But perhaps not, if the increasingly loud rumbles of discontentment with the Millennials that I am hearing from the smattering of so-called Zoomers known to me marks the beginning of an even stronger intergenerational trend. Admittedly, I have heard few if any such rumbles specifically on the meta-linguistic plane; admittedly, these Zoomer-originating complaints have so far been directed mainly at the Millennials’ super-pedestrian sense of humor, but as the skillful employment of language is an essential component of every form of humor but mute slapstick, one cannot but assume that in aspiring to be funnier than the Millennials the Zoomers will at least do their best to use language in a distinctly un-Millennial sort of way. Naturally the precedent of history gives us good reason to fear that they will deal even less kindly with English than Millennials have done, that they will exert as-yet-undreamt-of forms of violence on the language, that they will commit meta-linguistic atrocities that make the Millennials’ mass corpse-customizing look and sound like acts of mass philanthropy. But the precedent of history also gives us good reason at least not to despair of the Zoomers’ at least attempting to employ English if not more creatively—for it is blasphemous to attribute creation to merely human agents—then at least more inventively, which perforce means with more respect towards already extant usages.  Why, just the other day, I heard a Zoomer, or someone conversing with a Zoomer, describe a recent and up-and-coming coinage as a portmanteau. Admittedly, I can no longer remember the coinage itself, which oblivion does not speak particularly well for its ingenuity or catchiness; and admittedly, the referencer of the coinage should have categorized it as a portmanteau word and not merely as a portmanteau; admittedly his very truncation of the categorization bespeaks at least a residual Millennial-ish tendency towards corpse-customization; but on the other, rosy, hand, he did at least not go full cringe by paring portmanteau word all the way back to port, and thereby leaving me wondering in what sense the coinage could be regarded as a harbor-bearing town or an Iberian fortified wine, and even more rosily, merely in evincing an awareness and appreciation of portmanteau words, perhaps the richest and most productive loci of inventiveness in modern English (that is to say, the English language of the past four or five centuries, not the 80s pop band), he evinced the persistence of the inventive-cum-non destructive streak in today’s community of English speakers; and so, on hearing him utter that word portmanteau, I could not forbear from chortling not only with joy but also with a ginormous feeling of hope.