Friday, 9 January 2009

Avenaceous hæcceity, anyone?

Back in my misspent youf, I did done a speed-reading course. This speed-reading course was in fact a speed "reading" course, where "reading" meant training one's eyes like a pair of leggy greyhounds upon a slab of steak that hurtled around the inner rim of the Wentworth Park dog track while blokes in brown suits jumped up and down on their tippy-toe toes waving betting slips in their sweaty-hand hands, and the greyhounds would get to the bottom of the page with their tongues hanging out and their bellies ravening and it turned out that the steak was now on the next page and the greyhounds didn't got nuffing to show for it. Which isn't my idea of reading. Handsome though greyhounds are. Disinclined to catch the hurtling steak though I generally am.

I did learn one good thing from the speed-"reading" course, though: if you want a new word to stick, you should try to use it three times in twenty-hour hours. Over the decades, this practice has led me to commit the odd conversational peculiarity. To wit: "Gosh, mum, this is a xenomorphic potato!"; "Wilbur, if you keep weeing on that grass, you'll completely dephlogisticate it"; "Anyone for a spot of runcation before dinner?" This is why I am Australia's most sought-after dining companion.

This week's fancy new word is avenaceous, "pertaining to oats", which swung into my orbit thanks to Tuesday's A Word A Day email. Sadly, my house-guest du jour declined porridge this morning, so I was deprived of an opportunity to discuss the avenaceousness of our breakfast. Likewise, no one has solicited my opinion on Dr Samuel Johnson's avenaceous remarks:

And this week's loathsomest word, a pile of syllables that should have been put on the boat and sent straight back to the mediaeval scholastic cesspool whence it sprung, is hæcceity, meaning "thisness". "Thisness" is a perfectly lovely word for a concept I rarely feel the need to discuss. "Hæcceity", on the other hand, a word that recurs with disheartening frequency in the thesis I am reading, sounds like the noise you make after drinking a pilchard milkshake.


JahTeh said...

I rather like 'thisness' and I can't pronounce the other word. Mind you pronouncing 'thisness' with loose dentures or after an overindulgance of booze could be hazardous to one's health.
Nice name for a cat, would Leonard agree to a name change?

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

I agree: "thisness" is very pretty. Like "thistles" but without the prickles. Leonard's still dealing with the fact that her owners call her Tiga, so I dunno if I could spring a name change on her at this stage.

Lefty E said...

I accord with your preference, Baron, but first Im trying to grasp concept of thisness. Is it a presence, near, as 'thatness' is distant? Is it a quantity that something or someone might lack - or have in spades?

Or, in short: y'wot?

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Erm, at risk of further obfuscation, I refer you to the Deleuze and Guattari glossary:

Haecceity is the quality of ‘this-ness’ in a ‘thing-in-itself’. Haecceities are intensive states experienced by the automatic or autoerotic movements of machinic desire rather than by the psychoanalytical subject. The use of colour, the timbre of a voice or the rhythm of a movement are haecceities not reducible to symbolic meaning.

Lefty E said...

Thanks Baron, glad you were able to clear that up.

You know, someone once said to me, dismissing the entire Gallic post-structuralist movement: "The French, you know - they get easily bored".

Maria said...

I remember a Korean girl sitting next to me in Law who heard the word "destitution", copied down the wrd and the meaning (all new to her) and ten tried to use it as many times as possible immediately afterwards to commit it to memory.

Extremely amusing. I did a study group with her and we had to work out a legal problem. She interrupted each time to ask if a particularly character in the problem was destitute (or to concude that he/she was) and eventually decided on a lunch break declaring "I am destitute!"

TimT said...

I'm sorry, we're all out of pilchards today. Would you prefer guppies in your milkshake instead?