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Some of you remember H.W. Fowler, and you might remember that one of his peeves was what he called Superfluous Words.
He thought there were too many words, and he proposed doing away with whole bunches of them. A good hard pruning would invigorate the language, he supposed, and there’d be plenty of good sturdy verbiage left to get the job done.
He kept lists of words that ought to be culled. Many of these were peanut hulls and soap bubbles, cake words with sawblades hidden in them, advertising and ideological gabble costumed in zoot suits and alligator shoes. Just about all of them appeared in the Readers Digest vocabulary-builder feature “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power” in the superfluous decades after Fowler crossed over into campground.
I’d include some examples but that would be sort of defeating the point.
Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about this, and it’s not just Superfluous Words and the phony-ass Readers Digest useless-word trotter-outers that are the problem at the moment. The problem is, too much of a good thing, or of anything, becomes WAY too much of it in a real big hurry these days. One minute the good thing is just a good thing, then its suddenly too much of a good thing, then it becomes in short order a bad thing, a miserable thing, a hateful thing, an intolerable thing. Whizzing the gamut, it harkens finally to Oscar Wilde’s last words, which were said to be, “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
In short, I think we’ve entered a Superfluity Crisis of some post-modern kind. I suspect this is something like the old missile-gap crisis, but I’m not sure exactly how. We’re up to our necks in cutting-edge superfluities, though, I’m sure of that, and it’s a malady, an exigency without a name, superfluous itself having become one of usage master’s Superfluous Words. (I know Superfluity Crisis is lame, but I tried and failed with Singularity and Wormhole and Funk, and Superfluity Malaise sounded both superfluously Jimmy Carter and superfluously French and I just wasn’t going to go there.)
I’m not 100 per cent sure what qualifies a person, place, or thing as superfluous here in Century 21. It has to have crossed a line. When you go to gilding the lily, you’re talking superfluous for sure. When something or someone runs amuck, a superfluity has been entered upon. Wally Hall is superfluousness walking, and if the Lord really did bother to number the hairs in the Old Graybeard’s beard, as he has avowed, then that is gilding superfluity’s lily; it is superfluity truly run amuck, a superfluity too far.
Maybe the president will expound on the matter at his next news conference. Bring some of his famous articulation to it. Put FEMA on it. Have the veep blow its head off. Look for the Bro.-Gov. to make it the subject of another of his barnyard witticisms.
If you’ll pardon the chaotic nature of them, here are some topical notes:
A superfluity of chickens might be called a Tyson.
Instutionalized superfluity would go by the name of Wal-Mart.
This sudden superfluity of cheap Jesus witness and sullen partisan yah-yah on the comics page is really disheartening.Easter promo: Catch B.C. on the Resurrection. See Mallard Fillmore butt-f--- the Democrats.
When honeybees reach superfluity you get Killer Bees, and when pismires do you get Fire Ants and you get me out there beating on their fricking mounds with a shovel and trying to drown the bastards with a garden hose. Looking like something out of Edvard Munch.
The penultimate Duggar amounted to a superfluity squared, or cubed, or a superfluity threatening to go exponential, so the most recent one popping out was almost like starting over, and there’s said to be yet another on the way! Superfluous might be a good name for it.
A superfluity isn’t necessarily bad but it usually is. NASCAR, for example, goes superfluous after about two laps. Or breeds of dog, which cross into dog superfluity when you introduce Rottweillers. Or scientologist actors, who need to just shut the f--- up. And political conservatives, who were a quaint geezerly novelty once, but now might as well be grasshoppers without number having run amuck.
A superfluity isn’t necessarily bad, but if the commodity approaching superfluousness isn’t incontestably good, as Karo nut pie is, for instance — you just can’t have too much of Karo nut pie — then a superfluity of it is probably going to be negative. An example that happens to be on my mind is political-season yard signs. A nitwit lives down the street here and at last count his front lawn had 22 signs begging support for 18 different primary candidates and two ballot initiatives.
What does he think — that the casual passerby will stop and do a checklist and take an inventory? Well, damn that. If he had only three or four signs, say, instead of the concatenation and superfluity of them, I could drive by and make a mental note: “The nitwit down the street supports X,Y, and Z, so I must remember to vote otherwise.”
Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.