Putting language to sleep in Finnegans Wake

June 16, 2011

One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot. – James Joyce

Ezra Pound was tirelessly interested in, and supportive of, original and imaginative literature, but with Finnegans Wake he reached his limit, complaining to Joyce that ‘Nothing so far as I can make out, nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp, can possibly be worth all the circumambient peripherization.’

He dubbed it Joyce in Regress, a pun on Work in Progress, as FW was known before publication. Unfair, perhaps, but we can recast the charge of regress as an evocation of return rather than retrogression and degeneration. Where Ulysses was Joyce’s daytime novel, the Wake was his work of the night and its sleeping mind – a restorative regression into which we all slide cyclically, more or less.

Every night we fall out of the familiar world, and every day we awake from our adventures with little or no recollection of what has gone on. Yet in sleep we are just as authentically ourselves; guilty and guileless, paralysed, periodically telling ourselves stories in dream-fragments of promiscuous trivia and significance that take some unravelling. A bit like Finnegans Wake.

To the American writer Max Eastman, Joyce said:

In writing of the night, I really could not . . . use words in their ordinary connections. Used that way they do not express how things are in the night, in the different stages – conscious, then semi-conscious, then unconscious. I found that it could not be done with words in their ordinary relations and connections. When morning comes, of course everything will be clear again. I’ll give them back their language. . . . I’m not destroying it for good!

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Selfcation: the self-catering vacation

September 3, 2010

The portmanteau word staycation is here to stay, it seems. Even in Ireland, where we say holiday(s) rather than vacation, staycation (stay + vacation) has established its niche sense of a holiday at home, near home, or at least somewhere on the island. It still sounds new or awkward to some people, but it’s been around a while: Word Spy has a citation from 2003, while Ben Zimmer found a hyphenated use from May 1999.

A daycation is similar, but happens in one day; see Macmillan Dictionary’s article for more, including greycation and naycation. This week’s Galway Advertiser has a related blend that’s new to me: selfcation, a self-catering holiday or self-catering vacation, presumably formed by combining self-catering with vacation (with a neatly overlapping /keː/).

Out of context, you’d be forgiven for thinking a selfcation might mean a holiday from oneself (cf. me-cation, a holiday for oneself), but the text makes its meaning clear. Here’s selfcation used in the article ‘Ten ways to enjoy a staycation in Ireland’:

Why not go on a selfcation and hit the sunny south east where there is a wide range of self-catering accommodation perfect for families who want to relax in the comfort of a home away from home. [surrounding text]

Maybe selfcation has been doing the rounds in travel writing, but this is the first time I’ve come across it, and it appears to be a recent coinage. Not only is there no entry at the Urban Dictionary — not yet, anyway — but there’s hardly any mention of selfcation anywhere online. Most of Google’s results for selfcation relate to cations, positively charged chemical ions (from Greek kata, down, + ions).

There’s a reference here (2001) to ‘selfcated flats’, but I don’t think this has anything directly to do with vacation or selfcation; it’s just a misspelling of, or shorthand for, selfcatered, i.e. self-catering:

Have you heard selfcation before? What do you think of it? Is it superfluous, unsightly, unobjectionable, useful, welcome?

Note: This post also appears on the Visual Thesaurus.

Is ‘irregardless’ a word?

June 24, 2008

Although irregardless has been in use since the early 20C, it remains non-standard and widely censured. It is undeniably a word, but using it in formal contexts (and many informal ones) is likely to invoke criticism and even scorn. The word seems to have emerged as a combination — some would say mutant hybrid — of regardless and irrespective.

Lewis Carroll used the term portmanteau to describe a neologism with “two meanings packed up into one word”; his nonsense verse Jabberwocky (pictured) is full of them. Portmanteau is itself a portmanteau word formed from the French words porter (“to carry”) and manteau (“cloak”). Linguists sometimes call them blends. Some disappear without trace, some retain limited use, and some become standard. Success doesn’t depend on euphony, as the popularity of stagflation demonstrates.

Here’s a list of portmanteau words, including some standard terms and some neologisms:

jabberwockybanoffee (banana + toffee)

biopic (biographical + picture)
Bollywood (Bombay + Hollywood)
breathalyser (breath + analyser)
brunch (breakfast + lunch)
camcorder (camera + recorder)
chortle (chuckle + snort)
cremains (cremated + remains)
cyborg (cybernetic + organism)
docudrama (documentary + drama)
electrocute (electricity + execute)
Franglais (Français + Anglais)
malware (malicious + software)
mockumentary (mock + documentary)
multiplex (multiple + complex)
Oxbridge (Oxford + Cambridge)
paratroops (parachute + troops)
podcast (iPod + broadcast)
smog (smoke + fog)
stagflation (stagnation + inflation)
telethon (telephone + marathon)
transistor (transfer + resistor)
travelogue (travel + monologue)
Wikipedia (wiki + encyclopedia)

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