Sunday 22 November 2009

Too Much Is Bad For You


I was about to write a long and fascinating post on Myles Coverdale and his psalter. It was going to be great: no journalese, just a learnèd exposition of the metonymic meaning of the Hebrew word nefesh. Then I toddled down to lunch and found my place at table usurped by an opened copy of the Sunday Times. Here is the offender, bluetoothed from paper to your screen:

I could hardly have missed it, could I? It's a quarter of a broadsheet page.

Palaces of wisdom aside, how could too much be good for you? Too much is too much. By definition it is bad: that's what too means. Any negative judgement on too much is pleonastic.

It's astonishing how often people employ this tautology making useless statements like don't eat too much, walk too fast, go too far, try too hard, try too little. It's very trying.

A similar paradox oppresses the question "Do you believe in the supernatural?"

Well of course not. I believe in ghosts, telepathy, the power of crystals, dream-catchers and leprechauns which means I believe all of them to be natural. It would be impossible to believe in the supernatural.

Without wishing to allow mission creep to tiptoe into this blog I think I can...

After that aposiopesis I shall limit myself to the following: Sesquipedalianism is the use of overly long words. Sesquipedalianism is therefore autological: it is a word that is an example of itself. Word is also autological because word is a word. A trochee (a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one) is a trochee. Polysyllabic is polysyllabic.

Monosyllabic, on the other hand, is heterological because the word monosyllabic is not monosyllabic, it's polysyllabic. Got that? Hyphenated, iamb and unpronounceable are all heterological.

So, here's your question for Sunday: is the word heterological heterological?

If it is then it isn't, so it is, so it isn't, so....

This is called the Grelling-Nelson Paradox and there's more on it here.

This illustration is for the reference above to "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom", which is from William Blake's Proverbs of Hell along with "The cut worm forgives the plough [or plow]." A friend of mine once sent me an e-mail with the subject line "The cut worm forgives the plough." The body of the e-mail read simply "Like fuck it does."