Friday, 15 November 2013

Plumptuous Flustration

In conversation, my mum comes up with coinages like ‘plumptuous’ and ‘flustrated’. It’s as if one word opportunistically hijacks the other. This ‘hijack’ typically needs some kind of phonetic link - ‘frustrated’ can be hijacked by ‘flustered’, but probably not by ‘agitated’.  What an utterance like ‘flustrated’ suggests is that, prior to utterance, a number of words are obscurely present,  a kind of congerie of words bound together  by etymology, assonance, idiosyncratic association. Ordinarily, one of these is chosen. In my mum’s case, two twist into one.

In the world of literature, Lewis Carroll called such coinages ‘portmanteau words (e.g., “where "slithy" means "lithe and slimy"). But often something happens whereby the new word is more than the sum of its parts - a new sense emerges. 'Flustrated' doesn't just disassemble into ‘frustrated’ and ‘flustered’; it’s a certain kind of frustration, more corporeal and perhaps slightly comic. Similarly, ‘slithy’ is rather more slippery than either ‘lithe’ or ‘slimy’. And of course ‘slither’ is there in the mix as well, just as ‘fluttered’ and ‘flushed’ may circle round ‘flustrated’. Once words have been split and recombined, the new word is leaky, more open to the occult word-congerie from which words arise. 

'Plumptuous,' or any one of innumerable puns and spoonerisms offer a brief shaft of light into the zone of occult instability that precedes the univocity of utterance. In this zone, there are, perhaps, words and phrases with different intentions, moving and colliding, before the commanding 'onset' of consciousness. And it is this zone that certain modern writers have tried to inhabit, or allow in: from Mallarme, 'ceding the initiative' to the mobility of words, to Joyce - most intensively in Finnegan's Wake.

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