Obsessed with "In"
Bill Long 10/20/04
In with the In Crowd
There are more than 500 pages of words in the OED beginning with "in." I can't imagine a prefix more widely-used than the Latin "in" to form English words. The prefix suggests two things: (1) being situated at or moving toward a place, or (2) negativizing what follows. For example, an "invasion" is an "incursion" or entry into something whereas "inerrant" means something that does not err and "ineluctable" means something from which one cannot escape (eluctari is Latin for "struggle out"). One of the reasons why "in" may have become so omnipresent as an English prefix is that these two meanings bulk so large in our self-understanding or desires.
The Two Meanings of "In"
For example, with respect to the meaning of "in" as "entry," we are hypervigilant regarding things that break through the surface of our lives. Our "space" can be invaded if someone comes closer than 12 inches to us; our mental calm can be disturbed; our bodily integrity can be invaded; our equilibrium can be threatened. The older we get the more vulnerable we know we are to the vagaries of torment, whether physical, psychological, financial or relational. We would like to keep these forces at bay but often are powerless to do so. We would like to be inviolable but are afraid of these, usually invisible, invaders. Thus, the fact that we have so many words beginning with "in" may be an indication of hidden fears that stalk us that are manifest in our speech.
I think that the profusion of terms with "in" as negativizing what follows suggests a different human reality: our desire to be eloquent. Rather than just saying "cannot be violated," we say inviolate; rather than saying someone can't speak well, we say they are ineloquent; instead of saying someone is a buffoon, we can say s/he is inelegant. Use of "in" as a negativizer eliminates the need for litotes (itself an often powerful rhetorical device).
There is no better way in to the "ins" than invious. Before the 17th century this was an alternative spelling of envious, but seventeenth century attestations derive from a literal reading of the Latin: "not a road" or, better, "trackless, pathless; having no roads or ways." Mountain goats are known for being able to leap broken and impassable rocks in invious places.
With all the current emphasis on wilderness creation and preservation in the American West, you would think that someone would have raised the cry, "Keep our Wilderness Invious!" Someone in the movement ought to make t-shirts saying only "Envious for Invious." I bet that the person would get all kinds of attention. A biblical scholar might try to entitle Psalm 107: "Of trackless wastes and invious wilds." And Othello, when narrating to the Venetian Senate his former life in the "antres vast and deserts idle (Oth. 1.3.139), was describing the threatening nature of the invious wilderness. But let's go further down the road.
Theology also has its two words to add, which in this case, don't really add up to two cents. To understand these words you need to know a little bit about the mystery of the Eucharist in Catholic theology. Ever since the 3rd Lateran Council in 1215, the doctrine of transubstantiation has been the official church doctrine, even though the concept is far older. The bread and wine are mysteriously transformed into the body and blood of Christ for the faithful. This doctrine may also be called the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharistic meal.
But whenever you have someone who comes up with a fairly brilliant idea (which transubstantiation is), you have other people coming along who will screw it up good. They screw it up by continuing to ask whiny questions. Well, if Christ is "really" present in the elements, how is he really present? Is he really really present or only really spiritually present? All of a sudden the creative people are politely ushered out of the room, and the legalistic pinheads take over to try to define the difference between really really and really spiritually. It really is not too different from that.
Now we are ready for impanation and invination. These terms were invented actually before the 3rd Lateran when the doctrine of transubstantiation was being debated widely. One might say that what would become the orthodox doctrine would be a "really spiritually" understanding: that Christ was really there in the Eucharist, but that the elements were not forearms, clavicles and Type A blood. Impanation was first used derogatively by a supporter of transubstantiation to label the other side as a a really really approach. That is, the orthodox accused some twelfth century theologians of arguing that Christ's actual flesh connects with the bread like the union of divine and human in Christ. Christ is almost really really present, that is, in their opponent's theology. Now, however, we are plunged into almost total darkness, almost an invious darkness so to speak, for when you try to define one unclear term by another that is also inexplicable, you are either trying to confuse people or go for an academic promotion.
Thus, impanation (and when it happened to the wine it is invination) was a word that grew up to capture the doctrine of those who felt that transubstantiation didn't carry things far enough. But because no one really knows what they are talking about even when they talk about transubstantiation, how can there be any clarity at all when someone disagrees with the doctrine by positing a "hypostatic union" between the bread and Christ's body and has the other side (the defender of transubstantiation) say that what you are proposing is impanation? It is almost enough to make one want to leave theology just trying to deal with these folks, isn't it?
Thankfully, all those who argue for impanation and invination seem to have died out but, alas, their type never does. Under the guise of bringing clarity, the descendants of the impanists try to freeze mystery, define the ineffable and end up looking like fools. But at least they bequeath us a word or two, a word that itself may be a window not into the issue they thought they were defining (the Eucharist) but into another world altogether.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long