Pages 921-930 II
Bill Long 5/16/06
Entering the "Ph's"
The words I examine today begin at the bottom of page 927, and include phallocentric and its related words, as well as philosophe, phragmites, phytophagous, and piassava.
Our dictionary only has four words derived from the word phallus (phallic, phallicism, phallocentric, phallocratic). Chances are that none will appear in the June 17 Bee because of Victorian-era concerns, but I, probably not unexpectedly, want to focus on these words for a second. The Century doesn't have the last two words because they only were coined in 1927 and 1977, respectively. But the OED has all of them, and then throws in a few more. The basic concept of phallocentric is to be "centered on or emphasizing the masculine point of view." Some "penis-like" terms that the Century has, which are absent from the Collegiate, are phallalgia, phallephoric and phallitis. The first means "pain in the penis," though I don't suppose that one, to vary one's language, could change the sentence, "You are a pain in the ass," to "You are a phallalgia" and have it mean much of anything. I think the latter, if used at all, would be appropriate in a sentence such as, "After the blow on the field, he suffered from phallalgia." No double-entendre meant. That is your mind at work.
Just as phall-type words were invented in the earlier 20th century, the advent of feminism in the later 20th century led to introduction of other phall-terms. The three most prominent (none of which appear in the Collegiate) are (1) phallologocentric, (2) phallogocentric and phallogocentrism. The first two are identical in meaning. They emerge from a 1975 quotation from Jacques Derrida (who else?) and quickly became a staple of feminist theory. Phallogocentric means "designating, relating to, or based upon the implicit communication of phallocentrism in and through language. Derrida's impenetrable (so to speak) prose should be quoted in full:
"The treatment of animality, as of everything which is submitted by a hierarchical opposition, has always revealed, in the history of (humanist and phallogocentric) metaphysics the obscurantist resistance."
Huh? Well, that is Derrida for you, though he really did have a rather revolutionary way of reconceptualizing the world of power relations and the connection of language to those relations. A 1999 appearance of the term is easier to understand: "As feminists have pointed out, many men (and some women) apparently get a form of phallic satisfaction from various aspects of phallogocentric writing. The most obvious is writing that is overly forceful and penetrating."
I will leave this cluster of words here, with the closing comment that in my experience the excessive reliance on jargon, by feminists as well as others, often is a smokescreen for a rather pedestrian reading of a text.
A philosophe, as everyone knows, is a term which came into English in the late 1770s from France to describe a writer or thinker sympathetic to or identified with the values of the French Enlightenment. Since French ideas were feared and ridiculed in general at the time philosophes also were derogated. From 1779: "The philosophes, except Buffon, are solemn, arrogant, dictatorial coxcombs." And, actually, the philosophes were quite arrogant, believing that political and religious sclerosis had set in on the continent and that the only way out was the Baconian belief in the superiority and saving power of science and rational argument.
Phragmites is "any of a genus (Phragmites) of widely distributed reeds with tall stemps and large showy panicles resembling plumes." The word has three syllables and is pronounced frag MY tees. All you have to do is look online and you will find tons of pictures of them. This site, for example, has many pictures. The authors even mused how common phragmites australis could even be found in downtown Indianapolis. What a reason to visit the heartland! In any case, once you begin to study flowers or grasses, you enter into the richest array of terminology imaginable. And so the authors talk about culms (stems) which are from 5-15' tall, as well rhizomes and ligules and panicles. Let's stop here before I go too far afield.
Something that is phytophagous feeds on plant material, but is different, at least in the way some people use the word, from herbivorous. From 1826: "We employ this term, because the more common one, 'herbivorous', does not properly include devourers of timber, fungi, etc."
Finally piassava are "any of several stiff coarse fibers obtained from palms and used esp. in cordage or brushes." The most common online pictures of piassava are in sweep (push) brooms.
Let that suffice for another day.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long