Sunday, August 08, 2004

mostly regarding quasi-

Ann earlier posted a great dialogue between Paul Krugman and Bill O'Reilly on the strategic deployment of the prefix "quasi-". She also notes my own reiteration that I said "quasi-snobbery", instead of "snobbery", and meant precisely that, in our recent debate about the implications of John Kerry's Boston College law degree. I was going to now write a post where I pointed out that Ann had actually used the phrase "quasi-snobbish" or something very close to it first, and I had merely lifted the phrasing from her. I was going to title this post something like "quasi-glass, quasi-houses, quasi-stones, quasi-thrown" and note that Ann was therefore in a unique autoexegesical position to comment on what one means by putting quasi- in front of something.

As it happens, looking back shows that Ann just used "sounds snobby", where "sounds", when compared to "is snobby", could be perhaps called a quasi-"quasi-"like rhetorical device. But even then she was paraphrasing someone else's e-mail. So I should have hit "Cancel" and moved on with my life right there. However, while there are all kinds of people in Blogworld who engage in debates and won't admit when they are demonstrably factually wrong in something they post, I have developed this burdensome hyperhonesty kick lately that causes me to acknowledge even factual errors in things I contemplate posting.

Besides, I've also recently become increasingly concerned about how my memory isn't what it used to be--especially in terms of a seeming rise in the frequency with which I remember things that weren't actually said or didn't actually happen--and nothing propels one of my posts along quite like angst of any variety. A wise elderly friend told me recently that one never worries about aging nearly so much as when one is in one's early thirties. I hope to God this is true.

But, even while I am in the early throes of cognitive decline, do let me express the official JFW position on "quasi-", as I use it a lot. When I say X is quasi-Y, I am making two assertions-of-opinion: (a) that X is sort-of-like Y, but (b) that X is not-really-over-whatever-line-would-make-it-actually Y. So, I wouldn't say that I mean to give it "plausible deniability" of having claimed X is Y, as Ann's theory of quasi- goes, but actual, genuine deniability of having claimed X is Y.*

In any case, where I am really quasi-snobbish in my fealty to precise use of Latinate-prefixes-and-qualifiers is in the distinction between "quasi-" and "pseudo-". I say that X is pseudo-Y when (a) X may give the appearance of being Y but (b) X is actually not Y at all. I was going to write a post on this, once, in the context of Democrats complaining about Bush's "stop loss" policies in Iraq as being a "pseudodraft", when it would have been better to say "quasi-draft," or, even better, "de facto draft."

At that time, however, my heart was still not really in this distinction so much as using it as a pretext to wonder aloud why Kerry kept insisting on calling it a "backdoor draft". I mean, given that gay male staffers are supposedly over-represented among even Republicans in Congress, much less Democrats: Wasn't there someone available to tell Kerry that repeatedly using "backdoor draft" to refer to it was likely to interject a Beavisish levity that would undermine the effectiveness of the larger argument among those persons who find themselves still snickering at "Parking in Rear" signs well into middle-age--persons whom, incidentally, I suspect may be over-represented among this election's swing voters? Are our elected officials and those around them really that out of touch with contemporary slang?

*That said, and as the O'Reilly-Krugman dialogue shows, I certainly wouldn't deny that quasi- is sometimes used to score the rhetorical points of insinuating something without taking the responsibility of actually asserting them. The staff of JFW have all signed pledges forbidding the use of such tactics anywhere on this site. Note that Krugman's calling O'Reilly a "quasi-murderer", unless he knows something I don't, violates my assertion-(a)-criterion for the proper use of quasi-, while, had he said that O'Reilly was a "quasi-liar" or "quasi-bully," would have violated my assertion-(b)-criterion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We here at the RV* are having a hard time following all your JFW words because the type is too small for our elder eyes, but a young thirty-something-staffer (herself worried about getting old – silly, isn’t it?) just now read us your most recent post and I wanted to say thank you for remembering my wise words about worries and aging, because I myself do not remember much of what I said, even as far back as this past week. Sometimes this can be a good thing, you know.
* Someone explained to me that you were not actually a member of our Retirement Village and that your use of “RV” has something to do with Recreation and Vehicles. A shame, you seem like you may have been a nice fellow to invite for a game of horseshoes, though I must admit we did wonder what cognitive incapacity placed you in a Retirement Community at your young age.
your "elderly" friend and JFW reader