Friday, October 30, 2009

Something Qua Something

The construction something qua something is overused. "What, FLG?" I hear you saying. "People rarely say that." Ah, but academic types love the shit out of it.

GEC responded thusly to an email rant I had about this today:
It only makes sense when trying to discuss a few very specific concepts, and only as a substitute for long caveat-laden phrases.


Then, as I'm reading the comments over at Phoebe's, I run into it again:
I guess I cannot see, prima facie, any real reason for thinking that all identifiable groups of women past adolescence would not be susceptible to the very human and very real flaw of gratifying lust qua lust to the exclusion of all other concerns (if I interpret your claim correctly).


I understand where the commenter was going, but "lust qua lust" provides negligible difference in meaning. Read the sentence without it:
I guess I cannot see, prima facie, any real reason for thinking that all identifiable groups of women past adolescence would not be susceptible to the very human and very real flaw of gratifying lust to the exclusion of all other concerns (if I interpret your claim correctly).


Same thing, only less complex. Actually, to the extent that the something qua something construction isn't generally understood (and let's be honest only people with graduate education use this construction) it distracts from the meaning of the sentence.

Also, I'd change "past adolescence" to "beyond adolescence." I'm a big believer that the word past is confusing, as it can be an adjective, noun, proposition preposition, and adverb. Best just to avoid it entirely unless referring to the past, but that's just me being pedantic.

6 comments:

Christine said...

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
William Strunk, The Elements of Style, III.13

Prefer the short word to the long.
Henry Fowler, The King's English, Ch. I

George Pal said...

That's just why I stopped using quaquaversal.

arethusa said...

Propositions are parts of speech now? That must warm the cockles of every middle-aged bar slug looking to score.

Alpheus said...

Sadly, a big reason I don't use the "X qua X" construction more is that I start worrying whether what I mean wouldn't be expressed better by "X per se." In the moments when I can't decide between those two phrases -- like a pretentious ass caught between two equidistant bags of oats -- the part of my brain that says "speak English, you jerk" usually has time to kick in.

alan_howe said...

We could all write as Strunk demands, but we would have to say adieu to literature and all forms of enjoyable prose. Writing is communication. Writing is also art. Imagine if every picture painted was a realistic representation of a bowl of fruit on a table. No, thank you, I will appreciate variation--pretentious and otherwise.

Christine said...

My dear Mr. Howe, I think you've misunderstood Mr. Strunk's point. You will surely agree with Mr. Chesterton (who is essentially saying the same thing) when he writes:

The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word "damn" than in the word "degeneration."

 
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