P, p: From the Semitic pe “mouth,” a letter than must have been frequently mistaken for the third letter, gimel. The Greeks avoided confusion by changing the shape to bridge-shaped pi. The Romans curved the right leg into a loop, making it an upside-down b.
palinode: A retraction at the end of a written work. From the Greek palin “again” and ode, "song," the Latin recantation is an exact calque. Stesichorus, stricken blind for defaming Helen in one of his poems, recovered his sight after writing a retraction: “There is no truth in that story/ You didn't ride in the well-rowed galleys/ You didn't reach the walls of Troy.” He claimed instead that her mere replica had gone to Troy, while the genuine Helen, faithful to Menelaus, was held incommunicado in Egypt. Later, Courtly Love poets, after pages of heated erotic verse, appended feeble palinodes to jibe with official Roman Catholic morality. C. S. Lewis notes, in the truest of these poems, no retraction is needed. “Life itself provides the palinode.”
phatic communication: Social language stripped of propositional content, coined by Bronislaw Malinowski in The Meaning of Meaning. For example, in the exchange, “How’s it going?” “Great, how’re you?” no actual information is sought or given, both question and response ritualized to meaninglessness. Each culture has its conventional formulae, some very elaborate, made of questions asking nothing, replies meaning nothing, and statements announcing the dazzlingly obvious or stunningly untrue, as in, “Nice day.” So prevalent is phatic communication, that many people, after engaging in a lifetime of nearly nonstop talk – pausing only to chew, swallow, use the bathroom, sleep, go into comas, and die – are buried without ever saying anything.
Coming November 30th, the RETURN OF THE STOOPID CONTEST