The Conqueror Term

True story. I saw a copy of Rub Out the Words (2012) on a library shelf. It’s a collection of letters by core counter-cultural colossus William S. Burroughs. I pulled the book off the shelf, opened it, and began to search for a hit of heresiarchal heroin. Exactly 23 seconds later, my eyes fell on this phantasmagoric phraseology:

I do not think a writer should be called upon to defend his work in terms of a legal system that dates back to the middle ages.

I was stunned. Exactly 23 seconds. Well, I didn’t actually time it, but it would have been exactly 23 seconds if you choose the right base. And it was round-about 23 seconds in base 10. So I think reality was trying to tell me something: that Burroughs was part of the Hive Mind. He used a toxic term that good writers shouldn’t use – never, nunca, nohow, nowhere.

And it wasn’t the sole example in the book, I have since learnt. Here, then, are my suggestions for how Burroughs should have rubbed out the offending words and replaced them with something shorter and less vague (the final two examples are by the book’s editor and by someone Burroughs is quoting):

• I do not think a writer should be called upon to defend his work in terms of a legal system that dates back to the middle ages. → in a legal system
• All this is quite possible in terms of existing techniques. → with / by existing techniques
• I am not talking in terms of a thousand years. I am talking in NOW terms. → not talking of a thousand years. I am talking NOW.
• I am thinking in terms of the no-paying far-out magazines like Yugen and Kulchur. → thinking of / about no-paying far-out magazines
• When two or more letters covered the same ground, I selected the best in terms of quality of writing and completeness of thought. → in quality of writing
• Mr Burroughs writes enthusiastically about apomorphine treatment but I do not feel his enthusiasm is justified in terms of published results. → by published results

Okay, there are a lot of letters in the collection and Burroughs himself used “in terms of” only four (or five) times, which isn’t too bad. However, each use is an echt Guardianism, so Burroughs was undoubtedly a victim of the Conqueror Term, like millions of others, then and now. But it isn’t only English-speakers who can be victims of the Conqueror Term: it has infected usage in French too. This is from a speech by the new French president Emmanuel Macron:

… c’est ensuite les routes des trafics multiples qui nécessitent des réponses aussi en termes de sécurité et de coordination régionale … – Emmanuel Macron empêtré dans une folle polémique, Mediaguinee, 10/vii/2017.

… it is then the roads of multiple trafficking which also require answers in terms of security and regional coordination … – French President Emmanuel Macron is in the middle of a social media firestorm, Vox, 10/vii/2017.

The French and English can be shortened in the same way:

• des réponses aussi en termes de sécurité → des réponses aussi en sécurité
• answers in terms of security → in security

Macron, as you’d expect, is part of the Hive Mind too. He and many other Francophones have succumbed to the Conqueror Term, as you can see from these graphs at Google nGrams (“en termes du” behaves in an interesting way):

En termes de

En termes du

But there are vermicides in French too:

Attention, on confond souvent la signification de “en termes de”. Cette expression signifie « dans le vocabulaire de », « dans le langage de » et ne veut pas dire « en ce qui concerne », « en matière de », « sur le plan de ». Cette confusion est sûrement due à l’expression anglaise “in terms of” qui elle a le sens de “en matière de”. Faut-il écrire “en termes de” ou “en terme de” ?, La Langue Française, Nicolas Le Roux, août 31, 2015.

Take care: people often confuse the meaning of “en termes de”. This expression means “in the vocabulary of”, “in the language of”, and does not mean “in what concerns”, “in the matter of”, “after the form of”. This confusion is surely due to the English expression “in terms of”, which has the sense of “in the matter of”. (My translation, so not reliable)

Things were worse than I thought. Pero… ¡La lucha continúa!

Elsewhere other-posted:

Paradigms Loused
The Conqueror Worm — the title of this incendiary intervention is of course a reference to the famous poem by Edgar Allan In Terms Of Poe

Bash the Pash

An heretical Guardianista keyly critiquizes a core component of Guardianese:

I recently considered nominating for a board position on a professional association to which I belong, so I had a look at the biographical statements of the incumbents. One claimed to be “passionate about helping individuals, businesses, and communities thrive”, another declared “a particular passion for thought leadership and executive profiling”, and another revealed “a passion for social inclusion”. Yet another claimed “a passion about creating valuable career development opportunities for the profession”. The best was the one that stated, without irony, “a passion for working on meaningful projects”.

In days gone by, job applicants listed hobbies. These days, it appears candidates are expected to declare, not merely interests or things they like doing, but things they are allegedly passionate about. — Being enthusiastic is no longer enough. Now we must all be passionate, Paul Begley, The Guardian, 13/vii/2016.

Elsewhere other-engageable:

Reds under the Thread
Titus Graun — Heresy, Homotextuality, Hive-Mind
Oh My Guardian

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #48

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Vois la ReinePhilip’s Moon Observer’s Guide, Peter Grego (Philip’s 2015)

Gods of FireVolcano Discoveries: A Photographic Journey around the World, Tom Pfeiffer and Ingrid Smet (New Holland 2015)

Chemical TalesRocks and Minerals, Ronald Louis Bonewitz (Dorling Kindersley 2012)

Knyghtes of the RoyalmeMalory: Works, ed. Eugène Vinaver (Oxford University Press 1977)

Alfredo to ZinedineFootball’s Great Heroes and Entertainers, Jimmy Greaves with Norman Giller (Hodder & Stoughton 2007)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Don’t Do Dot…

It’s a mistake to think that Guardianese, the optimal dialect of keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community, mandates optionizing on a permanent basis for the pretentious and polysyllabic. Yes, Guardianistas are addicted to phrases like “in terms of” and “prior to”, but they also like urgently throbbing monosyllables like “key”, “core” and “spike”.

These are unnatural words, taken from headlines, not from normal English. They reveal an important truth: simplicity can be pretentious too. The two aspects of Guardianese come together in phrases like “key indicator” and “core metric”. I would say that “vital sign” and “important statistic” are better and more natural English, but you can’t tell that by counting syllables.

And sometimes Guardianese doesn’t use any syllables at all…  Guardianistas also like the stylistic trick of trailing dots. I find it cheap and irritating, so I’m glad that one of my favourite writers thought the same long ago. In his essay “Stories I Have Tried to Write”, M.R. James (1862-1936) said this:

In parenthesis, many common objects may be made the vehicles of retribution, and where retribution is not called for, of malice. Be careful how you handle the packet you pick up in the carriage-drive, particularly if it contains nail parings and hair. Do not, in any case, bring it into the house. It may not be alone… (Dots are believed by many writers of our day to be a good substitute for effective writing. They are certainly an easy one. Let us have a few more……) (“Stories I Have Tried To Write”, 1929)

In short: Don’t do dot…

Elsewhere other-engageable:

Titus Graun
Reds under the Thread

Terminal Teraticity…

Americotrop-ism: n. literally, a tendency or habit of moving towards America; hence, a tendency or habit of adopting American culture, vocabulary and usage when one is not oneself American. | -ist, -ic(al) [Americ(a) + -o- + tropism, on the analogy of phototropism, chemotropism, geotropism, etc]

• “The Guardian-reading community displays a marked Americotropism.”


V. disappointed by China Miéville on BBC Radio 4’s Book Club (Sunday 1st November). It took him eight minutes to say “in terms of”.

Terminal Logorrhoea

An SJW with a PhD writes:

It’s probably about time to collect all the issues and discussion of the 2015 Hugo Awards into one big post that is, at least in terms of what I have to say, a definitive take on it…. Three days after unveiling his slate of nominees, Torgersen wrote an essay explaining the necessity of the slate in terms of the “unreliability” of contemporary science fiction… The easiest mistake to make when trying to understand fascists is to think that they are best described in terms of a philosophy…. As a PhD in English with no small amount of training in postmodernism[,] I feel some qualification to speak here… and he does explain his beliefs in part in terms of a religious experience… Let us view it this way, since, in terms of the Hugos, we now have no other choice…. That covers the actual response in terms of the Hugos…. Your beliefs are horrible. You’re horrible. You’re a nasty, cruel little bully, and I do not like you…. in terms of brilliant, Hugo-worthy stuff that spits in the face of everything Theodore Beale loves… Norman Spinrad’s 1972 novel The Iron Dream, which imagines an alternate history where Hitler became a hack sci-fi writer in America, is probably the most notable in terms of just how much it anticipates this mess… afrofuturism, an artistic movement that uses the imaginative possibilities of science fiction to try to conceive of the African Diaspora not in terms of its tragic past but in terms of the generative potential of the future…. As a song, “Electric Lady” is an anthem in praise of Cindi Mayweather, long on braggadocio, but framed in terms of Monáe’s carefully worked out vision of black female sexuality… — Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons: An Analysis of Theodore Beale and his Supporters, Philip Sandifer, 21/iv/2015.

Elsewhere other-posted:


Performativizing Papyrocentricity #37

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Maths and Marmosets – The Great Mathematical Problems: Marvels and Mysteries of Mathematics, Ian Stewart (Profile Books 2013)

Be Ear Now – Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey of Sound, Trevor Cox (Vintage 2015)

Exquisite Bulgarity – The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, Mark Kushner (Simon & Schuster 2015)

Stellar StoryDiscovering the Universe: The Story of Astronomy, Paul Murdin (Andre Deutsch 2014)

Terms of EndrearmentShe Literally Exploded: The Daily Telegraph Infuriating Phrasebook, Christopher Howse and Richard Preston (Constable 2007)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Les Sez

In Terms of My Natural Life

(a pome crafted by Les Patterson)

I am an Australian in terms of Nation
And a Public Servant in terms of vocation,
But there’s one thing amazes my critics and that’s
How many I wear in terms of hats:
I chair the Cheese Board, I front the Yartz
You could term me a man of many parts.
I’m a Renaissance type, if you know the term
And I’ve held long office in terms of term,
Yes, I’ve long served Australia in terms of years
And in terms of refreshment I like a few beers.
My opponents are mongrels, scum and worms
Who I bucket in no uncertain terms
And my rich vocabulary always features
Large in terms of my public speeches.
My favourite terms in terms of debate
Are: “broadbased package” and “orchestrate”.
But one term I never employ is “failure” —
Especially when talking in terms of Australia!
For in terms of lifestyle we’ve got the germs of
A ripper concept to think in terms of.
Yes, in terms of charisma I’ve got the game mastered
In anyone’s terms I’m a well-liked bastard.

From the Back With A Vengeance Tour Brochure © 1989 Sir Les Patterson.

Elsewhere Other-Engageable:

Sir Les’s Website