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Word of the Day: Contextectomy

Word of the Day: Contextectomy May 21, 2010

Jay (in a comment on a recent post) used the term “contextectomy” and I liked it so much that I wanted to share it with a wider audience. I am not sure if it is original to him (I have a vague sense that I may have heard it used before, but I may be thinking of a different “-ectomy”), but it really is a great word that says a lot succinctly.

Lest I perform a “contextectomy” on the term as he used it, here is the context:

“You’ve taken the words, performed a contextectomy on them where you strip any and all cultural nuance from them, and attempted to force-fit reality into the hollow shell that remains.”

That pretty well sums up what I understand the word to mean. You take a term (or a text, phrase, passage, or story), remove it not necessarily or not merely from its literary context but also from its linguistic, cultural, social and historical context, translate it into English if it isn’t in English already, and then assume it means whatever the “plain sense” of the English seems to be to you.

For the procedure to be successful, it is helpful if you (1) demean anyone in your own time who thinks the “plain meaning” might be something else, and (2) ignore all scholarship about the relevant language, culture(s) and history of ideas. You should also pretend either that (1) you don’t interpret the text, you just read it, or (2) everyone interprets the text and your assumptions are divinely-revealed, God-given ones that ensure that your interpretation is the correct one.

So that’s the word of the day for today: contextectomy.

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