INORDINATE [was #1 "motherfucker" transparent?]; was #2 "Etymological Notes: 'Love'"
t.paikeday at SYMPATICO.CA
Tue Jan 1 18:33:09 UTC 2002
Sorry, some transmission error got in the way of my earlier response (I
don't see it in my Inbox), but here is something briefer and better
In examples such as the ones below, the connotations of "inordinate" are
NEGATIVE. As Doug Wilson and Carl J. Weber point out, "inordinate" could
mean "excessive or abusive" or it could be a merely self-deprecatory
use. As Carl says, it could be "a euphemism for the polite/opprobrious
bad: 'inappropriate'." I think such usage could also be tongue-in-cheek
or ironical as in Addison's 1716 use of "inordinate love of pudding"
(OED) or somewhat patronizing, as in "a mother's inordinate love for her
son or daughter" (Doug's second quote)
Let's forget about sexual connotations for a moment. The evidence shows
181 instances of "inordinate" in the OED text, 24 s.v. inordinate, adj.
Our writer was using OED first edition and his son still uses the
Shorter Oxford, 1931. The preponderance of all the evidence shows
meanings that are clearly NEGATIVE.
When a dedication says "my mother's inordinate love/affection for me" (I
read the book circa 1980 at the home of the writer's son; I don't recall
the exact words and I don't have any bibliographic particulars), it has
to be understood as the author trying to pay a compliment to his mother,
not making a critique. A dedication is a brief eulogy, not a
dissertation. In such a piece of writing there should be absolutely no
room for ambiguities and variant interpretations; cf. "For my beloved
wife / Elizabeth Austin Burchfield."
In current usage, according to the corpus I used for the last dictionary
(several hundred books and periodicals published 1989-1990), the
standard collocations are "an inordinate amount of (70%), an inordinate
delay, demand, expenditure, an inordinate number of (16%)," etc. A good
English user, I believe, would go for these and similar collocations.
I think the writer in question committed an honest mistake. This is
reinforced by my knowledge of the mother tongue of the writer and the
possibility that he was translating a phrase that is idiomatic in that
language: "athiru katanna sneham" ("unbounded/limitless love" in
TOM PAIKEDAY, lexicographer
The User's(R) Webster Dictionary, 2000
ISBN: 0-920865-03-8 (cservice at genpub.com)
Doug Wilson wrote (Sunday, 12:17):
>This professor, may he rest in peace, had a doctorate in English from
>the University of London. His dissertation on a minor Victorian author
>was published by the author's cousin who ran a book publishing company
>in Australia. His editors apparently did a good copy-editing job on the
>manuscript. The text was flawless as far as I could see, but for obvious
>reasons, they dared not touch the Dedication, which read: "To my mother
>for her inordinate affection [to me]..." The editors probably thought,
>Hey, if something had been going on between mother and son, who are we
>to put in our two cents worth?
>Now, as all English experts and others (including learners beyond a
>certain grade level) know, "inordinate affection/love," is a
>collocational phrase that means something bad, very bad, in the contexts
>in which it is used. (Questions of sexual orientation would not be
>relevant). It occurs frequently in ascetical Christian religious
>literature, as in the socalled "Rodriguez" (Rodrigues?) volumes.
>"Inordinate," by morphology and definition, is negative in meaning
>("disorderly or immoderate") and Rodriguez would be referring to
>homosexual and such affections, as betwen religious who have taken the
>vow of chastity; "particular friendship" is another term referring to
>the same concept in the above contexts. Incestuous love is included in
>the meaning of the term.
>When the phrase is applied to one's mother, I suppose the
>uncollocational semi-transparent idiomatic term "mother fucker" comes to
Now, just a moment. I'm a learner of English at a relatively high grade
level, and I don't have any problem at all with that dedication as
Perhaps the restriction on "inordinate love/affection" is itself
restricted, perhaps to certain religious contexts with which I'm not
My quick Web search does turn up a lot of religiously-oriented material
which "inordinate" means "improper" or worse. But in the above quotation
seems perfectly innocent to me, with "inordinate" at most meaning
like "excessive" (here perhaps used for 'mild self-deprecation' as in
are too kind", "This is more than I deserve", etc.) and possibly meaning
merely "unrestrained". Had I been the editor, I would have passed it
without a thought; had I (as editor) received a specific query about it,
would have said that it looked perfectly fine (although "inordinate"
not be my own first-choice word here).
Here are a few other examples:
Anne Bronte, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" (Ch. 43):
<<'She [the new governess] is a very estimable, pious young person,'
he; 'you needn't be afraid. Her name is Myers, I believe; and she was
recommended to me by a respectable old dowager: a lady of high repute in
the religious world. I have not seen her myself, and therefore cannot
you a particular account of her person and conversation, and so forth;
if the old lady's eulogies are correct, you will find her to possess all
desirable qualifications for her position: an inordinate love of
among the rest.'>>
Autobiography of Konrad Lorenz (Nobel Prize, 1973):
<<I grew up in the large house and the larger garden of my parents in
Altenberg. They were supremely tolerant of my inordinate love for
Web column in "Al-Ahram Weekly On-line" (Egypt) [referring to the
<<A mother's inordinate love for her son or daughter may become
and breed tensions when they decide to take partners.>>
I think "inordinate" = "immoderate"/"unrestrained" or so in all of these
and I do not think there are any sexual connotations.
-- Doug Wilson
Etymological Notes: "Love" (semi-long)
Carl Jeffrey Weber wrote (Sunday, 15:32)
We pick up with a dedication <<< "To my mother for her inordinate
[to me]..." The editors probably thought, Hey, if something had been
on between mother and son, who are we to put in our two cents worth? >>>
The pick up continues, <<< "inordinate affection/love," is a
phrase that means something bad, very bad, in the contexts in which it
used. (Questions of sexual orientation would not be relevant). It occurs
frequently in ascetical Christian religious literature. "Inordinate," by
morphology and definition, is negative in meaning >>> .
I suspect something going on here like "heads you win, tails I lose".
"Inordinate love" is NOT equivalent to "inordinate affection" in
English. Pop usage be what it may.
It seems "inordinate" can be a euphemism for the polite/opprobrious
We use a different word today for the opprobrious bad: "Inappropriate".
the word "inappropriate" collocates better with the word "touching".)
"Inordinate/inappropriate" can each suggest "excessive" or "abusive," or
a fault." Of note - "not being ordered or ordinary", and also, "not
apropos", are not necessarily bad. But here they are linguistically
for bad, as when someone has an "attitude". Everybody knows you can have
good OR bad attitude, but if someone says you have one, they always mean
bad one -- like a person has a "condition". It is always a bad thing.
The topic though, analyzes the language of a DEDICATION. Wouldn't this
suggest a polite and courteous register of language use?
<<< . Hey, if something had been going on between mother and son, who
we to put in our two cents worth? >>>
Douglas Wilson: <<< Now, just a moment. I'm a learner of English at a
relatively high grade level, and I don't have any problem at all with
dedication as quoted.>>>
Doug says the expression "inordinate love/affection" is <<< perhaps
for 'mild self-deprecation' as in "You are too kind", "This is more than
deserve", etc.) and possibly meaning merely "unrestrained". Had I been
editor, I would have passed it without a thought; had I (as editor)
a specific query about it, I would have said that it looked perfectly
(although "inordinate" would not be my own first-choice word here) >>>
Doug then goes on to give usage data from Anne Bronte and Konrad Lorenz
show two examples of "inordinate love" as a good thing, and then gives
example of a bad meaning, "a possessive mother's inordinate love" which
the negative sense of excessive to a fault, etc.
(Notwithstanding the original was "inordinate affection", not "love"),
says "inordinate love" = "immoderate" or "unrestrained love". It
have any sexual connotations."
The register of language in the topic example accords it the register
is, among other things, polite and courteous. This seems right to me,
the Lack of Sexual Connotation School of linguistic interpretation wins
the Saturday Night Live School.
The topic opened with "inordinate AFFECTION". An intermediary comment
associated "AFFECTION with LOVE", as equivalents, and next Doug gaves
examples of "inordinate LOVE".
Are not "love" and "affection" inappropriately associated here?
Our modern word "love" is a blend of two Old English roots. One meant
like", the other meant "to praise". The modern word "love" is a blend of
those two words, which is why you can speak of the "love" of the most
trivial thing, and then of the "love" of God. It's in the first instance
that "to love" means "to like" and in the second that "to love" means
praise" (God). Now, accepted as an English word, "praise" was borrowed
the French subsequent to the Norman Conquest in 1066.
In historical English usage, the "lover" was always the boy. The girl's
"lover" was not so named because he "made love" to her -- "made love"
is a euphemism for either, 1., technical medical words, or 2., ones
out of society's linguistic gutter. The language's most famous four
word is allowed as a synonym for "make love". And then, that same four
letter word is used as possibly equivalent to "rot" as a condemnative,
call it, as in "rotten idiot".
"Love" as it comes from our basic Old English has nothing to do with sex
sex being what the boy and the girl, as expressed in the English
today, HAVE with each other. "Love", here means, "to really really
like a whole lot, and nothing more than like to the tenth power. "Praise
to God", was in Old English, "Love God!" "To love God" does not mean "to
like Him a whole whole lot".
One can show love (i.e., that you "like" something or somebody a whole
affectively, and this "affection" is externalizing behavior. This is not
implied in the English word "love". "Affection" is warm and fuzzy
whereas "to really like, a whole lot, more than anything or anybody in
whole world," is all there is, and nothing more.
But what of the word "love" as the "real special bond" the boy and girl
for each other? It seems an extension of the meaning "to mega-like".
is no special word. We must go to the Romance languages for the words of
special bonding between the sexes, with a Western Valentines kind of
that is perhaps in the "mar-' roots. English has words for bonding
the sexes, like "betroth" and "wed". The "mar", though, I strongly
did more than simply come through Latin for "young girl" - i.e.,
maiden (cf. Pallas Athena, Joan of Arc, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty,
In Mexico today they can say "All the little Maria's all over Mexico".
Perhaps "mar" is same sourced in "marry" and "martial" - seen in the
millennium BC as the "oh my hero" theme, going way back on the IE
side, and eventually spread with the Pax Romana
But, on the Occidental side, consider the song, "What's Love Got to Do
It". It's about a female sexual availability script in which the guys
immediately proceed to home plate sometime between sundown and sunrise.
Presumably everybody would be externalizing behaviors of warm and fuzzy
affect, affectionate "shows" of "love" - "yes darling.", or, "yea baby,
love you". Isn't "love" erroneously equated with "affection", and "love
affection" are both synonymized with "sex". Our language is being
synonymized through guilt by association. Even makin' "whoopee" never
far beyond first base before it fell in the gutter.Too bad. The boys and
girls should learn good definitions in middle school - the usage in pop
culture be what it may. They hear more standard English and three
words on the Simpsons than they get all day in Chicago schools.
Conclusion: When he says thank you for your "inordinate love" it is good
with no sexual connotations in the identified register. It is not bad!!!
"Inordinate affection", however, could be good, could be bad, and
strictly have to do with the word "love" that developed from two Old
roots meaning "like" and "praise".
"Douglas G. Wilson" wrote (Sunday, 17:55):
> It has been suggested that "love" might be a little different from
> "affection". In the context of the book dedication in question, I believe
> these words are virtually synonymous. Still, here are a few examples with
> "inordinate affection", all without any carnal implications IMHO:
> "The Bishop and His Cats", in "The New-England Magazine" (1834):
> <<There is, we think, no son or daughter of Adam and Eve absolutely
> perfect; and, be it known to the reader that the reverend bishop had one
> fault. Charitable, humble, merciful, religious, as he was, he had one
> ridiculous fault. This was an inordinate affection for the feline race.
> Wild cats, tame cats, Maltese cats, Angora cats; cats, in short, of every
> sort and kind found an asylum in his house.>>
> "The Blackfeet Indians", in "Appletons' Journal" (1877):
> <<Many speeches are made; each brave, first embalming himself in a few
> words of feeling eulogy, assures the officer of his inordinate affection
> for the white race in general and his person in particular, and avows his
> intention of conducting the ensuing trade in a strictly honorable and
> orderly manner ....>>
> Web discussion of Protestant versus Catholic 'extremisms':
> <<Does fanaticism exist amongst these KJV Only and Bible Only groups? Sure,
> but nothing more excessive than the inordinate affection that extreme Roman
> Catholics exhibit towards the Pope ....>>
> -- Doug Wilson
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