"MOTHER FUCKER" transparent? [was: Percentage point--missed word in dictionaries]

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Dec 30 05:17:34 UTC 2001

>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
>mind. ....

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 quoted.

Perhaps the restriction on "inordinate love/affection" is itself
restricted, perhaps to certain religious contexts with which I'm not very

My quick Web search does turn up a lot of religiously-oriented material in
which "inordinate" means "improper" or worse. But in the above quotation it
seems perfectly innocent to me, with "inordinate" at most meaning something
like "excessive" (here perhaps used for 'mild self-deprecation' as in "You
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, I
would have said that it looked perfectly fine (although "inordinate" would
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,' said
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 give
you a particular account of her person and conversation, and so forth; but,
if the old lady's eulogies are correct, you will find her to possess all
desirable qualifications for her position: an inordinate love of children
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 animals.>>

Web column in "Al-Ahram Weekly On-line" (Egypt) [referring to the
"mother-in-law" stereotype]:

<<A mother's inordinate love for her son or daughter may become possessive
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

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