Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My review of Zodiac:

Good, but long.

There endeth the review, and here beginneth the portion of the post where I talk about the review. Originally, I had written 'Long, but good,' until I realized that, no, that wasn't really what I felt. Isn't that interesting? If it's not, you might want to click on by, because I think it's interesting enough to talk about.

The words are the same, the meanings of the words are the same, and all that changes is the order in which they are placed, and yet the meanings of the sentances are different. This is something we are used to, with operative verbs ('Tom killed Bob' versus 'Bob killed Tom', for example), however, 'But' is a conjunction! It links, rather than operates upon, the two words. And yes, I will readily admit that this is a conjunction that has multiple usages, some of which are context sensitive ("We've sold but three cans of dog food," v. "Three cans of dog food but we've sold"), but I'm using it in a manner that is not. Or rather, should not be. All this 'but' says is that Item A is true, however Item A's truth is tempered or contrasted by Item B's truth. There is no need for context in this sense. The movie is long. This is true. The movie is good. This is also true. One negative, one positive, both temper and contrast with one another in the same way. And yet...

And yet, "Long, but good" is overwhelmingly positive, and "Good, but long" is, if not outrightly negative, not nearly as positive a review as it's former. Why is this? Substitute synonyms, and it's still true. "Drawn-out, however, pleasing," is more positive than "Splendid, and yet, lengthy." Even though the latter uses a more positive positive and a less negative negative, and vice versa. Correct me if I'm wrong on any of these counts (connotation being something of a sticky wicket, especially when one of the parties has a point to prove). Play along at home if you want, use your own synonyms and euphamisms and the movies of your choice... maybe I'm straight-up delusional vis-a-vis the language. But, I think not.

Cute, but crazy. Crazy, but cute.

Abrasive, but charming. Charming, but abrasive.

Ultimately useless, but really neat. Really neat, but ultimately useless.

I could go on, but I think you get the point by now.

... I think you get the point by now, but I could go on. Which one makes you feel like I'm not so sure you got the point? The latter, yes? So it seems, in a phrase with a contrary conjunction, the ultimate connotation IS determined by the order of those items being compared, even though there's no reason for it to be. Call it a quirk of the language, or a quirk of the culture, or a quirk of human nature... I haven't researched, so I don't rightly know. Anyone who speaks a lick of Foreign would earn my everlasting gratitude if they'll tell me if this is a polyglottal phenominon. Until then, I'll remain curious, but be content.

... no, wait. I'll be content, but remain curious.

3 Comments:

Anonymous AAMF said...

Ed, you are absolutely my best friend. There is no doubt about it. I seriously thought I was the only person in the world that was insanely analytical.

3/08/2007 7:15 AM  
Blogger Ford Dent said...

That is the sexiest thing you have ever written.

3/08/2007 8:05 AM  
Anonymous Dad said...

As you say, the common point to all the examples is that the negative is stronger if it is placed last. “Long, but good” says to me that some jackass may object to the length, but sensible people see it as necessary to the overall goodness. “Good, but long” says good on balance, but it would have been better had it lost 45 minutes. LOTR:FOTR is long, but good. King Kong is (for the sake of argument) good, but long.

If a friend of mine acquired a new pet of a species unfamiliar to me, and he said, “Fido is carnivorous, but friendly,” I would scratch Fido’s ears without worry. If he said, “Fido is friendly, but carnivorous,” I would hesitate to extend my hand.

3/08/2007 12:43 PM  

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