Thursday, October 28

The Geek Plural and Other Passive-Digressive Woolgathering

Public-service pedantic correction of the day applies to the post from Many 2 Many that begins:
Bottom-up phenomena has accelerated in recent years because of social software.

It would be smug of us to repeat the usual lecture about the Greek and Latin neuter plurals, so we'll rehearse it silently to ourselves. Suffice it to say that 'phenomena'--the token, not the type--is plural. An exception is 'phenomenons' in the sense of extraordinarily talented people: "With Jeter and Rodriguez in the infield, the Yankees lineup boasts the two hottest young phenomenons in the league."

Is there an accelerating increase in the number of bottom-up phenomena? Or is it the bottom-up phenomenon itself that is accelerating?

"Bottom-up" may be the emptiest bit of current consultant-speak I know of, by the way. Crud flowing uphill, that's the image it awakens in my mind's eye. Whatever happened to good old "emergent"?

The stickier question is why the phrase 'the phenomena accelerated' thunks so harshly on the rosy porches of our downy ears, like brass knuckles wrapped in the evening newspaper.

Doesn't seem like to you that it's processes that slow down or speed up? Phenomena--"mutable, caused, or developing aspects of things as contrasted with their fixed and substantial natures"--are signs of process, documented instances whose orderly relations justify the hypothesis of a process that generates them. They're contingent data points, you could say, but not the curve that connects them.

It's a real can of worms, of course. God forbid we should get into a discussion of Husserl and Heidegger on a deadline day! But don't you agree? Sure, a phenomenon grows or takes off or reaches critical mass or becomes entrenched--in that sense, in the singular, it's a synonym for "trend" or "tendency"--but in either case, it seems to belong more to the order of being than of becoming. It has no beginning or end: it simply is. What waxes or wanes is our awareness of it, based on the accumulation of signs that call our attention to some possible, still-hypothetical pattern.

Now. Should we call the coming wave of litigation discussed in our front-page story a "sh*tstorm" or a "tsunami"? A "bloodbath"? "Legal vendetta"? The commission's "judicial Waterloo'? Gotta sex this stuff up a little, my brain is starting to fog.


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