Tuesday, July 22, 2014


I found it necessary to look up a word the other day: panglossian. A writer or commenter, I forget which, described President Obama as panglossian or "a pangloss". Skipping tactfully over politics involved, and whether or not the adjective or noun was a hat that fits, I found the word comes from the satirical French novel, Candide (1759), by Voltaire.
As Dr. Pangloss, Candide's tutor and mentor explained, whatever happens, happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds (“Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles.”)
noun: One who is optimistic regardless of the circumstances.
adjective: Blindly or unreasonably optimistic.

After Dr. Pangloss, a philosopher and tutor in Voltaire's 1759 satire Candide. Pangloss believes that, in spite of what happens -- shipwreck, earthquake, hanging, flogging, and more -- "All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." The name is coined from Greek panglossia (talkativeness). Earliest documented use: 1794.

See Wordsmith.org

"Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology. He could prove to admiration that there is no effect without a cause; and, that in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron's castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and My Lady the best of all possible baronesses...

"It is demonstrable," said he, "that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all the year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best."
- Candide, Ch.1

The novel is about a series of disasters and misfortunes that befall Pangloss, Candide, and the the company that they gather, during their adventures.

The novel is a satire. It satirizes philosophy, religion, academia, the political order - basically most of the dominant institutions.
(See HERE)

It's difficult to be or to feel panglossian these days, maybe that's why the word isn't oft encountered.

A couple of other adjectives originating from literature's characters, not used much in speech, but occasionally in writings are:

Stentorian from Homer's The Iliad. Stentor was a herald in the Greek army during the Trojan Wars, and had a loud, thundering voice. His name has been bequeathed to the adjective stentorian = loud and thundering voice.

Gargantuan from Rabelais' The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, a bawdy 16th century work with scatological references. Gargantua, in Rabelais' novel, is born calling for ale, and with an erection a yard long.

Hmmm. I shall be careful how I use the latter word - if I ever do use it!

On a different note there's Pickwickian
1. Marked by generosity, naivete, or innocence.
2. Not intended to be taken in a literal sense.

After Samuel Pickwick, a character in the novel Pickwick Papers (serialized 1836-1837) by Charles Dickens. Mr Pickwick is known for his simplicity and kindness. In the novel Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Blotton call each other names and it appears later that they were using the offensive words only in a Pickwickian sense and had the highest regard for each other.

Another term that arose from the book is Pickwickian syndrome, which refers to a combination of interlinked symptoms such as extreme obesity, shallow breathing, tiredness, sleepiness, etc. The character with these symptoms was not Mr. Pickwick, but Fat Joe, so the term is really coined after the book's title. The medical term for the condition is obesity-hypoventilation syndrome.

From wordsmith.org again

Lots more examples of the same type of word, obscure and otherwise, at Wiki
List of eponymous adjectives in English


mike said...

"All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds" reminds me of the new-age phrase, "You are exactly where you should be". I've never been called panglossian or an optimist.

From Wiki - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neologism

"Neologisms may come from popular literature in different forms. Sometimes, they are simply taken from a word used in the narrative of a book; a few representative examples are "grok" (to achieve complete intuitive understanding), from Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein; "McJob," from Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland; "cyberspace," from Neuromancer by William Gibson; and "nymphet" from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Other times the title of a book becomes the neologism, for instance, Catch-22 (from the title of Joseph Heller's novel). Alternatively, the author's name may become the neologism, although the term is sometimes based on only one work of that author. This includes such words as "Orwellian" (from George Orwell, referring to his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four), "Kafkaesque" (from Franz Kafka, author and philosopher most renowned for The Metamorphosis) and "Ballardesque" or "Ballardian" (from J. G. Ballard, author of Crash). The word "sadistic" is derived from the cruel sexual practices Marquis de Sade described in his novels. Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle was the container of the Bokononism family of nonce words.

Another category is words derived from famous characters in literature, such as quixotic (referring to the titular character in Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes), a scrooge (from the main character in Dickens's A Christmas Carol), or a pollyanna (from Eleanor H. Porter's book of the same name). James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, composed in a uniquely complex linguistic style, coined the words monomyth and quark."

Twilight said...

mike ~ I've never been called panglossian either - if I had, I'd have felt the need to discover its meaning sooner, suspecting it to be an insult. :-)

Thanks for the additional information on neologisms - itself another word I'd not come across before. The list of such words is endless, it seems.

Words of the type we're discussing were no doubt first coined, and became easily understandable, to the people of the era in which the book or play involved was well-known to many, but in later decades these words have become obscure to most ordinary folk. Other such words were possibly coined later by literature professors and general egg-heads as a means of impressing lesser mortals.

I prefer the simplest word or expression for the job, one widely understood and unpretentious.

It's still interesting to investigate the source of these "10 dollar words", and to be fair, there are one or two for which there really is no alternative without writing a whole paragraph to explain.

ex-Chomp said...

I absolutely do agree: Obama is a Pangloss, but I think circumstances and its flow eill change his unprectective perspectives....

Twilight said...

ex-Chomp ~ If he is, he ought not to be - he obviously has not received the memo! ;-)

I've been looking for a pessimist from literature to coin an adjective to describe the way he ought to feel - several exist but it's not easy to make a memorable adjective from them:

Pascal, who in his Pensées, describes the inanity and frivolity of most human beings and their denial of the grim facts of life through their pursuit of power and money. Equally enjoyable is La Rochefoucauld, whose Maxims are made up of deliciously tart bitter truths. Chamfort is another great French writer of aphoristic truths, and his Maxims contains this wisdom that I try to think of every day: “A man should be sure to swallow a toad every morning to be sure of not meeting with anything more disgusting in the day ahead.”

Arthur Schopenhauer represents Germany’s greatest contribution to the tradition of philosophical pessimism. The Wisdom of Life is packed with advice on how to disappoint yourself before life gets a chance to do it for you.

John Gray’s Straw Dogs is a welcome contemporary addition to the literature of philosophical pessimism. He sums up human beings as vicious, demented animals who have the arrogance to believe themselves better than other creatures on this earth. His prognosis is that we will eventually destroy the planet and ourselves. This book does not sadden its readers, but makes them appreciate the wonders of existence afresh. (Alain de Botton)

Link - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/9902122/Alain-de-Botton-on-five-great-philosophical-pessimists.html

I like the highlighted advice - Obama should take it! :-D

mike (again) said...

Schopenhauer wins the pez award in my opinion:

“If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence, or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?” Arthur Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism: The Essays

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ How very true!