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The Good Word — Egregulous

July 17, 2009

p. 272
“[Geoffrey Day’s] detox at Dimock, where they barely have the resources to give you a Librium if you start to D.T., must have been just real grim, because Geoffrey D. alleges it never happened: now his story is he just strolled into Ennet House on a lark one day from his home 10+ clicks away in Malden and found the place too hilariously egregulous to want to ever leave.”

This is pretty clearly a coinage with a meaning that perhaps spans “egregious” and “ridiculous.” The main reason I’m referencing it here is because it’s a damn funny word — read that sentence aloud to yourself and see if you can make it to the end without smiling. Part of it is the euphony of paring “hilariously” with “egregulous” — it takes a good deal of facial calisthenics just to get all of the sounds out (my eyebrows, for instance, start flailing all over the place when I say it).

But I’d also like to make another point here. Awhile back Conor Clarke over at A Supposedly Fun Blog posted a lengthy excerpt from a James Wood piece in which he (Wood) came down pretty hard on Wallace’s style. I generally dig Wood — he’s the closest thing we have, I think, to high-profile literary critic who’s also an intellectual bad-ass. But Wood can be kind of a fundamentalist when it comes to questions of style.

Wood’s beef with Wallace is that Wallace gives himself over completely to the “debased” language of his characters — “the author’s corrupted language just mimics an actually existing corrupted language we all know too well, and are in fact quite desperate to escape.” On first blush, “egregulous” would seem to be an example of this. The IJ narrator is here hovering around Don Gately, who hasn’t had much of an education and who often muddles his words up.* So, okay, I’m James Wood and I read this and I’m like “See? Here’s Wallace writing in the debased register of some working-class oaf.”

But. Read just a couple sentences down, the one that begins “Day wears chinos of indeterminate hue…” “Indeterminate hue?” Where did that come from? As language that phrase may be a lot of things but it’s certainly not Gatelian stream-of-consciousness. Does it come from the narrator? Does it come from Pat Montesian, who later in that sentence is quoted as describing Day’s shirts “Eastern-European-type Hawaiian shirts”? It’s really not clear, and this is just one very small reason why Wallace is far, far more narratively cagey than Wood gives him credit for.

* For a while I thought that “egregulous” was Geoffrey Day’s word, since at this point in the book he’s still psychically ragged from his detoxing. But Day is too scrupulous with his words, even in extremis, to make a “mistake” like this.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Nail permalink
    April 26, 2013 2:11 pm

    Thanks — excellent expansion on the latent responses the word brought up for me! I don’t think I got beyond an intuitive linking of egregious and… something, maybe ridiculous, and from there I assumed it was Geoffrey speaking, probably facetiously. Never would have linked it w/ Wood, whose critique of Wallace I hadn’t known…

  2. pinklightsabre permalink
    January 26, 2015 2:40 pm

    It’s funny, I’m rereading this book after many years — reading it with a writer / blogger friend from Quebec area (fitting), and keeping a list of words I have to look up. When I Googled this word, I landed here. Looking around me with my space helmet, wondering if there’s life here still. Nice to meet you, nice looking blog. – Bill

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