Bulshytt And Its Purveyors

by Nick Glossop on July 7, 20112 comments

Pursuant to the recent efforts of our own Matt Payne to isolate, decrypt and otherwise plumb the truthy bottom of bullshit as it is employed and practiced by Randroids, trickle-downers and economic voodoo doll-heads, I give you bulshytt as a term of art from the novel Anathem by Neal Stephenson.

As the story takes place in an isolated monastery on a far off planet in a time unknown, many of the words will seem exotic, nevertheless Stephenson’s definition would, I think, earn a smile from impish lexicographers the likes of Bierce, Mencken and Bowler.

Bulshytt: (1) In Fluccish of the late Praxic Age and early Reconstitution, a derogatory term for false speech in general, esp. knowing and deliberate falsehood or obfuscation. (2) In Orth, a more technical or clinical term denoting speech (typically but not necessarily commercial or political) that employs euphemism, convenient vagueness, numbing repetition, and other such rhetorical subterfuges to create the impression that something has been said. (3) …Praxic Age commercial and political institutions; and, since the Reconstitution, anyone deemed to have been infected by Procian thinking. Their frequent and loud use of this word to interrupt lectures, dialogs, private conversations, etc. exacerbated the divide between Procian and Halikaarnian orders…

Usage note: In the mathic world, if the word is suddenly shouted out in a chalk hall or refectory it brings to mind the events associated with sense (3) and is therefore to be avoided. Spoken in a moderate tone of voice, it takes on sense (2), which long ago lost any vulgar connotation it may once have had. In the Saeculum it is easily confused with sense (1) and deemed a vulgarity or even an obscenity. It is inherent in the mentality of extramuros bulshytt-talkers that they are more prone than anyone else to taking offense (or pretending to) when their bulshytt is pointed out to them. This places the mathic observer in a nearly impossible position. One is forced either to use this “offensive” word and be deemed a disagreeable person and as such excluded from polite discourse, or to say the same thing in a different way, which means becoming a purveyor of bulshytt oneself and thereby lending strength to what one is trying to attack. The latter quality probably explains the uncanny stability and resiliency of bulshytt…

Whether you call it or purvey it, bulshytt is a tar-baby of uncanny stability and resilience.

With near 700 pages left in which the novel might still disappoint, I am prepared to declare Anathem the most richly realized and intricately detailed world of science fiction I have read since Dune. In its architectural language, it smacks also of Gormenghast, and in its otherly monastic setting of Canticle For Lebowitz, while there seems more than a little Jasper Foorde in its semantic play and conceptual riffing. I am delighted to have many many more pages yet to drink in.

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2 comments

David McNeilly on July 7, 2011 at 7:02 pm. #

You have only scratched the surface of the novel, Nick. Enjoy the rest of your reading.

Matthew on July 7, 2011 at 9:06 pm. #

I really liked the book myself but I had forgotten (repressed?) the whole bulshyte thing. I think Stephenson was reading the same guys I was.