This week we'll examine some words for types of writing. The first of them is beloved by the on-line word-hounds, but is very rare in actual print usage. Heinlein is the only person who uses it often,¹ so the term fits last week's theme of Heinlein words.
Our word means 'nonsense', but in what way? The poem Jabberwocky is masterpiece of deliberate nonsense, very different from some sloppy writing that is intended to be serious but is in fact a bunch of nonsense. In my reading, the dictionary definition of today's word refers to the first type of nonsense, but the actual usage refers to the second.
amphigory – 1. (OED) a burlesque writing filled with nonsense; a composition without sense, as a Latin ‘nonsense-verse’ 2. (actual usage) rubbish, twaddle, poppycock, in writing or speech
– Quadrant, Oct. 1, 1997
But to assert that something physical was created out of nothing … is not to make a philosophic or any sort of statement, it is mere noise, amphigory, sound and fury signifying nothing.
– Heinlein, To Sail beyond the Sunset
¹In Time Enough for Love, Stranger in a Strange Land, To Sail beyond the Sunset, I Will Fear No Evil, Star Beast, and Assignment In Eternity
tushery – poor writing, characterized by affected choice of archaic words (the sort of writing in which the characters say "Tush, tush.")
[used (coined?) by Robert Louis Stevenson]
– William Buckley, Gettysburg Times, May 22, 1987
Any natural wording, anything which keeps the mind off theatricals … and not pestering the reader with frills and festoons of language, is worth all the convoluted tushery that the Victorians can heap together.
– Ezra Pound, Translators of Greek: Early Translators of Homer
– The Spectator, Aug. 29, 1998
prolix – (of speech or writing) tediously lengthy
[Latin prolixus poured forth, extended]
– Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (winner of the Pulitzer Prize)
Wintergreen determined the outcome by throwing all communications from General Peckem into the wastebasket. He found them too prolix. General Dreedle's views, expressed in less pretentious literary style, pleased ex-P.F.C Wintergreen and were sped along by him in zealous observance of regulations. General Dreedle was victorious by default.
– Joseph Heller, Catch-22
While his scholarly, often prolix, text sadly lacks compelling visuals, it makes up for this somewhat with thorough research and a wealth of facts.
– The Japan Times, Jan. 13, 2007
If prolix means 'tediously lengthy', what's an opposite? There are several – so many that we'll double-up for a bit – and interestingly, most of them have an uncomplimentary color. Here's the one that's probably the most neutral or positive.
aphoristic – marked by aphorism (a tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion; an adage)
– Anna Quindlen
Warren has an aphoristic style of preaching. Remarking on opposing political inclinations, he said: “People ask, ‘Pastor Rick, are you right wing or left wing?’ I’m for the whole bird. One-winged birds fly in circles.”
– Nashua (New Hampshire) Telegraph, Dec. 31, 2006
apothegm – a short pithy instructive saying; a maxim
– Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth
How about further opposites of 'prolix'? You may recall our previous word-of-the-day, laconic ["saying much in few words", with a negative aura of "brusque, almost to the point of rudeness"]. Or you might use today's word, a variant of aphoristic with negative overtones.
sententious – characterized by maxims or pointed sayings – but often in the bad sense of 'addicted to pompous moralizing'
[Latin sententia 'opinion'. English sententia – an adage or aphorism. Akin to 'sentence'.]
–1883; taken from from OED. I love this quote!
a dreadful piece of sententious moralising
–The Observer, Jan. 14, 2007
One more aphorism-related term.
gnomic – in the form of short, pithy maxims or aphorisms – but with a sense of enigmatic; ambiguous
[gnome – a pithy saying that expresses a general truth or fundamental principle; an aphorism. Greek gignoskein to know]
– Independent, Jan. 7, 2007