July 2004 Archives
Terms from Mathematics: circular argument, elliptical, parabola (parable), hyperbole, exponential, fractal, iff
Uplifting Eponyms: tadoma, cinchona, braille, quassia, pasteurize, lazaretto, guillotine, stovaine, plimsoll line
Guess the theme: crapulous, interbastation, titubate, infucation, jaculate, turdine, schist
Varieties of Written Works: roman à clef, hagiography, short-short (flash fiction), chrestomathy, bildungsroman (entwicklungsroman), think piece, feuilleton
Terms from Mathematics
Yesterday's term, "begging the question", meant "making a circular argument". 'Circular' brings us to this week's discussion of terms from mathematics.
circular argument – 1. using a premise to prove a conclusion that in turn is used to prove the premise [So says the dictionary; actual usages show further meanings.) 2. an argument between two people that 'goes around in circles', making no progress 3. 'self-reinforcing' process, in which progress in one area both requires and stimulates progress in another area
He had been right not to speak to her; there were no more
words to be said, only a circular argument going nowhere.
– Maeve Binchy, Scarlet Feather
The moderator was gettitng panicky now. He could see the clock telling him he had six minutes to bump this squabble out of the endless circular argument about gun control and turn it into a news story.
– Thomas Perry Pursuit
We must crack the supply side by making broadband affordable and available to create network access for application services, but to a degree it is a circular argument because application services will drive bandwidth and stimulate demand for broadband.
– Peter McCarthy-Ward, East of England regional director at BT
Four terms, which in geometry name four related curves, also have related meanings in rhetoric. We saw the first of these yesterday (circle; circular argument); the other three follow. On a future day we'll see how the geometrical and rhetorical meanings are related in concept and in etymology.
ellipse – an oval-shaped curve; a circle that has been 'stretched' (note: not "egg-shaped" as some say; an egg is wider at one end; an ellipse is not). elliptical (rhetoric) – 1. of extreme economy in speech or writing; hence, 2. having a part omitted (see here at ‘ellipsis’); 3. deliberately obscure
His description of the Lewinsky affair is just as elliptical
(and he doesn't get to it until page 773).
– Thane Peterson, reviewing Bill Clinton's new book My Life, in Business Week, June 28, 2004
In his statement Fed[eral Reserve] chairman Alan Greenspan, just reappointed to his fifth term, was less elliptical than usual.
– Alex Brummer, of the London Daily Mail, in This is
parabola – a certain geometrical curve (a thrown ball travels in a parabola as it rises and then falls to the ground). parable (rhetoric) – a story illustrating a moral or religious lesson; an allegory)
hyperbola – a certain curve, opening more widely than a parabola. hyperbole (rhetoric) – extravagant exaggeration (This book weighs a ton.)
This research leads us to one hyperbolic
conclusion: Neckties are bad for you. OK, the study didn’t go that far. But you
can’t blame us for trying.
– Beware attack of the killer ties,
The dictionary definitions for our next two words do not match the usages I find in the quotations.
In proper mathematical use an exponential change need not be rapid.¹ But in popular usage it usually means a large and explosively-rapid increase, whether by very fast growth or by a one-time "jump". MW's definition says "characterized by or being an extremely rapid increase," but the word as actually used refers to a very large change, usually (but not always; see first two quotes) a rapid one and an increasing one.
exponential – characterized by very large increase or other change, particularly a very rapid one; sometimes implies due to interaction with other factors.
Microsoft continues to appeal a huge fine … by the time
anything is decided the result will matter exponentially less
than it does today.
– David Coursey, eWeek, June 30, 2004
As hard as the cowboy life was for Wilcox, life was exponentially more severe for the Fremont [Indians, a thousand years ago].
Melani said, "... It's an exponential change in the need for health care once you get into the over-50 age."
– Pittsburg Post-Gazette Sunday, July 4, 2004
Beleaguered by exponential increases in insurance and fuel costs ...
– Valerie Hubbard, Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 7, 2004
public libraries … are turning to stronger tactics to track down overdue material. Ignore the traditional overdue notice, and you may hear from a debt-collection agency. … "The value of this service is exponential. It's not the $20 book we get back. It's the $20 book times all the people who will read it after it is returned," Catrambone says.
In scientific usage, 'exponential' growth is basically "the bigger it is, the faster it grows", a sort of snowball effect where prior growth makes for more rapid further growth. More exactly, "as the quantity gets bigger, it grows faster by a proportionate amount." That is, if a 100,000 population is growing exponentially and adds 5,000 in the first year, then when it has become (say) 20% larger its growth the next year will not just be more than 5,000, it will be precisely 20% more (that is, 6,000).
Exponential change can be negative (shrinkage), as in the decay of a radioactive substance, in which the shrinkage-per-year diminishes each year.
¹Footnote: Compounding of interest creates exponential growth, which is rapid if the bank pays 15% interest - but is slow if the bank pays 1% interest. Exponential change can be negative (shrinkage), as in the decay of a radioactive substance, in which the shrinkage-per-year diminishes each year.
Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot coined the term 'fractal' in 1975, defining it as "a set for which the Hausdorff-Besicovitch dimension strictly exceeds the topological dimension." Right. Many less-technical definitions are nonetheless near-incomprehensible (such as the 19 you'll find by putting define:fractal into a Google search box). Let's see if we can make this clearer.
fractal adj – characterized by having small parts that are miniature replicas of larger parts. In other words, similar, to itself, at different scales.
Branching in nature is often fractal.
That means that branching at the twig ends looks very similar to branching near
the trunk. The branching is the same at all scales of size.
– Walter Witschey, Computer studies branch out, Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 24, 2004
The earth is round, but the small portion you can see appears flat. In other words, a sphere (or circle) is not fractal: a very small part does not look like a miniature of the larger figure.
fractal noun – a fractal figure or picture
A computer program can make factals recursively. The procedure is to apply a rule to make a simple starting figure more complicated; then reapply the same rule to the resulting figure; then re-reapply; etc.¹ One can add to the mix other elements, such as randomness.
Fractals are important in computer graphics, for they can generate wonderfully detailed images of such natural features or textures such as mountains, clouds, trees and forests. (For these images, credit Vistapro Pictures Vistapro Pictures and Kevin Meinert respectively.) Fractals can also be beautiful as abstract art, and one can buy programs to generate them.
I have simplified quite a bit, but this gives the basic idea.
¹Footnote: In this example starts with an equal-sided triangle. At each step, a triangle of 1/3 the prior size is added atop the middle third of each side.
iff – if and only if
A useful word - if it is a word. M-W considers it a word, but AHD lists it only as an abbreviation. Apparently the jury is still out on this one.
It's next to impossible to search for usage, since a
google search brings up cites to IFF meaning 'International Flavors and
Fragrances' or '
It's been a couple of months since we looked at a favorite theme: eponyms. Eponymic words allude to the tale of the people behind them. Often the tale is sordid; sometimes it is uplifting. This week we'll be focusing on ones with uplifting, humanitarian intent – or with such intent gone awry.
We'll start this week with a language-related eponym, one found in very few on-line dictionaries.
tadoma – a means by which a deaf-blind person can "hear" a conversation by touch. "The person places their thumb on the speakers lips and their fingers along the jaw line, touching the speaker's cheek and throat. They therefore pick up the vibrations of speech as well as the lip patterns." – Hugh Sasse.
Named for the first students taught this method, in
As I understand it, skilled users of tadoma can
"hear" very effectively (Professor Hong Tan,
cinchona – the tree whose bark yields quinine
In about 1638 Contessa Ana de Chinchón, wife of the Spanish Viceroy of Peru, fell ill with a tropical fever. Her European doctors proved helpless, but she was saved by the folk-cure of the local Indians, made from the powdered bark of a local tree. She promptly undertook to send that miracle medicine back to Europe, and for over two centuries the "Contessa's powder" (the active ingredient of which is quinine) was the primary treatment for malaria.
This story may well be apocryphal, but it was widely believed, and in 1742 Linnaeus named the tree-genus for the Contessa de Chinchón, but unfortunately misspelled it, omitting the h.
[Some sources admit the alternate spelling "chinchona". Some give the Contessa's name as "Francisca Henríquez de Ribera" rather than "Ana".]
The name 'quinine' comes from the Spanish name for this bark, which was in turn taken from the Quechua Indian word quina=bark. (Some attribute the name 'quinine' to the city of Quechua, Peru.) Legend has it that the Indians discovered cinchona's medicinal power when, following an earthquake, an ill and thirsty man drank from a lake into which several cinchona trees had fallen.
braille – a system of writing for blind people, where patterns of dots represent letters and can be read by touch.
[Devised by Louis Braille, Fr teacher of the blind (1809–1852), who was himself blind from age 4 (some say age 3). He got the idea from a failed French military system of night writing, intended to allow soldiers to communicate quietly in the dark. The first braille book was published in 1827, but the idea languished. It was not until 1868, well after Braille’s death, that Thomas Rhodes Armitage, a Brit, recognized its importance and began to popularize its use.]
pasteurize – to partially sterilize (esp. milk or other liquid) by heat and time sufficient to destroy objectionable organisms without a major chemical change in the substance
[Louis Pasteur, Fr chemist (1822–1895)]
Since these two are quite well-know, let’s add a more obscure one.
lazaretto – a hospital to treating contagious disease, esp. leprosy (or, a quarantine station)
[from an Italian word blending lazzaro and Nazarto, each of which comes from a biblical name.
lazzaro – leper (like old English lazar), from Lazarus, the beggar full of sores in Luke 16:20.
Nazareto – popular name for a Venetian hospital maintained by the Church of Santa Maria di Nazaret.]
The Council House was a frame building, away from the
rest, that had been built in the old, wilder days as a lazaretto
for surly drunks.
– Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano
The segregated urban schools feel more like lazarettos.
– Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools
Today’s eponym tells of a humanitarian intention that went awry.
guillotine – machine for beheading, using a heavy blade that slides down in vertical guides; also, a shearing device (as a paper cutter) of similar action
As of the late 1700s it was generally accepted that decapitation (beheading) is, by a wide margin, the most humane way to execute a condemned criminal. But decapitation requires a skilled executioner to wield the sword with strong arm, steady hand and good eye. Such skilled labor being in short supply, decapitation was reserved for the nobility, and the lesser criminal had to endure a hanging or worse.
How undemocratic! Very early in the French Revolution, in 1789, a member of Constituent Assembly proposed on the grounds of humanity and egalité that beheading should be the sole form of execution. The well-meaning proposal was passed, but the insufficient supply of suitable human executioners proved a stumbling block, revealing the need for an efficiently mechanical device for beheading.
So such a machine was devised and built, through the Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, Dr. Antoine Louis. At first this machine was called a louisson or louisette after Dr. Louis, but it soon became known by the name of the good delegate who in 1789 had advocated decapitation as the humane approach. His name? Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotin.
Historical note: Some sources say that Dr. Louis invented the device, and that Dr. Guillotin proposed its use. But as far as I can tell, Dr. Guillotin simply proposed relying solely on beheading (by whatever means), and Dr. Louis was not the inventor but rather the (ahem) technical consultant on anatomical considerations.
quassia – a medicine against intestinal worms, once very popular in Europe; still in use in modern times
Graman Quassi, brought to the New World in Surinam as a captured African slave, later obtained his freedom and pacticed as a medicine man. He "came to be almost worshiped by some," and he discovered the medicinal value of the bark and heartwood of a certain tree. One C. G. Dahlberg told Linneaus of this in 1730, and Linnaeus named the tree in Quassi's honor. The name was later extended to the medicine.
Graman Quassi's name is probably from Ashanti dialect Kwasi, meaning boy born on Sunday (Kwasida).
This account is my reconciliation of differences in the various web and print sources. Some do not mention being freed from slavery; some list Dahlberg as the slaveowner; many omit one detail or another.
Cocaine, the first effective local anesthetic, became widely used in dentistry after 1884. But by the end of the century its addictive properties had been recognized. Chemists sought to concoct a better derivative that would not be too harsh for practical use.
stovaine – the first successful substitute for cocaine as an anesthetic
[Discovered in 1904 by Ernest Fourneau (1872-1949). The trade name stovaine comes from translating the French word 'fourneau', meaning 'furnace': stove + cocaine = stovaine]
Stovaine was quickly succeeded by procaine, a better product better known by its trade name novocaine [novus new + cocaine].
plimsoll line – a line on the side of a ship; it is unsafe if loaded to the point that its Plimsoll line sinks below the waterline. [Usually there are multiple lines, applying to voyages in various seasons and seas.]
I love the story of Samuel Plimsoll, so forgive me for telling it at length.
Under British law, unscrupulous shippers profited by sending out “coffin-ships” – unseaworthy, overloaded vessels, often heavily insured – endangering the lives of their crews. The law even made it illegal for a sailor to leave a ship in mid-voyage, once he realized it was unsafe.
Plimsoll, in Parliament, took on the sailors’ cause against the shippers’ political power. In 1872 he published a book which, though long and rambling, devastatingly documented that over 1,000 sailors per year were sacrificed. Early in 1873 The Times printed the story of fifteen seamen had been imprisoned for refusing go on board the ship Peru – which ship, when it finally sailed with a new crew, promptly sank, drowning three men. Finally the government appointed an inquiry commission and, in 1875, at last finally introduced a bill.
But when Disraeli later announced that the bill would be dropped. Plimsoll shook his fist in Disraeli’s face and called several MP’s "villains". He was forced to apologize – but the popular agitation forced the government to pass a bill.
From Vanity Fair in
1873, in mid-battle:
He is not a clever man, he is a poor speaker and a feeble writer, but he has a big good heart, and with the untutored utterings of that he has stirred even the most indifferent. He has taken up a cause, not a popular cause nor a powerful one -- only the cause of the British sailor who is sent to sea in rotten vessels in order that ship-owners may thrive. He has written a book about it -- a book jumbled together in the fashion of an insane farrago, written without method and without art, but powerful and eloquent because it is the simple honest cry of a simple honest man.
Any number of actions for libel have been commenced against him, he has been forced to apologize in the House of Commons, and were it not that he has found strong and passionate support among the public, he would be a lost man. His crime indeed is great. He has declared that there are men among the Merchants of England who prefer their own profits to the lives of their servants, and who habitually sacrifice their men to their money.
He has moreover averred that the labouring classes are the more part a brave, high-souled, generous race who merit better treatment than to have their highest qualities made the instruments of their destruction. He tells of men who go to certain death rather than have their courage impugned.
He has secured the inquiry he asked for however, and in due course of time we shall learn from it that there never was a country where the humble capitalist was so enslaved by the arrogant labourer as this, nor a trade in which the labourer's arrogance was so strongly marked as in that which has to do with ships.
Guess the theme
The last theme was serious, so this one will be playful: a game. Your task is to guess the theme. Here is the answer, given in white type so as not to spoil the question. To see it, paint it over here: Words that sound Dirty, but Aren't.
crapulous; crapulent – over-indulging in food or drink; also, sick from doing so
Said a man to a crapulent youth: "I
You a total abstainer, my son."
"So I am, so I am," said the scrapgrace caught --
"But not, sir, a bigoted one."
– Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
Mr. Chris Addison, his tongue squarely in his cheek, published in The Guardian a remarkable letter which he purports to have received from the the British taxman. You will find "crapulent" used there, albeit improperly.
interbastation – patchwork (this word was already obsolete two centuries ago)
titubate – to stumble or stagger; also, to rock or reel, as would a curved-bottom bowl on a table
Almost no one uses this word except Jack London (apart from a medical sense, to mean the staggering or stumbling gait characteristic of certain nervous disorders). London uses it repeatedly, typically for a drunken stagger. From London’s works (respectively Jerry of the Islands, ch.VI; First Aid to Rising Authors; Michael, Brother of Jerry, ch. 3; Burning Daylight, pt. 1 ch. 3; Jan, the Unrepentant; and The Passing of Marcus O'Brien):
Thus, the balance, on which his life titubated,
was inclined in his favour by the blunder of a black steersman.
Then, again, there is another class of fiction to avoid, especially perilous to those [authors] of us who titubate between Grub Street and a country house flung about with twenty woodland acres. This consists of the inanely vapid sort which amuses the commonplace souls of the commonplace public.
And for the rest of the way to the steamer, Dag Daughtry grinned and chuckled at sight of his plunder and at sight of Kwaque, who fantastically titubated and ambled along, barrel-like, on his pipe-stems.
Bettles ... ceased from his drunken lay of the "Sassafras Root," and titubated over to congratulate Daylight. But in the midst of it he felt impelled to make a speech, and raised his voice oratorically.
The horror in Jan's voice caused the rest to desist. The fallen tent had uprisen, and in the gathering twilight it flapped ghostly arms about and titubated toward them drunkenly.
Curly Jim sweated and fumed and poured out the whisky. … at two in the morning … he led his helpless guests across the kitchen floor and thrust them outside. O'Brien came last, and the three, with arms locked for mutual aid, titubated gravely on the stoop.
infucation – the act of painting or staining, esp. face-painting. In other words, putting on makeup.
I'm unable to find any formal dictionary (OED being unavailable) that specifically mentions 'makeup' for this word. However, Erin McKean of OED, in her book More Weird and Wonderful Words, defines 'infucate' as "to use makeup".
I am at a loss to understand why so useful a word is not in frequent use, as in, "With only minutes before her date arrived, Louise had no time for her usual thorough infucation." I urge the ladies to take up infucation. As a female reader notes: The next time I am at a restaurant, I will turn to the lady next to me and say, "Would you like to join me in the bathroom to infucate? "
A reader notes: Pleased to confirm for wordcrafter I've made a "close" inspection of the OED. The OED defines infucate as a form of fucate, meaning "to paint, rouge," and cites the derivation from Latin "fucus" or rock lichen, a source of red dye.
jaculate – to throw out cast or hurl, as a dart or javelin; to emit [jaculable – fit for throwing]
The press could make good use this term in covering track and field in the upcoming summer Olympics. But I somehow doubt that it will be used.
Grandfather Smallweed immediately throws the cushion at her.
'Drat you, be quiet!' says the good old man. The effect of this act of jaculation
is twofold. It not only doubles up Mrs Smallweed's head against the side of her
porter's chair ..., but the necessary exertion recoils on Mr Smallweed himself,
whom it throws back into his porter’s chair, like a broken puppet.
– Charles Dickens, Bleak House, ch. XXI
The bottoms of the mountains upward turned ... / The rest in imitation to like arms / Betook them, the neighboring hills uptore; / So hills amid the air encountered hills, / Hurled to and fro with jaculation dire
– John Milton, Paradise Lost, ch. VI
... a jaculation from the garden of the soul. – James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
turdine – pertaining to thrushes (in the nature of canine, feline, etc.)
schist – any of a group of rocks which can be easily split into flat parallel layers
[From the same root, I presume, as schizophrenia, split personality.]
Varieties of Written Works
Our recent "Art of the Book” theme presented several words about books as physical objects: decoration, illustration, etc. This week we classify books and other writings by their written content.
roman à clef – [romahn-a-KLAY] a novel in which actual persons and events are disguised as fictional characters [plural romans à clef]
The term is commonly applied to movies as well as novels. What well-known novels and movies can our readers identify as being romans à clef?
Are fictional characters drawn directly from life?
Obviously not, at least on a one-to-one basis – you’d better not, unless
you want to get sued or shot on your way to the mailbox some fine morning. In
many cases, such as roman à clef novels like Valley of the
Dolls, characters are drawn mostly from life, but after readers get
done playing the inevitable guessing game about who’s who, these stories tend
to be unsatisfying, stuffed with shadowbox celebrities who bonk each other and
then fade quickly from the reader’s mind.
– Stephen King, On Writing
This quote provided by a reader:
HOLLYWOOD (Reuters) - They really said it -- notable
quotes from the news:
"I love to write. And I thought about an autobiography but everyone was doing that plus I'd rather write fiction. So someone suggested a 'roman a clef' and I was like, who is that?"
–PAMELA ANDERSON, sex symbol and now author of "Star," in the Boston Herald.
Another reader adds: Perhaps her roman à clef should more properly be called a roman à cleft.
hagiography – a biography of saints; hence, a worshipful or idealizing biography
But every time I consider the upcoming political
conventions, a single word comes to mind: why? It was hard enough four years
ago to discern the point of these empty exercises in film-clip hagiography
and ideological self-congratulation. The networks had rightly given up
full-scale coverage because the conventions had become, as one exec complained,
"an endless sea of blah." The nominees already signed, sealed and
delivered, the Republican and Democratic conventions seemed to be of interest
to no one but placard manufacturers, local caterers and demonstrators.
– Anna Quindlen, Newsweek, July 26, 2004
Today's term, though much used, does not appear in any of the many dictionaries that One-Look includes. So I attempt to amalgamate the on-line discussions, which of course vary somewhat
short-short – an extremely brief short-story (Publishers' guidelines vary, some allowing 500 words maximum, some as many as 1,000.) The term flash fiction often used, either as a synonym for short-short, or as meaning an even more tightly compressed story.
One source (no longer on the web) says, "A short story, unlike a novel, is expected to be efficient and purposeful; it moves in a straight line. A short-short story compresses the efficiency of a short story. [...I]t's either a shorter straight line or a dotted line that leaves out segments of the line so that the reader has to interpolate."
It was "The Seashell". ... I wrote it first as
a short story, and it was turned down. Then I made a novelette out of it, and then
a novel. Then a short short. Then a three-line gag. And
still it wouldn't sell.
– Theodore Sturgeon's opening words in Ether Breather
I believe today's word has a broader meaning than the dictionaries state. I give that broad meaning first, and illustrate it by the first quotation.
chrestomathy – a collection of literary passages selected to show a subject matter in breadth. More specifically:
1. a sample of literary passages, usually by one author illustrating his thought and style (e.g., the H.L. Mencken book titled "A Mencken Chrestomathy") 2. a selection of passages to be used to help learn a language
[from Gk chrestos useful + mathien to learn]
Here is a form that may be far more useful: chrestomathic – pertaining to useful knowledge
Not only are Oriental literary productions essentially
alien to the European; they also do not contain a sustained enough interest ...
to merit publication except as extracts ... . Therefore the Orientalist is
required to present the Orient by a series of representative fragments,
fragments republished, explicated, annotated, and surrounded with still more
fragments. For such a presentation a special genre is required: the chrestomathy
– Edward W. Said, Orientalism (1979)
A social philosopher with the acute insight that thought worthy of the name must heed, Kristol and his chrestomathy will engage fan and foe alike.
– Booklist, Sept. 1995, reviewing Irving Kristol, Neoconservatism: The Autobiography Of An Idea
The final quotation, from Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, does not really illustrate the word but is too humorous to resist.
Old Jewkins, humble, gently old
farmer, inched up to murmur, "Like to shake your hand, brother Elmer.
T'think I remember you as knee-high to a grasshopper! I suppose you study a lot
of awful learned books now."
"They make us work good and hard, Brother Jewkins. They give us pretty deep stuff: hermeneutics, chrestomathy, pericopes, exegesis, homiletics, liturgies, isagogics, Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic, hymnology, apologetics – oh, a good deal."
"Well! I should say so!" worshiped old Jewkins.
bildungsroman – a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character
[sometimes capitalized; secondary accent is on last syllable, not next-to last. Ger Bildung education, foundation + Roman novel.]
With today's illustrative quotations is a link to an article I found particularly interesting.
Web logs, [Professor] Fitzpatrick says, may function in
some ways like the old bildungsroman - episodic narratives of life
and coming of age.
– Christina McCarroll, New on the endangered species list: the bookworm, The Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2004
The 'Rule of Four" is a coming-of-age novel, what the Germans so charmingly call a Bildungsroman.
– Marta Salij, Detroit Free Press, July 11, 200
[re An Unfinished Season by Ward Just:] This bildungsroman maintains a leisurely pace, feeling at times like Catcher in the Rye on horse tranquillizers.
– Mark Jarman, Canada Globe and Mail, July 17, 2004
Bonus Word: entwicklungsroman – synonomous with bildungsroman
Our Bonus Word can claim an odd distinction. Can you spot it? The answer is immediately below; you can see it by painting it over.
[ Entwicklungsroman is the longest word that has each of the non-occasional vowels once and only once.
Sequoia is the shortest; there are several others of the same length. ]
A reader notes: German Bildung (cf. English to build) means in this context 'cultivation, education'. Entwicklung means 'development, evolution, formation' (< wickeln 'to wrap, swaddle').
think piece – a piece of writing meant to be thought-provoking and speculative that consists chiefly of background material and personal opinion and analysis
This definition is from MW. Other sources omit the 'speculative' concept and also confine the term to newspaper or magazine writing. But I think MW has stated the meaning correctly.
Somewhere in Hollywood there's an assembly line that
stamps out these near-future sci-fi action thrillers. ... I, Robot is
just the latest model. If you've ever read any of Asimov's think piece
robot stories or novels, put them out of your mind -- far out -- before going
to see I, Robot.
– San Diego Union-Tribune, Jul 19, 2004
"The Grid," a spy saga and perhaps the best new drama of the summer, involves a large cast of characters on a global stage in a style reminiscent of "The West Wing." In other words, it's not a James Bond-type thriller, but more of a think piece.
– Tom Dorsey, The Courier-Journal (Louisville), July 19, 2004
European newspapers often have an area meant to entertain the general reader, with light fiction, reviews, and articles of general entertainment. One typical item is a novel published in installments
feuilleton – 1. a part of a newspaper to entertain the general reader, as above; also, an item printed there 2. a novel printed in installments (also roman feuilleton)
It has been suggested that the soap opera is a type of roman feuilleton, except that it is unending.
Today's last two quotations present interesting thoughts.
Readers of Parisian newspapers had an insatiable appetite
for tales of adultery and betrayal, power, jealousy, and revenge. No paper was
complete without its serialized romance, the feuilleton.
– Susan Quinn, Marie Curie
As the Nazi stamp upon language disappeared, so did the rhetorical excesses [of] ... the Nazi political style. It would be difficult to compile a book called "Parliamentary Eloquence in the German Federal Republic" because, with a few exceptions, Bonn politicians have avoided the high-flown phrase and opted for plain speaking, even at the cost of dullness, and newspapers, even in their Feuilleton pages, have tended to do the same. – Gordon A. Craig, The Germans
Herman Hesse wrote a book in 1943 called Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game. It was Hesse's last work, and allegedly his greatest. Hesse's book is credited to be the first and only science fiction novel to receive the Nobel Prize. According to the premise of the book, "the Age of Feuilleton" is essentially what we live in now at the end of the 20th century. It was an age of intellectual frivolity. Feuilleton is a French word which refers to the light entertainment articles in daily newspapers.
– Jonah Goldberg, National Review, Sept. 13, 1999