Wallace

I just finished this wonderful piece by Maria Bustillos reflecting on what she found in the archived papers and personal self-help library of her friend David Foster Wallace.  You should go read it, if you’re interested. The piece ends with this quiz that Wallace gave his undergraduates:

WIN A LUNCH WITH DAVE, SPARKLING CONVERSATIONALIST, WELL-MANNERED EATER, BY SIMPLY IDENTIFYING WHAT ALL THE FOLLOWING WORDS HAVE IN COMMON:

Foreign
Big
Diminutive
Incomprehensible
Untyped
Pulchritude
S-less
Unwritten
Indefinable
Misspelled
Vulgar
High-class
Invisible
Unvowelled
Obscene

My own answer to the quiz is after the jump.  Curious to hear other ideas.

These are words to be avoided for their failure to illustrate their own meaning. Particularly “pulchritude” (has an uglier word ever been uttered?) and “S-less” (which violates itself three times). Untyped, Unwritten, Indefinable, Misspelled, Invisible, Incomprehensible likewise defy their own definitions. Big is a little word; Diminutive is big. High-class is a tacky phrase, while Obscene and Vulgar are rather dainty. And Foreign is such a common, ordinary word, so divorced from its possibility as to almost carry no meaning at all.

UPDATE: Saidi informs me that the term for these words is “heterological.” I hope Professor Wallace would have given me credit anyway.

2 thoughts on “Wallace

Leave a Reply to Gale Garza Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s