I encountered the word ‘adoxography’ while wasting an afternoon (as one does) Googling rare words. I like my words rare. A well-done word has a tendency to lose its flavor. The definition I stumbled upon was this:
adoxography, (n.) Fine writing on a trivial or base subject. “Elizabethan schoolboys were taught adoxography, the art of eruditely praising worthless things.”
This caught my attention at once, combining two of the things I like best in the world – erudition and worthlessness. It struck me as the perfect theme for a blog, but the more definitions and histories of the word I read, the more obscure its meaning became. Some said that it had to be writing specifically in praise of trivial, worthless things, others, that it simply had to discuss them. Examples ranged from Erasmus’ Moriae Encomium to De Quincey’s On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts (an admirable premise…must add to reading list). My excitement was further bruised when I turned to the OED, that authoritative oligarch of the English language, and discovered that “adoxography” was absent from its hallowed pages. This gave me that uncomfortable feeling one gets when one goes to the grocery store for some staple foodstuff, only to discover that there is not even a hole on the shelf where said foodstuff ought to be.
Doubting its reality, I sought my word-unicorn further, and learned that the concept had its origin in ancient Greece. It was, apparently, referenced in Zeno, and if you can’t trust Plato, who can you trust? It was developed as a rhetorical exercise,
“in which the legitimate methods of the encomium are applied to persons or objects in themselves obviously unworthy of praise, as being trivial, ugly, useless, ridiculous, dangerous or vicious” – Arthur S. Pease, “Things Without Honor”, Classical Philology, Vol. XXI
Despite its ambiguous meaning and questionable existence, I propose to revive adoxography. For the purposes of this blog, I declare the definition to be: fine writing (or an approximation thereof) on subjects trivial, base, absurd, and otherwise underrated, in an effort to vindicate them.
But what, really, is trivial? Consider, the humble fig – traditionally considered an über-trivial fruit, i.e., “I don’t give a fig about you!” Aside from being one of the most aesthetically pleasing foods you will ever encounter, the fig is significant in that it was among the first cultivated crops, predating wheat and rye by a thousand years. What’s trivial about the birth of agriculture? Nothing.
2017 is the time for an adoxography renaissance – so many terrible things of dire importance are happening, and there is so much impressively ghastly writing concerning them, that it is more important now than ever that we cultivate our minds, protect our culture, and do so in an articulate manner. We must protect the dignity of whatever we hold dear, be it freedom or Fritos. I hereby declare myself champion of the trivial, ugly, useless, ridiculous, dangerous, and vicious things of this world, and solemnly swear to defend their respective importance, beauty, utility, gravity, and benevolence. I’ll leave the Serious Matters and Deep Thoughts to other writers, and continue to write about musings in bathtubs, the shaft of unexpected sunlight on the wall, the joy of inflating a new pop-up sponge, or why I wish I could live in a pre-war British nursery forever. Hope you enjoy…
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