Post # 225     “EXPONENTIAL,” A RETROACTIVE ADJECTIVE

Ever since the warm bare feet of homo sapiens first padded across the surface of terra firma, he has been impressed with the necessity for speed, specifically, regarding his personal safety and success in bringing home the family dinner. This concern was eons later, replaced by the pressing need of the modern commuter to submissively arrive on time at his place of employment.

Travel between points of embarkation and arrival, has always been measured in time (rate x time =distance). Travel by horseback, and subsequently, horse drawn carriages, was strategized and considered in terms of distance, difficulty and estimated time of travel. The phenomenon of roadside inns developed as a practical accommodation for travelers whose travel lasted overnight. Later, mechanical devices replaced the horse, and with their rapid development, made travel more accessible and, of course, faster. With the epochal rise in industrial development, the secular aphorism of employers, “time equals money,” speed became a universal mantra, not only in industrial production but also, in agriculture and remarkably, animal husbandry.

The dimensions of our vast planet effectively grew smaller, as a practical matter, by the constantly improving phenomenon of swift air travel, facilitating business and cultural exchange. Indeed, the increase in the speed of military aircraft made the seemingly impassible “breaking of the sound barrier,” a useless relic of the past, like the once formidable, and now historical, “four-minute mile.” Speed in commuting, production, upward mobility, communication, in computation and aggregation of data, of large box store marketing and a vast prevalence of fast food emporia have become regular features of an increasingly impatient societal mainstream.

We would bravely venture to say that even spoken vocabulary has its own nuanced meter and speed of enunciation. Slowly articulated words like, transportation, fudge, reciprocal and apprehensive, can be compared with other words, more quickly uttered, such as ice, happy, church, slim and cool. It may be debatable as to whether the differences in speed of utterance are founded in differences in syllabification or conceptual meaning, but differences in word speed do, in fact exist. For example, our word of the moment, “exponential,” seems to be ejected rather quickly, despite its multiple syllabification.

The word, “exponential” has apparently been expanded and significantly increased in present usage. It is defined, by apparent consensus, as “a matter which itself is ever increasing.” Of all the words in the American-English lexicon, we find this word rationally troubling. Its utility is comparable to  frustrating attempts to manually pick up liquid mercury. Conceptually, how can the speed of a subject which, by agreed definition, is itself constantly and eternally speeding up, be useful or meaningful for any particular expression? To accept the concept, would necessarily rate it as being conceptually faster that the speed of light, since physicists consider the latter a constant (as opposed to an ongoing, ever- increasing speed). It is a word which, we feel, should be limited in use.

The word does have an admitted utility, when used to demonstrate or compare present day developments with their antecedents, to highlight obvious and remarkable developments, ex., in areas such as science, medicine, transportation, communication, fashion and technology. While we find it useful in this regard, contrariwise, we see its utility, as applied to futuristic references, non-specific and useless, except, perhaps, somewhere within the occult genre of science fiction literature. A subject which constantly increases in speed, as we speak, is by such defined nature, incapable of holding still for any degree of rational evaluation or meaningful literary understanding.

-p.

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plinyblogcom

Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Literature Student and enthusiast.

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