January 13, 2020

The word "mere" doesn't need to be dismissive. It can refer "to something pure, something without admixture, something foundational."

"There is... more than a hint here of the way in which C.S. Lewis spoke in his wartime BBC radio lectures of 'mere Christianity'.... ... William Butler Yeats wrote ominously of an approaching Second Coming in which the promise of redemption will be replaced by an onslaught of barbarity, and 'Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world'...  It doesn’t overpraise, it doesn’t underpraise, it merely tells the truth, and gets to the essence of the matter. Would it not be a vast improvement if we learned to calibrate our language so that it described merely the way things are, and appreciated them for that?"

From "Mere/Like a lover of endangered species, the lover of endangered words jumps for joy when he sees a word being rescued" by Wilfred M. McClay (in The Hedgehog Review), looking at a book titled "Mere Civility," by Teresa Bejan.

McClay goes off on the subtleties of "mere," but the book is about the subtleties of "civility" which endeavors to clarify civility:
Bejan’s understanding of civility is not the politeness sought by today’s self-appointed arbiters of public manners and speech... In fact, as Bejan acutely points out, the term civility is often used as a genteel-sounding pretext for the suppression of disfavored views.
My line is: Calls for civility are always bullshit. I don't have a problem conceding that the essential idea, separated from the people who call for it, is good, and Bejan's book might be a worthy meditation. McClay turns the spotlight on "mere." I like that.

IN THE COMMENTS: JAORE said: "Too early to think this through. I'll just sit here drinking coffee and petting my mere cat."

26 comments:

Wilbur said...

Bejan has garnered all of the uses for the word "mere".

Krumhorn said...

I have always liked your distinction between those who behave civilly and those who call upon the rest of us to do so. The folks who call for civility are often those who give themselves the greatest latitude to speak and behave as they please because they assume a posture of moral superiority. And besides, they mean oh-so well. The Meghans and Harry’s of this world for example.

- Krumhorn

JAORE said...

Too early to think this through. I'll just sit here drinking coffee and petting my mere cat.

rhhardin said...

The usefulness of a word depends on a mixture of meanings that can be played against each other at once. "This meaning deserves the same respect as that other meaning. See - it's the same word." etc.

Wm. Empson, The Structure of Complex Words.

Nobody so far is after restoring the original meaning of candid - seeing only the best in people.

Krumhorn said...

I, for one, am not civil. I despise the lefties and don’t mind saying that they are merely nasty little shits.

- Krumhorn

rhhardin said...

merus -a -um
1. (of metals) pure, unalloyed. b. (of liquids, esp. wine) undiluted, neat.
2. Nothing short of (what is expressed by the sb.), pure, sheer, absolute, out-and-out.
3. Nothing more than, mere, simple. b. bare, naked.

rehajm said...

Wife: I broke my pocket mere...

Me: You broke you’re little space station?

Temujin said...

It's a subject I am heartily interested in. This is a book I will have to consider. There's something amiss in our society today. It's not that people are more interested in hurting their thinking opponent, it's that there isn't even a consideration of how to act in the greater society as a whole. After a few decades of celebrating less desirable behavior by individuals, we've now reached the point of celebrating less desirable behavior by groups.

Mere civilization.

tim in vermont said...

Whatever. Get back to me when you have saved “peckish” from the depredations of “hangry” crowd

AllenS said...

One of the most interesting words in the English language today:
LINK TEXT



tim in vermont said...

Let’s bring back silly as a word to mean innocent. We could do this all day.

tim maguire said...

In mere Christianity or mere Anarchy, it means that and nothing else. "Pure" as McClay puts it. "Only" can do similar work if you don't have the extra change and need to settle for a 5 cent word.

I don't see how "mere civility" could run in that crowd as you will never find a situation where civility stands alone. Civility requires context.

Bob Boyd said...

The mere Packers!

tcrosse said...

mere n: Chiefly British Dialect. a lake or pond.

Wince said...

IN THE COMMENTS: JAORE said: "Too early to think this through. I'll just sit here drinking coffee and petting my mere cat."

Not to be confused with a meerkat?

Curious George said...

I see Wince beat me to it, and also spoiled it. Here's how to make that play:

"Too early to think this through. I'll just sit here drinking coffee and petting my meerkat."

tcrosse said...

Larger bodies of water in the Lake District are generally named as mere or water, whilst smaller ones are denoted by tarn.

Sebastian said...

"Calls for civility are always bullshit."

Let's assume this as a stylized fact.

Now ask why.

Hypothesis: calls for civility are always bullshit when a group or culture has destroyed norms of civility.

Case study: American progressivism destroyed norms of civility in two waves: first, by giving primacy to political rather than civic virtue, then by the anti-bourgeois revolution of the 60s.

Before, calls for civility were not needed; after, calls for civility were always bullshit.

Note well, fellow PC scholars, that the hypothesis does not assume people (e.g., whites) were in fact more civil in olden days (e.g., toward blacks).

Char Char Binks said...

It's about time "mere" garnered some respect.

wildswan said...

Mere sunrise.

The trees about the lake are bare.
It's merely a winter mere.
Then, sun streaked,
A mere water color.

Jupiter said...

Let us turn the microscope upon "bullshit". In this context, meaning "insincere". So Althouse' claim is that calls for civility are never sincere. This would seem to be a factual claim, and a very broad one. Wherein lies the insincerity? Are you suggesting that those who call for civility do not actually desire it? Or merely that they desire civility in others but are unwilling to display it themselves? Hypocrisy, tribute, vice, virtue. Perhaps sincere tribute.

n.n said...

Liberalism is divergent. Progressivism is monotonic. Libertarianism is emergent. Conservativism is moderating. We'll have a gay old time.

Narr said...

Meer, a sea, a German sea. Mer to the French.

-mere= a learned borrowing from Greek for a part, in compound words.

Narr
There seems to be a blastomere in my Meerschaum!


Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Is a "mere cat" anything like "a harmless necessary cat"? I submit that both my cats are harmful and superfluous, but "mere" still fits.

Unknown said...

A "mere" is also a body of water like a lake.

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