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Literature and Language

What does contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality mean?

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September 20, 2008 11:37PM

It is from James Joyce's Ulysses. Here it is in context. But this doesn't explain what it means: Wombed in sin darkness I was too, made not begotten. By them, the man with my voice, and my eyes and a ghostwoman with ashes on her breath. They clasped and sundered, did the coupler's will. From before the ages He willed me and now may not will me away or ever. A lex eterna stays about Him. Is that then the divine substance wherein Father and Son are consubstantial? Where is poor dear Arius to try conclusions? Warring his life long upon the contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality. Illustrated heresiarch! In a Greek watercloset he breathed his last: euthanasia. With beaded mitre and with crozier, stalled upon his throne, widower of a widowed see, with upstiffed omophorion, with clotted hinderparts. _________________________________________________________________

The intention of a word like "contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality" at one level is to make you laugh, to see how the author is messing about with the language. Think of all the hints of words and bits of words that could be seen in that long, mixed-up word:

transubstantiation

magnificent

actuality

tangentiality

as well as the prefixes con-, contra-, trans-, magni-

All the ideas that could be expressed using these words and fragments are contained in the creation: "contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality". This is a precursor of the main linguistic technique used in Finnegans Wake, except there many more languages are used.

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