intrinsic (adj)

Or most commonly, intrinsically (adv) meaning “belonging to the very nature of a thing.”

1480-90; < Medieval Latin intrinsecus inward (adj.), Latin (adv.), equivalent to intrin- (int(e)r-, as in interior + -im adv. suffix) + secus beside, derivative of sequī to follow

A word that is tremendously overused, often redundantly, i.e., “intrinsic nature.” Suffers from the problem of employing the word “nature” in its definition, whatever that word means.  Etymologically, we see an interesting logic: intrinsic means “inside” and “beside,” the extrapolation here being that something that is both inside a thing and beside a thing is fundamentally a part of its “nature.”

Very closely related to “fundamentally.”

resolution (n)

resolution. re-solution. re-solve. To solve, as a math problem; or to re-solve it. With it comes a sense of relearning something already known; to be surprised by these things I already knew, but forgot.

n. late 14c., “a breaking into parts,” from Old French resolution (14c.) or directly from Latin resolutionem (nominative resolutio) “process of reducing things into simpler forms,” from past participle stem of resolvere“loosen” (see resolve ). Sense of “a solving” (as of mathematical problems) first recorded 1540s, as is that of “power of holding firmly” (cf. resolute ). Sense of “decision or expression of a meeting” is from c.1600.Meaning “effect of an optical instrument” is from 1860.

The HMS Resolute was a ship that, despite its proud name, became hopelessly stuck in the ice.  Its entire crew perished.  When, at last, it was “loosened” or “solved” or “resolved” from the ice, if floated, a skeletal ghost ship, until it was re-captured, and re-fitted.  Ultimately it was broken up, and re-formed into furniture (refurnished)–the President’s desk, for example.  That is, if at first you break your resolutions, perhaps one might re-solve them into something equally good: a desk, say.

I resolve to write more often on grad school vocab. Even if it’s just random mindputterings, like this one.

aleatoric (adj)

aleatory (n) — depending on contingency, relying on chance or accident.  In particular, “aleatoric music,” for example, the music of John Cage often has aleatoric elements. Random, often overlooked contingency.

Aleatoric music is often invisible to the ear, and usually only heard by icontrast to its sudden absence.  It can be manufactured, for example: 

The fun of such music arises from the recognition of beauty and music in what would otherwise be ignored as noise — it is something like an exercise of auditory alchemy, turning noise into music, chaos into order.  The “tree falls in the forest” paradox becomes more meaningful: unperceived, ignored, overlooked the makes no sound at all; sampled from the aleatory, it becomes not just noise, but music. To rephrase the question in aleatoric terms: if a tree falls in the forest, does it make music?

The Books, another favorite band of mine, depends on aleatoric sound to compose their music, sampling and organizing the random sound from just about everywhere, and even explicitly referencing the word itself.


Etymology – from Latin āleātōrius, from āleātor gambler, from ālea game of chance, dice, of uncertain origin.

(More Books, if you please).

Related: acousmatic.

fundamental (adj)

Especially “fundamentally” (adv)

1. serving as, or being an essential part of, a foundation or basis; basic; underlying: fundamental principles; the fundamental structure.

2. of, relating to, or affecting the foundation or basis: a fundamental revision.

3. being an original or primary source: a fundamental idea.

This is a word thrown around a lot in academic discussions, but it doesn’t mean much.  Basically, it sounds better than saying “basically” and generally implies an appeal to an imaginary world of “fundamentals” that are usually more or less assumed/unexamined.

When I hear this word, I like to remember its etymology.  Cut off the “al” and it becomes “fundament,” meaning “the buttocks, the anus, or a base or basic principle.”  Cut more off it and we find it is related to “found” and “find,” from Middle English “founden” to Old French founder to Latin fundare from more latin fundus meaning, quite literally, “bottom.”

So whenever you hear an academic haphazardly condescending to explain to you what is or isn’t “fundamentally the case” or what is the “fundamental principle,” remember that this academic has admitted–openly and honestly–that he is talking out of his ass.

retrofuture (n)

retrofutures (pl); retrofuturistic (adj)

(Latin: retro “backward” — futurus.. [essere – to be; futurus – about to be])

If “futurism is sometimes called a ‘science’ bent on anticipating what will come, retrofuturism is the remembering of that anticipation.” — Guffey & Lemay

Cf: steampunk, world’s fairs, the world before you knew Santa wasn’t real.