Monday, February 08, 2010

Sometimes it's interesting to have consistently used a word wrong

Case in point: picaresque. Picaresque means rakish or rascally, and is used to describe a genre of adventure fiction, according to many online dictionaries. In the past, though, I've taken the word picaresque and used it to mean something different, something, though, that there isn't really a satisfactory word for in English. And so the misuse, in its wrongness, is interesting in and of itself. In the way I was using it, picaresque referred to specifically to situations that were macabre, ironic, humorous, and edgy, all at the same time. Maybe with some tragedy mixed in there. Sort of like black humor but not quite so black, more with an edge of the horrific in them but not so much that it overpowers everything. Grotesque comes close to the meaning I was giving it but doesn't really capture it in that it too is to heavy handed. A picaresque situation in the way I was using it would be something like a political or social situation where despite people trying to do good, something bad coming out of it that's truly bad, and where the people involved are only superficially good but are corrupt in and of themselves--even if they don't realize it. And where a dark laugh could be had at the situation in question. Maybe it would be better to say that the political humor of Hunter S. Thompson and the general humor of William S. Burroughs are examples of what I meant when I used the term picaresque.

In any case, provided that a person knows that they've been doing whatever it is wrong, sometimes the failures or errors that folks produce can be just as interesting as the successes, because the underlying intent and meanings are still there, albeit imperfectly realized.

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