Chewing the Colloquial Fat

I had a bit of a scare last week.

You know how we all use two bookmarks while reading IJ – one for the main text and one for the endnotes? Well, I’ve been using a pen to mark my page in the main text. I write prodigiously in the margins, and this is how I’ve ensured not only having a pen, but having the particular Foray Needle Tip 0.7 mm blue ballpoint that I’ve enjoyed using throughout Infinite Winter (I’m on my second).

My endnotes bookmark is a folded sheet of 8.5 by 11 inch paper. Throughout Infinite Winter, Corrie, colorologist extraordinaire, has extolled the treasure-hunting virtues of finding something to track and collect in the text. So, early on, I found something that piqued my lexical interest. It’s a particular Wallacism I’m calling the “split idiom” and, since page 31, I’ve been collecting instances of this phenomenon on the folded sheet of paper I use as my endnotes bookmark. On Friday, I noticed that I had lost that bookmark.

It would be a bit strong to say that I panicked, but you can bet your in-it-for-the-long-haul Infinite Winter ass I was disappointed when, as my bus pulled into Denver’s Union Station and was putting IJ into my backpack, I discovered the sheet was gone. It had probably fallen out on the bus the previous day – I wasn’t sure how I’d lost it, but it was most assuredly gone. What would I do? I’d probably have to start over. Actually, I probably wasn’t going to start over, but it was a feeling of disappointment that I could relate to a previous experience I’d had.

A couple of years ago, we were exchanging houses with a family in England (We’ve found the house exchange phenomenon to be a practical route to enjoying long vacations in far-flung locales while far-flung families enjoy similar in our locale.). Shortly after arrival in the country, I found myself holding a £2 coin with a fantastic image of Charles Darwin and a chimpanzee looking squarely in each other’s eyes. How cool is that? I thought, resolving to take the coin or one like it home with me (a new and entirely different collection). But I quickly ended up spending the coin – probably on one of those delicious Cornish pasties you find at a tube stop stand – because it never occurred to me that the Darwin-chimp coin wasn’t the standard coin, but a complete and utter anomaly. We spent three weeks in England, and devoted as I was to finding another, I never did.

Come to think of it, that wasn’t a great analogy to what I went through with my endnotes bookmark, but it was disappointing all the same. On the bright side, I found the sheet of paper this weekend. Which brings me back to the topic at phraseological hand:

“Dad, I’ve got a duly scheduled challenge match with Schacht in like twelve minutes, wind at my downhill back or no.” [31]

Charles Tavis instituted the practice and calls it the Big Buddy System in the literature he sends new kids’ parents. So the parents can feel their kid’s not getting lost in the institutional shuffle. [98]

It was, finally, only the proud and haughty Quebecois who whinged, and the insurgent cells of Quebec who completely lost their political shit. [311]

Hal was confident Pemulis would remove the insouciant hat the minute they were called in on what was presumably going to be the carpet. [509]

R. Lenz lived by his wits out here, deeply disguised, on the amonymous streets of N. Cambridge and Somerville, never sleeping, ever moving, hiding in bright-lit and pubic plain sight, the last place They would think to find him. [717]

Plus he wouldn’t mind knowing what the fuck Thrust was thinking of, scaring Lenz off and letting him screw off into the urban night leaving Gately maybe holding the statutory bag. [821]

You get the idea. It appears to be something of a Wallace trademark, at least in Infinite Jest, where you can’t swing a dead issues-resolution type cat without hitting one of them. Awesome, right? I’ve collected close to 50 instances of this. And while treasured, prized, and mounted (with a data card and an insect pin through each one), I’d trade them all to you today for a single £2 coin.

Truth be told, I have to thank my wife, the found sheet of paper (and its location) springing to her clear and luminous mind when I told her what it was I was looking for and that I had wanted to share it with you guys. She suggested that perhaps I should have done so earlier, so that you could have treasure-hunted these little Easter eggs with me, as opposed to now when we’re about to come to a screeching end of the book halt. Which I agreed with her that I kind of screwed the Infinite Winter pooch on that one, but that, absent a time machine, this was all like water under the temporal bridge.


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6 thoughts on “Chewing the Colloquial Fat”

  1. There is a quote about language only being needed when the subject is lost. I’ve lost the typed version of this quote that comes with a typed reference to the person who said it.

    I wish I could say that losing anything is ultimately worth it, because of the language it inspires…but I just can’t.

    If it means anything it is pretty incredible that you were able to remember the details of the coin. I think what I am getting at is the reminder that we sometimes make ultra clear connections to objects, and at those times it is good to remember that connection may not repeat itself. Something like…an objects last words.

    My brain is melting. To the extent that I still haven’t fully crack the code of your bookmark list!

    Thank you for these rhizome thoughts!

    1. Hey Corrie – I love how you ironically lost the typed version of the quotation about losing something. Don’t underestimate objects!

      I didn’t mean to be cryptic on the nature of the “split idiom,” but merely to elucidate the phenomenon by example (Wallace’s in the blockquotes and my own throughout the post). You see what he does is take an idiom like “called in on the carpet,” and then expands and contextually tightens it by playfully inserting words into its middle. The idioms blockquoted above being:
      wind at my back
      lost in the shuffle
      lost their shit
      called on the carpet
      hiding in plain sight
      into the night / holding the bag (Bonus!)

      Thank you for my WOTD – rhizome. Love it :)

  2. I love the language games. As for your closing line, as they say in The New Yorker magazine: Block that metaphor!

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