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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Go Inflesh Your Irmus

The sentence unfolds, word after word, leading the curious reader to the revelation at sentence end, and this exemplifies 'irmus.'

I love discovering new words, if for no other reason than to better equip myself for a game of "Scrabble."  'Irmus' wouldn't provide a whole lot of points (only 7, unless one makes strategic use of bonus squares), and it may not even appear in Scrabble dictionaries--it doesn't show up on dictionary.com.  But the word--if the novelist Ann Beattie is to be believed (and novelists always tell the truth, right?)--does exist and refers to a tool of the literary trade, meaning“not until the end of a passage does the reader fully understand what is being spoken of.”

So if ever a writer kept you in suspense, pulling you along to a sentence's shocking climax?  You got irmused!
You may remember yesterday.  I don't, but you may.  And if you do remember yesterday, you remember that "The Solipsist" featured news about how a number of students at elite colleges are opting out of the physical sciences and into easier majors in social sciences, humanities, or gym.  Anyway, when I read the original Times article that inspired that piece, I was struck by this sentence:
“We’re two years into that experiment and, quite honestly, it’s probably going to take 5 to 10 years before we’re really able to inflesh the whole curriculum with this project-based learning,” Dean Kilpatrick says. ("Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It's Just So Darn Hard)"
"Inflesh"?  According, again, to dictionary.com, to "inflesh" is to "incarnate."  This makes perfect sense as the root of "incarnate" ("carne") means "meat" or "flesh" (as in "carnivore," or "chili con carne").  In other words, to "inflesh" is to "make into meat" or, less literally, to "make real." 

A couple of interesting points:

1) The dictionary definition ("incarnate") is arguably a more sophisticated word than the word it is defining ("inflesh").

2) "Inflesh" may mean the same thing as "incarnate" but it has the added advantage of sounding kinda dirty.

3) Peter Kilpatrick, the dean of engineering at Notre Dame, apparently doesn't know the difference between "infleshing" (making real) and "infusing" (causing to penetrate), which is what he most likely meant--to spread the idea of "hands-on" science learning throughout the entire engineering curriculum.  Not a big deal, I suppose, but when this trained engineer builds something, I hope he doesn't mix up infleshing and infusing.  The results could get sticky.


  1. My teenage daughter's favourite literary technique is to craft her short stories so that the surprise ending revealed in the final few words changes the meaning of the entire narrative up until that point.

    We have been searching for a word to describe that tactic, and since it isn't in the Oxford or Webster dictionaries, we are going to extend the meaning of the word to give her that genius feeling in hopes of inspiring her to write more and more often.

    Thanks for the irmus...irmii?