Monday’s Word: Volume One Poshlost
Etymology is fun…what I understand of it anyway. By the time the Baron is pronouncing the Indo-European root for something, or telling why a word isn’t Indo-European at all, I am usually by far behind, still back on the first left turn into some old Germanic root.
But today, the word is merely foreign -- Russian -- and since the Cyrillic alphabet is even more foreign (to me), you get only the English approximation. Probably not the full nuance of the word in its original context either, but that’s okay because this word has possibilities for dropping into a conversation in which you are trying to describe something that is both wrong and bogus.
Our example comes from the Autumn, 2005 edition of City Journal. In a small essay, Stefan Kramer explains Governor Pataki’s decision to cancel the plans for an International Freedom Center proposed for the Ground Zero Memorial. Those words -- “International Freedom” blink like a neon warning sign: anti-American agit-prop coming up, anti-American agit-prop straight ahead. Step right up and find out why you're no better than any hate-crazed beheader of infidels...right this way...
But, lo! This piece of politically correct excrescence will not be foisted upon the Ground Zero Memorial after all. Visitors who come to pay their respects to those who died on September 11, 2001 will not be blind-sided by an exhibit dedicated to the proposition that we are no better than the terrorists butchers who brought down those buildings, who crashed into the Pentagon, who might have hit the Capitol had the passengers on Flight 93 not been alerted to the reality of the terrorists’ mission.
Thanks to Governor Pataki, that piece of moral equivalence has been brought down in a cloud of whining board members. And thanks are due also to the efforts of the sister of one of the pilots lost that day, the firefighters and police of New York City, and people like you and me who said “No!.” So George Soros will have to look elsewhere to sow his seeds of hatred and discord. They won’t be permitted to flower at Ground Zero.
The word to describe Mr. Soros’ efforts, and the plans of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was given to us by Vladimir Nabokov. In the post-World War II period, when the mandarins began to claim that the Germans’ guilt was ours as well, Mr. Nabokov said the Russian version of H. L. Mencken’s favorite dismissal of pseudo-intellectual nonsense: “bunkum.”
Nabokov’s Russian counterpart was poshlost. Since we can figure out from glasnost, which means (more or less) “openness” that the “ost” part of this word is meant to connote the essence of something, it only remains to figure out what “poshl” might be. Answer.com has as good a definition as any, though if you google the word, you’ll find a wealth of information (17,900 hits), including the fact that there is a Poshlost.com. Looks intriguing even if it is out of date. Still worth going to for his collection of Easter poetry.
Here, then, is Answer’s definition, which it lists as “obscure.” Obviously, they don’t read Nabokov:
[Russian] /POSH lust/ a well-rounded, untranslatable whole made up of banality, vulgarity and sham; it applies not only to obvious trash (verbal and animate), but also to spurious beauty, spurious importance, spurious cleverness.Well, if that word doesn’t describe old man Soros’ plans, what does? Yes, indeed, folks…introducing Poshlost Soros, Esq., man of the world and bon vivant. Has a certain ring to it, no?