or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


The Onion has a weekly column called "Ask the A.V. Club": people write in with pop-culture questions--mostly, questions about movies and such that they half-remember--and the staff try to answer them. In the most recent column, a query about an obscure movie (which turns out to be one called Motorama) contains the following sentence:

As you recall, its pint-sized hero (Jordan Christopher Michael, who may possess the whitest name in all of show business) sets out on a Sisyphusian quest to win a contest he learns too late was designed to be unwinnable, a twist that can be discerned as an oblique commentary on capitalism.

"Sisyphusian"? Oh, honestly.

Just Google "sisyphus adjective" and the third and fourth hits show the adjectival form of the name right there on the Google page. You don't even have to go anywhere else to learn that "From the story of Sisyphus we get the adjective Sisyphean".

And that's what it is. Sisyphean. Not "Sisyphusian". Ugh.

The lesson here, I hope, is that there are established non-standard adjectival forms for quite a few proper nouns: you can't just jam on an ending and hope it's right. Either you know, or you look it up. Names such as Shaw and Waugh, for instance, become "Shavian" and "Wavian". Jupiter isn't the obvious "Jupiterian": it's "Jovian" (which of course is the source of the word "jovial").

Venus used to be either "Venereal", "Venerean", or "Cytherian", though admittedly none of these is much in use any more (particularly the first), having been supplanted by "Venusian". So that one did in fact have "-ian" jammed onto it, but that doesn't mean you get to do it all the time.


Anonymous Belgand said...

Just to let you know, but that was my question and I too was bothered by the usage of... I can't even bear to write it.

I'm glad to finally recall the name of the film (and completely unaware that it was some sort of cult hit which I would generally know about), but that doesn't excuse offenses against language.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 7:46:00 PM  

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