or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, September 05, 2008


The Onion has been very uneven for some time now, but you have to love this: a terrific meta-story about John McCain, or more accurately about itself reporting on John McCain. Beautifully written.


Regarding a sentence quoted in yesterday's posting, reader D.J. had this to say:

Jeez, I hung up as soon as I hit "vicarious pleasure," figuring you'd take them to task for suggesting that there's another kind of pleasure on tap at the movies. (Excluding drive-ins and places like the Arclight where you can get a beer, of course.)

I don't have a problem with "vicarious" in this context, believe it or not. A vicarious experience is a sort of substitute or second-hand one, and while it's true that that's nearly the only kind of pleasure to be had at the movies nowadays, since the actual movie-going experience is more often a trial than an enjoyment, the usage is not quite a tautology. Or, I should say, if it is one, it's a minor one, since "vicarious" is often used in just such a way to underline the synthetic quality of the experience. All of the representational arts, after all, provide us with vicarious experiences, since they're depicting ideas or events through the eyes of the artist; I don't think it's wrong or tautological to say that Picasso's "Guernica" provides us with a vicarious experience of the horrors of war.

However, the word "vicarious" suddenly struck me as being very interesting, because upon inspection it forcibly calls to mind the word "vicar", as if such a gentleman could only experience pleasures at one remove rather than personally. And it comes as a little bit of a surprise that "vicar" and "vicarious" are, in fact, of the same origin.

Both words come from Latin "vicarius", "a substitute". This in turn is related to "vice"; not the evil kind, and not the mistaken-for-vise kind, either, but the third, as in the phrase "vice versa", which in this case means "instead of".

A vicar is so called because he acts in place of a priest. A vicarious experience is one that somebody else has in your stead. Just like that.


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