or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, November 10, 2008


The other thing I got at Shoppers Drug Mart yesterday was a sample of a new scent, Roadster by Cartier. The description of the scent inside the sample's cardboard folder ends in the following line:

A startling freshness contrasted by enveloping, sensual woods (patchouli/rock rose) for an inimitable remanence.

Naturally, the first thing I thought was, "Remanence? Really?" So I glanced up at the French original--these things usually have the text in a half-dozen languages--and sure enough, that had the word "rémanence", too. (That explains the rather bizarre wording in the English version; it's a direct translation of the French, which in such matters is almost always flowery and over-constructed.)

I still didn't know quite what it meant, so I read the Italian, and it ended with "...per una persistenza inimitabile." So that was it, then: "remanence" translates into the Italian version of "persistence", and therefore "remanence" must mean more or less the same thing, and so it's probably formed from "remain" or a variation of it.

It does meaning "remaining", and it is related to it; it stems from Latin "remanere", "to remain", through Middle English "remanent", with the usual ending that turns it into a noun.

The trouble is that "remanence" is not really used in English any more in the manner of the perfume advertising. It still exists, and you can still use it if you want to, but its use is nowadays more or less restricted to theology and to physics.

In theology, the doctrine of remanence is the opposite of that of transsubstantiation, which holds that the bread and wine of the Eucharist literally change into flesh and blood; the doctrine of remanence holds that, as one might reasonably suspect, they keep on being plain old bread and wine, and are symbolic rather than literal. (It's easy to laugh at the doctrine of transsubstantiation, and I intend to keep doing so, but as Answers.com notes, Transubstantiation was the key to the whole edifice of medieval theology. Remove it, and one removed the need for the priesthood and the medieval institutional church as it then existed. It was no laughing matter for Catholic bigwigs then or now.)

In physics, remanence means "persistence of magnetism", or, more thoroughly, "The magnetic flux density remaining in a material, especially a ferromagnetic material, after removal of the magnetizing field. Good permanent magnets have a high degree of remanence. Remanence is measured in teslas. Also called retentivity." (Thank you, American Heritage Science Dictionary.)

If you're writing about religion or electromagnetics, then go ahead and use "remanence". Otherwise, I think I'd refrain, unless you want people to think you are a bad perfume-ad copywriter.


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