I Never Understood Existential
Rule number one for a writer is to never use a misunderstood word. For example, “The comfortable chair felt deleterious.” What a sophisticated sentence. The definition of “deleterious” clearly means nice or pleasant. Makes perfect sense. Right? The correct definition of “deleterious” is: harmful often in a subtle or unexpected way. With this knowledge, this sentence clearly contained a mistake. While deleterious isn’t a common word, there are many readers who know the correct definition and they would certainly spot this obvious error.
When I first learned about the word existential in high school, I quickly understood its sophisticated meaning and incorporated this new word into my vocabulary. To put it mildly, I had no idea what that word meant. My incorrect use led to misunderstandings and bad grades. This was a very important life lesson.
Wikipedia defines existential as: “The belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. While the predominant value of existentialist thought is commonly acknowledged to be freedom, its primary virtue is authenticity. In the view of the existentialist, the individual's starting point is characterized by what has been called ‘the existential attitude,’ or a sense of disorientation, confusion, or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.”
I often find this word in literature and technical articles. “He as an existential attitude.” “A great existential work.” Just this morning, the newscaster said, “A clear case of an existential crime.”
Still, I do not even have the basic idea what this word means. Is it describing a carefree philosophy? Is it a spirited lifestyle? Is it simply a description of many obvious traits in the modern age? If forced to answer, I define this word as, “being far out reserved.” In my mind, I see an existential person as a 1960’s hippy going to college to be a scientist. An existential situation is going to a planetarium to watch a high-tech laser show set to classical music. In short, existential is the contrast between old and new. The last glimmer of hope in a bygone age. Of course, my definition is quite different from the one in Wikipedia.
For this blog, I did a search to see if I could better understand this word. I came across many good articles and I now have a better understanding of what this word is supposed to mean. Still, even the trusted sources could not fully capture the word. In addition, the trusted sources had different definitions and examples.
Well, perhaps that’s the point. Somebody invented a word that had a confusing definition. They then sat back and watched people using the word incorrectly. Is that out of the question? A prank word? It wouldn’t be the first time.
For me, this word is off limits and I suspect that I will never understand the word. Is that bad? Perhaps it is and I probably should put more effort into understanding this word. The reality is that I have moved on to other challenges. In that spirit, this blog now has an existential ending. (Whatever that means.)
You’re the best -Bill
November 14, 2018
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