Having finished Beckwith, I was in the mood for another fresh look at early history, so I’m reading Robin Lane Fox‘s new book about the Mediterranean in the eighth century B.C., Travelling Heroes: In the Epic Age of Homer. I haven’t gotten far enough into it to make any judgments, but he’s already taught me a new word, which always pleases me. In footnote 23 to chapter 4, discussing the possible ancient names for the site now known as Lefkandi (Λευκαντί), he says “We do not know (though Lefkandiots afforced the (new?) Eretria c. 850–800, to the east of them).” My first thought was that “afforced” might be a typo, but I couldn’t think what it should be, so I looked it up, and it turns out to be a perfectly good and useful word. OED: “To add force to; to strengthen, fortify, reinforce; Eng. Const. Hist. To reinforce or strengthen a deliberative body by the addition of new members; as a jury by skilled assessors, or persons acquainted with the facts.” You could, of course, say “reinforce,” but to my mind that has military implications that make it less suitable; the best paraphrase would be something like “added their population to the strength of,” which is intolerably verbose by comparison.


  1. rootlesscosmo says

    as a jury by skilled assessors, or persons acquainted with the facts.
    The parties in the tort action afforced the [testimony of] percipient witnesses by calling experts.
    A legitimate usage or extension?

  2. “Force” itself has for you no military implications, whether in reinforce or afforce? The bit you omitted from the OED citation strengthens my own impression that “reinforce” in actual use has no military connotations. A military reference must be explicitly present in the context, as in “reinforce the troops”:

    5. Eng. Const. Hist. To reinforce or strengthen a deliberative body by the addition of new members; as a jury by skilled assessors, or persons acquainted with the facts. [In this sense med.L. afforciare is found in contemporary records; see Blount: ‘Afforcietur assisa, let the Witnesses be encreased,’ (rather, ‘Let the Assise or bench be reinforced or afforced’).]

    Googling the masses, I see that “reinforce” is often used in a way I find infelicitous. A search with “reinforce the” produced the unremarkable instances

    – reinforce the building blocks
    – reinforce the skills
    – reinforce the insight gained
    – reinforce the cultural identity

    but also plenty of dodgy uses where I would have preferred “show” or “demonstrate”, such as

    reinforce the importance of healthy living [further demonstrate the importance, again show how important healthy living is]
    – [headline] reinforce the need for treaty [again shows the need]
    – [headline] clinical data reinforce safety and efficacy [further demonstrate safety]

    In other circumstances, I would not have felt it necessary to add that these are just my opinions. Valuable space might have been saved, that would otherwise have been lost, by avoidance of the plethoric just before my opinions.

  3. – reinforce the building blocks
    To any builder ‘reinforcement’ has mostly one meaning: to prevent a structural member failing, through either tensile force or buckling, by adding some strengthening material that is good in tension (usually steel).

  4. Yes, I found the expression at, in the architecture section, under how to build an earth block home, with a picture showing walls reinforced with steel rods and chicken wire. There’s the interesting statement there that “compressed earth blocks (CEBs) are much stronger than concrete mason’s blocks”. Is it true that this is at the cost of being heavier?

  5. Grumbly Stu: thank you for the introduction to ‘plethoric’. When I recently wrote the example you give I felt a twinge of ‘someone could take me to task for emphasizing “my” with “just”‘. ‘This is an opinion’ is better.

  6. jamessal says

    ‘This is an opinion’ is better.
    No, it isn’t. “Just” sounds personable, “this is an opinion” martian. Or maybe you were joking.

  7. jamessal says

    I know Grumbly was. (While also teasing some of us for knee-jerk descriptivism.)

  8. G. Stu: “compressed earth blocks (CEBs) are much stronger than concrete mason’s blocks”. Is it true
    I’m not an expert in this form of construction, although our house is made of rammed earth and I love it (it doesn’t rot like wood).
    I think what they’re saying is that CEBs are “much” stronger per block rather than per unit volume — the latter would be a more conventional way to compare strength (a ton of toothpaste may be stronger than a gram of steel, but that doesn’t make toothpaste stronger than steel). Given that CEB blocks are apparently bigger, they probably weigh more. If you’re thinking of building with them, then I’d try and find someone who has experience both building and living with them first. I’d be worried about a) condensation and b)whether they cause action in adjacent materials (I know rammed earth isn’t good next to concrete, for some weird reason).
    (And I’m just chatting here, not giving professional advice on architecture. Always consult a licensed oracle before you do anything.)

  9. The walls of our house are two feet thick. They are reinforced with straw rather than metal (straw is quite strong in tension, and that’s what you need it for, to stop the earth from crumbling). Mixing straw into earth is an old-fashioned means of construction in both the UK (where it’s called “cob”) and in Denmark.

  10. marie-lucie says

    in Canada some people have been experimenting with blocks of compressed straw. I saw a small prototype built by students at the local school of architecture. I don’t know about how livability or long term prospects, but straw is supposed to be an excellent insulator.

  11. iakon:
    What example that you recently wrote? Also, “just” has the function of de-emphasizing “my”, or rather “my opinion”.
    I don’t understand how you can say that “‘just’ sounds more personable”. “Just my opinion” is pure self-deprecation. Do you like people who carry deference before them like a monstrance? Maybe you merely meant that “just” sounds more personable coming from Grumbly Stu. Of course you noticed I was taking the mild mickey anyway. Well, cherish that little moment of jokey self-deprecation if you like, there won’t be many more coming, if I am not mistaken.
    A Judicious Person:
    “Stronger per block rather than per unit volume” confuses me, especially if CEBs don’t have the same size as mason’s blocks. If that’s what is meant, how misleading is the claim that CEBs are stronger than concrete mason’s blocks! As you suggest, it might induce someone to build a house out of toothpaste – a very heavy house with a fresh mint taste.
    Consider that a block of concrete, with or without reinforcement, can be regarded as a machine. It performs functions: supporting things above it, not allowing rain to pass through it. It has internal (slowly) moving parts: the concretion granules that provide flexibility and rigidity. A wall of such blocks is a composite machine: the blocks interact with each other to provide shelter, to resist earth tremors (those whose frequency is on the scale of the wall’s flexibility, i.e. “slow”, but off the eigen-frequency of the wall . I assume there is such a thing, on the analogy of the eigen-frequency of a room).
    Note that I’m NOT talking “organic” here. Following Morin in La Méthode, I’m reorganizing my thoughts by, among other things, upgrading the physical. Anyway, if you insist on invidious comparisons: what is an artifical, non-self-replicating machine such as a block of concrete, in comparison with anthropo-sociological mega-machines such as human societies, or self-recreating things such as living creatures? Morin points out that these machines came first, and artefacts a poor second. The ideas are circulating – why else have there been so many films about cyborgs and androids? Not to mention Sponge Bob.

  12. Any architect will advise you against building out of toothpaste in today’s economic climate. It’s just too damn expensive.
    But thank God for toothpaste! I have an ongoing discussion with my daughter about the implications of running cars on toothpaste: it would cut down on carbon emissions but would unfairly penalize the poor.

  13. jamessal says

    Do you like people who carry deference before them like a monstrance?
    Not when I see you in action, answering dull, half-thought-out opinions about everyday phrases with Nietzschean propositions about personal style, I don’t.

  14. Now, now, Grumbly may be saturnine, but he’s our grumbler.

  15. jamessal says

    It was supposed to be a compliment — i.e., he’d persuaded me of something interesting (a question of personal style) while I was talking about something dull (“just my opinion”). I’m a big fan of Grumbly’s grumbling.
    Apologies for opacity.
    (Yes, that apology is itself a fucking monstrance. But those of us under thirty carry it or something much worse.)
    If this all entirely solipsistic, apologies again. I’m not in top form.

  16. jamessal says

    In other words: all is well in The House of Hat.

  17. Except that it’s 88 degrees here. I’m getting grumbly myself.

  18. dearieme says

    “which is intolerably verbose by comparison.”

  19. Mixing straw into earth is an old-fashioned means of construction in both the UK (where it’s called “cob”) and in Denmark.
    It caused endless trouble in Egypt, though.

  20. If Richard Rogers and Tony Blair had been designing the pyramids, they’d have done them as tensile structures; like circus tents, only with gold cables. They could have been illuminated from the inside by oil lamps and a plume of smoke would have exited through a hole at the top. Then they could have put the sphinx inside and it would still be in good condition. And obelisks in the others. Of course, it’s a lot easier to see these things after they’ve happened.

  21. I foresee a TV series, or maybe cartoon series: “Croon re-architects world history”.

    Now, here’s what Michelangelo should have done with the dome. We’ve learned a lot since his time…..

  22. Ooh, that’s a great idea, I’ll get right on it.
    I’ll start with Bernini’s baldachino in St. Peter’s, unravel out those damn columns.

  23. Not to mention Sponge Bob.
    So this is the active thread for Wittgensteinian preterition, as opposed to mention of Massachusettian café culture for the purpose of announcement? I’m in the right place? Good.
    This whole thread, on a close reading, is reminiscent of the Aeolus episode of Ulysses. A very grove of tropes. Like others, I was interested in the rhetorical analysis of just my opinions, from our good-humoured grumbler. Specifically, I wonder whether this deployment of the supernumerary modifier just, used in a kind of diminution, is well characterised as litotes. Is there a more focused term? According to the wonderful Sylva Rhetoricae, litotes is primarily “deliberate understatement, especially when expressing a thought by denying its opposite”. The immediate gloss:

    The Ad Herennium author suggests litotes as a means of expressing modesty (downplaying one’s accomplishments) in order to gain the audience’s favor (establishing ethos).

    OED afforces the denying-the-opposite reading:

    A figure of speech, in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary; an instance of this. Examples of litotes are: ‘A citizen of no mean city’; ‘When no small tempest lay on us.’

    But Petit Robert has no time for that restriction:

    Figure de rhétorique qui consiste à atténuer l’expression de sa pensée pour faire entendre le plus en disant le moins.

    And OED itself has the Greek λιτός importing only “smooth, plain, small, meagre”.
    There are other candidate labels for self-deprecation turned to such use. Can anyone put a finger on la figure juste? Tapinosis? Meiosis? None seems perfectly apt.

  24. The well-meaning but outdated architects of the past need your help desperately, Krong.

  25. …architects of the past…
    Ach! A brilliance! There’s your next book title, someone. Architects of the Past: The Growth of Historical Revisionism.

  26. Noetica: as jamessal rightly remarked, I was “teasing some of us for knee-jerk descriptivism”. So inverecundia, or outrageous impudence, might be a modern gloss.
    But that’s a moralizing analysis, not a rhetorical one. Having sipped at the Pierian spring enclosed by Sylva Rhetoricae, I found that epitrope has pertinent elements. Unfortunately the permissio is missing – “Epitrope often takes the form of granting permission (hence its Latin name, permissio)” – yet “(apparent) admission of what is wrong in order to carry our point” seems to recover something of what was lost:

    A figure in which one turns things over to one’s hearers, either pathetically, ironically, or in such a way as to suggest a proof of something without having to state it.

    Epitrope can be either biting in its irony, or flattering in its deference. A specific form of epitrope is the (apparent) admission of what is wrong in order to carry our point.

    Go ahead, make my day… —Clint Eastwood

    That’s still some way off from aptness. Not inapposite, though humdrum, would be to characterize it as a subtype of plain ol’ irony, or “the dry mock”:

    Speaking in such a way as to imply the contrary of what one says, often for the purpose of derision, mockery, or jest.

    Some folks will have noticed I was messin’ round with a footnote in Watt (“I intended Watt to be a palate cleanser after reading Proust”, sez Beckett):

        Mr Hackett did not know whether he should go on, or whether he should turn back. Space was open on his right hand, and on his left hand, but he knew that he would never take advantage of this. He knew also that he would not long remain motionless, for the state of his health rendered this unfortunately impossible. The dilemma was thus of extreme simplicity: to go on, or to turn, and return, round the corner, the way he had come. Was he, in other words, to go home at once, or was he to remain out a little longer?
        Stretching out his left hand, he fastened it round a rail. This permitted him to strike his stick against the pavement. The feel, in his palm, of the thudding rubber appeased him, slightly.
        But he had not reached the corner when he turned again and hastened towards the seat, as fast as his legs could carry him. When he was so near the seat, that he could have touched it with his stick, if he had wished, he again halted and examined its occupants. He had the right, he supposed, to stand and wait for the tram. They too were perhaps waiting for the tram, for a tram, for many trams stopped here, when requested, from without or within, to do so.
        Mr. Hackett decided, after some moments, that is they were waiting for a tram they had been doing so for some time. For the lady held the gentleman by the ears, and the gentleman’s hand was on the lady’s thigh, and the lady’s tongue was in the gentleman’s mouth. Tired of waiting for the tram, said (1) Mr Hackett, they strike up an acquaintance. The lady now removing her tongue from the gentleman’s mouth, he put his into hers. Fair do, said Mr Hackett. Taking a pace forward, to satisfy himself that the gentleman’s other hand was not going to waste, Mr Hackett was shocked to find it limply dangling over the back of the seat, with between its fingers the spent three quarters of a cigarette.

        (1) Much valuable space has been saved, in this work, that would otherwise have been lost, by avoidance of the plethoric reflexive pronoun after say

  27. Perhaps ironic litotes? What I’m mocking is the very use of the litotic “just my opinion” to display modesty, or mime it, or play up the value of my opinion, or ward off the interpretation that I think my opinion is superior to those of others and that I will never change my mind even when challenged.
    After all, what’s the big deal about having opinions and knowing that one has them? How did the wussy idea get hold of so many modern minds, that the very holding of an explicit opinion is a calculated affront to those who also have one, or even none?

  28. marie-lucie says

    Personally, if I say “it’s just my opinion” I mean that I don’t have any proof for what I say although I think it is plausible given what I know. I am ready (although not necesssarily happy) to change my opinion if someone convinces me that it is incorrect. “Convince” is the operative word here.

  29. Ah, marie-lucie: “I don’t have any proof for what I say, although I think it is plausible given what I know” is what I wish more people did mean by “it’s just my opinion”. I myself take it for granted that argument and counter-argument are in the offing when I proffer an opinion. So I don’t see any use in adding “it’s just my opinion”.
    My opinions are always provisional, though more or less strongly held at the instant I utter them. It might be more pleasant were I occasionally to say something like “as far as I have thought this through”. As I said in my last post, though, there’s a kind of hypocritical self-deprecation that is displayed in discourse nowadays, which I consider to be insidious because hypocritical. Having been brought up along Protestant lines, I could not, in good conscience, hide my grumbliness. :-}

  30. Excuse me, because you are all so very … but I’m surprised no one has brought up the ubiquitous internet (this is the internet, after all) abbreviation “IMHO” which is so standardized by now as to render the false or genuine or misleading modesty of “just” otiose. [I recently had to fight very hard (internally) to refrain from putting “Please” in front of rsvp.]

  31. Architects of the Past: The Growth of Historical Revisionism
    If you google “architecture half the hits are about the so-called “architecture” of computers, whatever that is; it has nothing to do with buildings and it’s very annoying. Why couldn’t they invent their own word, or use a word like “blob”, that nobody cares about? Anyway, on the whole, I’m against metaphorical uses of the words architecture and architect. Not that anyone bloody cares — yet. But I may retaliate; I may find a new use for the word “computer” — perhaps as a new kind of jogging shoe.

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