Monday, April 6, 2009

subsume

I've got a couple of other blogs going, and in a perfect world, I would update one of them before I confess even more ignorance than people already know me to have. But the truth is that I would like the misspelled word of my last blog not to be the one to greet me every time I open the page, which I do a lot--not because I am so dazzled by my own writing, but because it's basically the way I see if anything new has popped up on some of the other blogs I follow.

Besides, recognition of ignorance comes on its own timetable, and not mine. In an ideal world--again--I would be so far from ignorant that I would only feel the need to post here about once a year.

Unfortunately, that's not the case.

I was having a conversation with my sister in which she was describing a situation of being overwhelmed or buried or burdened by something, and she asked me if 'consumed' was the word she was looking for. I said, "Maybe 'subsumed'?" So she asked, "Maybe--what does 'subsumed' mean, exactly?" And I said, "Uh..."

Yeah--I knew right away that a blog post was coming on.

Okay, I could probably use 'subsume' semi-accurately in a sentence--or at least interpret it semi-accurately in a sentence. The sub- prefix makes it easy to fake it. There's an 'under' aspect to it. I would probably use it to mean 'buried within', 'overwhelmed' or 'taken over'--as in, "his personality was subsumed in his father's overbearing one". We'll see shortly if I'm right about that. Meanwhile, there is also a more primary ignorance to be dealt with.

It occurred to me that there are a lot of '-sume' words--consume, subsume, resume, presume--and though with the rest I can more accurately define them, I still don't know what that '-sume' is all about. It has got to be some sort of very foundational root, like 'to be' or 'to know', but I can't find the common element. With, under, again, before--all attached to this suffix. So how does it work to make them say what they do?

Time to find out...

Okay--I was probably offering the word inaccurately to my sister, though it might have just squeaked by, depending on what we were actually saying. Probably not, though. "Subsume" means to include, or classify or incorporate something into--or under--a larger group or general principal.

I didn't come close to getting the '-sume' right, either. It comes from the Latin sumere, which means 'to take', among other things. I have to admit that at first, this didn't make things much clearer. But reading through the definitions, I was surprised to see how many idioms using 'to take' have passed into our present day language. So we can make these sort of rough matches: subsume--to take under. Consume--to take in. Resume--to take up again. Presume--to take for granted--or to take ahead of time.

Who knew that 'taking' was so fundamental to our language, and therefore our nature? Oh, sure--you all did. Easy to say that now.

31 comments:

  1. I knew the meanings of all the words you cited, at least all the English ones, but I confess my previous ignorance of -sume's meaning. Now that you've subsumed it under the rubric "words whose meanings I now know," how about a post on rubric?
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  2. Seana,

    I'm almost afraid to come to your blog, since more times than I care to count I find out I'm not using words exactly correctly.

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  3. Peter, as to 'rubric', I will.

    Brian, you're almost afraid? Think how I feel...

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  4. Well, Seana, you're not exactly ramming this intellectual humility thing down our throats. We choose to visit here. And we ought to congratulate ourselves for doing so and learning something.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  5. I'm with Peter here, though I did know the meanings of subsume, consume, resume, etc...sume was new and interesting, especially in the context of our winner-take-all culture.

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  6. Assume, presume ... Any others?

    And why do I envision an adventurer about to be eaten by a polite cannibal who says: "Mr. Livingstone. I consume?"
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  7. 'Assume' was the only other one I was able to come up with. But I bet there are words that use that 'sumere' source in a different form. No doubt it will come up again.

    I'm glad people were able to learn something new out of words that already seemed familiar.It's funny that this very idea came up tonight at my Finnegans Wake group meeting. We realized that as we read aloud, struggling with his clever, made up punny words, we would come across a word that was normally familiar and easy and catch ourselves trying to pronounce it. And this is because Joyce succeeds in making words new and interesting and unknown again. In fact, he reminds me a little of the word verifier--he can be delightful and unexpected in just the same way.

    Of course, he sets his sites a little higher than the word verifier does.

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    Replies
    1. There is such a thing as a Finnegan's Wake group? Where ARE you? You are my tribe!

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    2. Yes, I think there are quite a few of them now, Unknown. We meet in Santa Cruz, California, but I have a friend who leads one in Austin, Texas. Ours came out of hearing of one that has been meeting forever in New York and I know there is also one down in the Marina del Rey area of Los Angeles. I have Finnegans Wake blog for our group, which is a bit dormant at the moment, but it does have links to other Wake blogs, like the Austin one. It's here:

      http://finniganswakesantacruz.blogspot.com/

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  8. So, what book will the group read next, after you're done with "Finnegan's Wake"?

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  9. Finnegan's Wake? Everyone in the group deserves combat pay for getting through that book. jk

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  10. Entirely hypothetical. No one has ever got through it.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  11. It is quite possible that we won't get through it either. But we should have a lot of fun with however much we do read.

    I admit that a pint of Guinness makes it all go down easier. And I am sure Joyce would approve of this educational aid, which makes it all the better.

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  12. May all you Joycean scholars enjoy the beer you consume.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  13. Thanks--though Joycean scholars are precisely what we are not.

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  14. Oh, but by comparison with your present correspendent, you are. I read a few stories from Dubliners (which doesn't count, because that was for school). Other than than, maybe a page each of Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake is the extent of my experience with Joyce.

    V-word: irshe
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  15. Yes, but the whole point of it is that we are just readers--sometimes consulting scholars when we find ourselves totally befuddled. Which is fairly frequently, I must admit.

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  16. Ah, but I say all readers are scholars.

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  17. It's an interesting premise, though not one I fully subscribe to. Still, within your own definition I will accept the term and your toast on all our behalves.

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  18. " ... on all our behalves."Nice coinage. I'd have thought two behalves were a bewhole.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  19. Yeah, I thought, 'well, that doesn't look right. But on the other hand, why not?'

    Anyway, didn't check it. I suppose
    'behalf' is one of those words I'm going to have to post about.

    Oh, dear. The list is growing...

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  20. Ist possible that two behalves equal a beholden?

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  21. English, multilayered as its history is, is full of words that have redundant grammatical forms. The -r and the -n in children each indicate the plural. Compare kinder, Dutch (and I think, German, too) for children and brethren, the plural of brother.

    So, bewhole is the plural of behalve, and beholden is the plural of bewhole.

    Got that?
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  22. Yes. I suppose that technically, it would be 'bewholeden', though.

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  23. You're doing just that Spencer Tracy, Phil Silvers and so on did in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: searching for the Big W!

    My v-word is the plural of a certain type of ownership of a dwelling: condoi.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  24. No, I've had enough of Big W to last a lifetime. Or should I say "Big Dubya". I think we should probably start calling it Double-Vee for awhile, just for a rest. It would make more sense anyway.

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  25. It's not the least of the man's misdeeds that he may have soured "The Big W" for generations as yet unfamiliar with the movie and maybe for some who are familiar with it.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  26. what about assume?

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  27. Although, assume was mentioned in the comments here, I see that I never really did address it. It is simply to take up, the -sume being again about taking, the 'as' coming from 'ad' which means 'to' or 'up'. Hence the Christian idea of the Assumption of Mary, the taking up into heaven.

    Thanks for the question.

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  28. Your post did more to help me understand the word 'subsume' and how to use it properly than a dozen other more literary or academic explanations I found out there.. thanks!

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  29. Thank you for that, Thomas. I appreciate you're taking time to comment here.

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