Just nonsense!

More to nonsense than you might imagine.

The following is published with the kind permission of Pendantry who writes the Wibble blog.  It originally appeared on the blogsite that is described:

The Multiphasic Phlyarological University

The most quisquilian educational establishment in cyberspace

So, without further ado, here is Phlyarology: the study of nonsense.


Phlyarology: the study of nonsense

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe. — Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky.

Phlyarology is the study of nonsense.

To begin to understand nonsense it may help first if one has a good grasp of sense, for comparison between the two.

General education is obviously useful in this regard; after which perhaps the most important trait is critical thinking. One suggestion for a book that gives a good grounding in critical thinking is ‘What’s the Worst That Could Happen’, by Greg Craven.

Craving Understanding
Craving Understanding

Nonsense can be interpreted as communication that lacks any coherent meaning; it can be considered synonymous with absurdity and the ridiculous. Artists in many realms have long employed nonsense (though ironically, tragically, many suffer unemployment while doing so). Poets, novelists, lyricists and copywriters often seek refuge in it; and there are entire works that depend upon it as a foundation.

Swans Reflecting Elephants — Salvador Dali
Swans Reflecting Elephants — Salvador Dali

When contemplating the antithesis of sense, one promising candidate for non-sense can be found lurking within surrealism.

And then there’s ‘common sense’, which is a thing to which people often appeal, and yet its use all too often can turn out to be oxymoronic. One example of  ‘common sense’ that results in reality inversion is the persistent case of King Cnut.

In Greek mythology a chimaera is a beast composed of the parts of a lion, a snake and a goat.

In the philosophies of language and science, nonsense is distinguished from sense or meaningfulness. An understanding of nonsense is a necessary field of study in cryptography, as it is essential in separating a signal from noise. But attempts to come up with a coherent and consistent method of distinguishing sense from nonsense are troublesome at best; such may be a slippery chimaera, one that can even perhaps be spied on occasion chewing upon its own tail.

When all else is said and done, phlyarology can be a subject of crucial importance — especially when it comes to considering peak everything (to name but a few paltry aspects that, it would seem, appear to be irrelevant to ‘normal’ life).

Which is, of course, why we’re all here. Assuming, of course, that we are…

“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in the way in which our visual field has no limits.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus, 6.431

I do not believe it is possible to ever fully grok nonsense; and so phlyarology is a never-ending pursuit. But I do believe that this doom can be a thoroughly rewarding and worthwhile one.

Or, to put it another way, stupid nonsense is a serious matter!

Any questions to be directed to Pendantry!


So how to close off a post about nonsense?

Well being a Brit sufficiently old to remember The Two Ronnies, a YouTube find that so perfectly shows the skill and professionalism of Ronnie Barker now follows.

You have never heard nonsense sound so wonderful!

13 thoughts on “Just nonsense!

  1. As I pointed out in my latest essay, the esteemed John Rawls defines justice by fairness, and fairness by …justice. This makes sense, in the sense of circular sense. Like in a vicious circle. So non sense can, indeed, come to rule.

    So what is sense? Sense is simply what happens in a discourse, flowing down it. That reflects neurology, where processes, some of them electrical, indeed flow down, although, sometimes they are “re-entrant” (90% of the visual system is “re-entrant”!!!!)

    Looking forward, for large questions, such as CO2 rise, one needs what I call catastrophic calculus. http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/catastrophic-probability-theory/, is what can evaluate cosmic scale dangers.

    Ah, last and not least, I want to learn from everything that’s important. I never heard of I would be delighted to know more about the etymology of “Phlyarology” (a would-be distinguished transmogrification from fly, to get phly?);


  2. Reminds me of the great Professor Stanley Unwin. Its difficult to find a good film of him now as he was really pre-internet, but here’s one:

    My all time favourite two Ronnies is the one in the hardware shop, which is also related to how language can be easily misunderstood.

    I speak and understand French quite well, but not fluently. Listening to Ronnie Barker in the posted video is rather like listening to a foreign language. You will never catch every word, but you aim to grasp the general sense – which is exactly what you do with Barker, and to some extent Stanley Unwin.

    So in fact, what Barker and Unwin did is not as ‘nonsense’ as it may first seem. Anglophones famously struggle with foreign languages, particularly as most of us grow up being exposed only to one. But in most of the world, the norm is to be exposed to several languages. And in doing so, people get use to the habit of listening to ‘nonsense’ and trying to grasp the sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely references in those YouTube clips. Will catch up on them later as Jean and I need to be away from the house in the next 30 minutes.

      Thank you for adding to the post!


  3. Hi Paul: I just noticed the link you gave to Pendantry (our posts had crossed). Well, I seem to know more than he does on that word. As I already said, it was made to make fun of people who tried to make “FLY” into “PHLY” to sound more learned.
    Of course one may fear that studying nonsense too exclusively is, itself, nonsensical. Real nonsense making no sense whatsoever. By definition.


    1. As I already said, it was made to make fun of people who tried to make “FLY” into “PHLY” to sound more learned.

      Would dearly love to see your citation of evidence for this assertion.


      1. Dear Pedantry: I am afraid that you will not, as it was fresh in my memory only eight months ago.
        However, I feel reasonably confident that seeing a “citation of evidence for this assertion” does not take much of an Internet search.

        On the other hand, I’m writing an essay on a somewhat related subject to be published soon.
        Where it is demonstrated that non sense often makes sense, but only for those who impose it, and their victims.
        All right, back to weak Ricci curvature…


  4. Superb! Thanks for the repost, Paul. As the original is only currently available to members of the Multiphasic Phlyarological University (which is itself on sabbatical of indeterminate duration*), these wurms have no other release into the wild than from here.

    I particularly like the addition of your Ronnie Barker clip — and indeed oakwood’s inclusion of the offering from Professor Stanley Unwin. The massive loss to homo fatuus brutus of these two eminent phlyarologists is only ameliorated by the wonders of modern technology, which bring them back to life, if only for a brief time.

    * a statement that might seem odd until one considers that in these nonsensical days of ‘corporate personhood’ any organisation may clearly claim to have its own identity and can indeed choose to go fishing if it wishes.


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