Sunday, June 01, 2008

Prolixity

In the previous post, I talked about our visit to Salem, Mass., and landmarks associated with Nathaniel Hawthorne. I am doing my best to read The House of the Seven Gables. In Chapter XI, "The Arched Window," Hawthorne goes into a prolonged description (all his descriptions seem prolonged) of an Italian organ grinder and his monkey who plied their trade on the streets of the New England town (based on Salem) where the novel is set. He writes, "The monkey, meanwhile, with a thick tail curling out into preposterous prolixity from beneath his tartans, took his station at the Italian's feet." In the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, I found the following:

Main Entry: pro·lix
Pronunciation: \prō-ˈliks, ˈprō-(ˌ)\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French prolix, from Latin prolixus extended, from pro- forward + liquēre to be fluid — more at liquid
Date: 15th century
1 : unduly prolonged or drawn out : too long
2 : marked by or using an excess of words
synonyms see wordy
— pro·lix·i·ty \prō-ˈlik-sə-tē\ noun
— pro·lix·ly adverb

So it seems Hawthorne, who was given to prolixity in the sense of using an excess of words, considered the monkey's tail to be not only too long, but preposterously too long. Who is he to judge? Aren't monkeys supposed to have long tails?

In any case, the word reminded me of Prolixin, a brand name for the anti-psychotic drug fluphenazine. Although I have no reason to prescribe anti-psychotic drugs in my line of work, I will never forget Prolixin because of an encounter I had with a patient during a night on call on a psych rotation as a medical student. I believe it was at the county hospital, or maybe it was at the VA, and I had to interview a schizophrenic patient. He said to me, "I used to be big until they turned me into a baby with Proplipsin." I don't recall specifically why he showed up in the emergency room that night, or any of the rest of the conversation, but that statement, for some strange reason, has stuck with me. Partly, I suppose, it was the interesting pronunciation of the drug's name, and partly perhaps because on the face of it, it sounds absurd, but you can sort of understand what he meant--that he felt somehow diminished by his treatment.

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