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But/and

A version of this post was originally sent as an email newsletter in October 2018.

I’ve become a frequent user of the clumsy conjunction “but/and” to join phrases and ideas. Here’s an example:

This weekend in the olive grove, the weather was perfect, sunny and cool, but/and holy shit. My arms!

Another one:

It’s the hidden agenda, the moon behind the clouds. I think it’s potentially very powerful, but/and I’ve only scratched the surface here.

Why “but/and”? Let’s begin with: why not “but”?

It’s because I have come to see the truth about “but”: when you use it, everything you said before the “but” is actually false. Sometimes that’s transparent, totally fine. Other times, it looks like this:

“I’m concerned about climate change too, but…”

“I’m no fan of Void-Emperor Multhraxis, but…”

“Sure, I like his email newsletter, but…”

I find that in my own writing, my own sequencing of ideas, what I most often want is “and,” except that “and” is so linear: it can’t capture a turn or a twist. The layers of “but/and” do it almost perfectly, and its clumsiness basically admits, “I am no great rhetorician; this is not a mathematical proof; I’m just trying my best,” which, to me, is a great bonus.

BUT/AND! There does exist a sleeker version.

A correspondent spotted my use of “but/and” and emailed me a link to a blog post detailing the use of a new conjunction “bund” by none other than the great one, China Miéville.

This is the section the blogger Stan Carey quotes, and I’ll quote it too:

We’re here to talk to a doctor, Jonas and I. We’re both on the same mission. And, or but, or and and but, we’re on different missions too.

We need a new conjunction, a word that means ‘and’ and ‘but’ at the same time. I’m not saying anything I haven’t said before: this is one of my things, particularly with Tor, which is short for Tori, which she never uses.

This “and-but” word thing of mine isn’t even a joke between us any more. It used to be when I’d say, ‘I mean both of them at once!’, she’d say, “Band? Aut?” In the end we settled on bund, which is how we spell it although she says it with a little ‘t’ at the end, like bundt. Now when either of us says that we don’t even notice, we don’t even grin. It almost just means what it means now.

There’s some fun analysis and etymology in the post, which I won’t steal or spoil. It’s worth a peek.

Even if I’m not quite there with “bund,” I can report to you that I have been using “but/and” in writing both public and private for several years now, and I can’t imagine relinquishing it. (Look at all the but/ands in last year’s newsletter.)

“And” is the continuation, fine as far as is goes; “but” is the negation, even if you pretend it’s not; “but/and” is the turn, the twist, the resonance, the perfect fifth.

My new novel has “but/and” in it. Language changes slowly. Let’s help it along.

February 2020, Berkeley


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