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