Surplusage

Yesterday, I read the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the State’s “Safer at Home” order. I read both the majority opinion and the concurring and dissenting opinions made by individual justices. Among the dissenting comments (which, by the way, I found far more persuasive than the majority opinion and the concurring comments from supporting justices), I encountered a word I have never (as far as I can recall) seen before: “surplusage.” The meaning of the word is exactly what I thought it would be: something that is surplus, an excess amount. A second definition stung me like a wasp: an excess of words. Ach! My flaws have been written into the dictionary!

The word was used by Rebecca Dallet, whose dissenting opinion included the following sentence: It is a basic tenet of statutory interpretation that we must read statutory language “to give reasonable effect to every word, in order to avoid surplusage.” That phrase, I learned by conducting a quick search of Google, followed by a search of the results yielded by it, is rather common in legal opinions given in cases before Wisconsin courts. I feel confident that, were I willing to invest the time and energy, it would not take much of either to uncover the origin of the term and the statement from which the quote “to give reasonable effect to every word, in order to avoid surplusage,” was taken. But I am willing to invest neither. So I will go on with my life, unencumbered by that crucial knowledge. I think I can survive without knowing.

Back to the definition. It’s not just an excess of words. It’s an excess amount. Of anything.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision will, I feel confident, result in a surplusage of COVID-19 infections and deaths. It will result, too, in a surplusage of shortages of: personal protective equipment, ventilators, masks for the general public, and any number of other recently-emerged necessities. “A surplusage of shortages.” Now THAT shines a spotlight on prolix language, does it not?

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Some moderately good news: my PET scan did not show any “hot spots” on my lungs that would warrant a biopsy. The nodule of concern to my oncologist is too small, she said, for a PET scan to “light up,” she said, so we just need to keep an eye on it. So, another CT scan in three months to determine whether it’s getting larger. If so, a more aggressive follow-up is in order. But, for now, there’s no need for “immediate concern.” That’s not a surplusage of good news, but I’ll take what I can get.

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I returned to Facebook yesterday, after a short vacation from social media. I fear I returned too soon. While it was nice to read some idle chatter of some FB friends, it is a bit hard to find, simply because there’s so much other “stuff” to wade through. I wonder whether there’s a way to adjust setting so that, for example, the posts of people whose volume of posts is excessive can be minimized but not ignored altogether? I’ll have to check. It’s not that I do not want to know what they think; it’s the sheer magnitude of the surplusage of their posts. It’s exhausting.

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Exhaustion. Mental exhaustion. What is causing this sensation of being crushed under the overwhelming weight of simply thinking? I don’t want to think. I want to simply exist; to be sustained without needing to decide or even consider what I need for sustenance. I do not want to make decisions, nor to complain about decisions made on my behalf. I just want to be left alone. I want the world to leave me alone; to stop making demands of me and to stop having expectations that I will engage with the world or anyone in it. I am perfectly (or, perhaps, reasonably) happy to live inside my head, with extremely limited interaction with the outside world. I don’t know what causes this feeling. I doubt it’s the isolation; I’m not really that isolated, after all. And I’m not sure it’s real. While I want to be left alone, I simultaneously want to be embraced and wanted and needed in the wider world. It’s impossible to meet those diametrically opposed desires. Can I want to be consumed by fire and immersed in icy water at the same time? Impossible. I don’t think I really want either. I do not know much. And I know less with each passing minute.

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As I sometimes do, I read a post I wrote one year ago today. It was full of worry and gloom; maybe it’s May 15 that does it. But, then, I read what I wrote five years ago today. I prefer it to what I am writing now. I will try to remember it. Here is what I wrote; unfinished, but as complete as it will ever be:

I watched his hammer slam, over and over and over again, against the white-hot piece of iron. The metal seemed to resist the brutality. Its shape did not change; only sparks. Yet the smithy continued beating the strap of metal without mercy, as if it had done unspeakable things to his daughter. The rhythm of his abusive attack never varied. I discerned no deviation in the constancy of his abuse; the unwavering rage of his hammer was breathtaking.

Finally, he stopped. He looked hard at the piece of dirty iron, as if searching it for answers to unanswerable questions. After a pause, he grasped the piece with heavy pincers and thrust the throbbing molten beast into a barrel of coal-black water. An explosive hiss erupted from the bowels of the cask, followed by the popping and cracking of hot iron reducing itself to something hard and cold.

The smithy drew the defeated piece of iron from the water and set it next to four identical strips resting on a tree-stump near the furnace, each of them perfect silver bands, curved into arcs, almost circles. He pulled his elbow-length heavy leather gloves from his hands and placed them next to his creations, then wiped the sweat from his brow with a grey rag, stained with smoke and rust. “Just twenty more and you’ll have the makings of five fine oak barrels, provided you’ve done your part in hewing the oak.”

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to Surplusage

  1. Of course. Here sits a surplusage of pounds in the Village, using more words than necessary at every opportunity in an attempt to balance my words with my weight.

  2. Thanks, Colleen. I’m pleased about it, too. Hope you’re having a wonderful day!

  3. Overabundant in Alexandria says:

    Ah! So we finally know what the S in “John S. Swinburn” stands for… Surplusage!!!! 😀

    Congrats on the positive PET scan results!

  4. Colleen Boardman says:

    So glad for your “moderately good” health news!

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