“Should the happenings be blamed on phenomenons?”

Essentially, this is one of those circular sentences, and would be just as meaningless if the terms were reversed: “Should the phenomenons be blamed on happenings?” I guess it’s a good question. Maybe it’s even meaningful, in a strange way, if the student is writing about possible witchcraft in the village of Salem. Perhaps she’s making a distinction between “happenings” as physical manifestations, and “phenomenons” as supernatural causes. I wish she’d at least written “phenomena,” but with so few students taking Latin nowadays I guess it’s too much to ask that the Latin plurals be retained. Actually, a quick look just now at Webster’s Collegiate informs me that “phenomenon” meaning “an exceptional, unusual, or abnormal thing, person, or event” is pluralized with an “s.” If the Infant Phenomenon of Nicholas Nickleby had had a sister, they would have been billed as the Infant Phenomenons, I imagine, by this definition. Perhaps, then, we can let my student’s “phenomenons” slide.

Another student, though, didn’t think the supernatural was to blame; he attributed it to more psychological causes:

“There were a couple of things that were behind the Salem witch cases, such as power of pervasion and hysterics. Power of pervasion is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Pervasion” is a word, but doesn’t fit the context or the declared meaning. Here it might be an unwitting portmanteau for “perverse persuasion,” although once the accusations got going they certainly did seem to pervade Salem. But none of these possible component ideas can explain my student’s confident observation (or definition?) that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe he’d like to meet the student who explained “psychosomatic.”

Well, Hallowe’en is here, and the Hallowe’en witches will have taken their candy and gone by midnight, so I might as well end my Salem series with another famous student “death sentence” >wink<:

“I’d like to say that those people that are dead and buried because of so-called witchcraft are now dead.”

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

2 responses to ““Should the happenings be blamed on phenomenons?”

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