Neal Stephenson Calls "Bulshytt"

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UPDATE: Contest Winner Selected!

After nearly a hundred entries, we've randomly selected a winner: commenter Meg Stivison. Meg posted: "My new favorite word is sub-Turing, used specifically for those who wouldn't pass a Turing intelligence test." We'll email Meg shortly with instructions on how to claim her free Anathem shirt! Thanks to all for entering, and for sharing your favorite words!

I saw Neal Stephenson, author of the newly released Anathem, speak in Portland on Tuesday night. He read a bit from the book, which revealed two inescapable facts about Anathem:

1. It's full of newly coined words. Similar to Dune in its free use of fictional vocabulary, Anathem introduces us to words like avout, the term for secular monks living living in a walled city; concent, an avout monastery; and Extramuros, the term for life outside the concent.

2. It's funny as hell. Proof comes from the term bulshytt, which appears early on and seems to have a clear predecessor in our own language. But don't let this seeming coincidence fool you: bulshytt is a very specific term with its own etymology -- although its usage does seem to match a well-known English term. Bulshytt appears in both Fluccish and Orth (two languages in the world of Anathem); a partial definition (from the book's glossary) is as follows:

Bulshytt: (1) In Fluccish of the late Praxic Age and early Reconstitution, a derogatory term for false speech in general, esp. knowing and deliberate falsehood or obfuscation. (2) In Orth, a more technical and clinical term denoting speech (typically but not necessarily commercial or political) that employs euphemism, convenient vagueness, numbing repetition, and other such rhetorical subterfuges to create the impression that something has been said. (3) According to the Knights of Saunt Halikaarn, a radical order of the 2nd Millennium A.R., all speech and writings of the ancient Sphenics; the Mystagogues of the Old Mathic Age; Praxic Age commercial and political institutions; and, since the Reconstitution, anyone they deemed to have been infected by Procian thinking. ...

Anathem's marketing is remarkable. The book itself has a trailer (yes, like a movie trailer), a soundtrack (actually a really good one), and a variety of online videos featuring author interviews and readings. It's a little funny to see Stephenson himself reading in these videos, as he's such an unlikely figure to appear in a promotional setting: he comes off as a quiet, retiring author who's genuinely interested in the world of ideas, and not so much into self-promotion.

As shown in his recent Wired profile, Stephenson seems perfectly comfortable to immerse himself in complexity, and his readers have come to expect that...though many found his previous work (The Baroque Cycle) to be a little long, weighing in at roughly three thousand pages across three volumes. In my humble opinion, Baroque contained a lot of great stuff: there's an epic scale to the story that can only be told over a lot of pages -- though that might just be my incipient fanboyism. (Anathem is 960 pages -- the hardcover is hefty!) At the Portland reading, an audience member asked about book length. Stephenson's answer was (and I'm heavily paraphrasing here), "Some books are long because there's a lot of junk in them that could be cut out. Some books are long because there's lots of good stuff in them. I think I'm writing the latter."

Some of the Anathem promo videos have been packaged up into an online widget. Have a look at the videos below -- I'd recommend the two videos in the middle (click the teeny icons at the bottom) as good starting points.

Can't get enough Neal Stephenson videos? There are a few more on his official book site. If you can't catch Stephenson on his speaking tour, check out his talk at the Long Now Foundation from last week -- it's a reading plus Q&A.

Win an Anathem Tee-Shirt (UPDATE: CONTEST NOW CLOSED)

So what's this about a tee-shirt contest? We have a limited edition "Bulshytt" tee-shirt to give away: it features the dictionary definition of the term in white on a black American Apparel tee. How to enter: leave a comment on this blog entry telling us your favorite word (fictional or not). We'll randomly select a winner on Friday evening, and we'll email you to work out your size and shipping information.

September 19, 2008 - 12:05pm
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