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Mar 30, 2004
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Unusual words

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resistentialism (ri-zis-TEN-shul-iz-um) noun

The theory that inanimate objects demonstrate hostile behavior toward us.

[Coined by humorist Paul Jennings as a blend of the Latin res (thing) + French resister (to resist) + existentialism (a kind of philosophy).]

If you ever get a feeling that the photocopy machine can sense when you're tense, short of time, need a document copied before an important meeting, and right then it decides to take a break, you're not alone. Now you know the word for it. Here's a report of scientific experiments confirming the validity of this theory.

As if to prove the point, my normally robust DSL Internet connection went bust for two hours just as I was writing this. I'm not making this up.

"Resistentialism has long been used in our family to explain the inexplicable: Why light switches, fixed in place in daylight hours, elude groping hands in darkness. Why shoestrings break when we are in a hurry... The explanation for these and many more daily occurrences is that there is no such thing as an inanimate object. Seemingly inanimate objects actually resist those they are intended to serve."
Myron A. Marty; Hostile Inanimate Objects Have Their Murphy's Law; St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri); Sep 15, 1996.

"Reports of resistentialism abound in ephemeral literature as well. The Peter Tamony Collection at the University of Missouri, Columbia, contains dozens of newspaper clippings documenting the phenomenon ... Among Tamony's clippings is a story about a lady in London whose telephone rang every time she tried to take a bath. No matter what time she drew the bath, day or night, the phone always rang -- and when she'd answer it, nobody was there. Things eventually got so bad that she stopped bathing altogether, which prompted her husband to investigate the problem pronto... In the great scheme of things (think about that one!), Jennings tells us, we are no-Thing, and Things always win."
Charles Harrington Elster; Resistentialism: Things Are Against Us (Including Our Own Words); New York Times Magazine; Sep 21, 2003.


There is no surer way to misread any document than to read it literally. -Learned Hand, jurist (1872-1961)

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