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Monday, January 2, 2012


[Norma photo]
Tarnation is not, as philologists opine, a contraction of "eternal damnation". There is no contraction for that. Damnation is a monopolar concept and is, as such, irreducible. Eternity cannot be abbreviated or exaggerated. So what is it? Does anyone know? Be honest, now. I thought so; indeed, neither do I. So, let's begin. Some say tarnation is a sort of Irish bludgeon because James Joyce used the word ("Well, tarnation strike me!"--James Joyce, Ulysses). In school I was asked who James Joyce was and answered, "the poet who wrote 'Trees'". My teacher --might have been Willie-- said, "No, that was Joyce Kilmer." When I asked who SHE was, I was hit with a goofystick and that, I suspect, is what happened to James Joyce. Select scholars --and all dogs-- who have been hit experientially or genetically with goofysticks are not entirely reliable researchers. It is only fair to include this in our topic paragraph.

But now that it's over, let's try and identify tarnation by its topography, geography and position in modern theology (which means I should probably start capitalizing it). There seems to be no zip code, area code, address or telephone number. This is suspiciously similar to the complaints department of AT&T, but does not prove either T stands for Tarnation. As anyone who has tried to settle a difference with a large communications conglomerate can attest, one soon exhausts theology in the generation of expletives. We may proceed to cosmology.

Students of physics learn time is rather more flexible than the entropic direction it takes in everyday life. Astronomically, it is relative. Subatomically, it is entangled. The anti-particle of an electron is a positron. This is an electron with a positive charge but can be interpreted also as a negatively charged particle moving backwards in time. When we consider the universe an assembly of all possibilities, we must conclude it is alive. And, considering our extrasensory position within it, we cannot look at time in only one direction and account for reality. That is, the universe may have created us but it may as easily be our descendant.

Certainly, it's counterintuitive but possible to go backwards into the future. We owe theological conservatives a debt for demonstrating this principle as they have long considered democracy a manifest breach of the fifth commandment, yet here we all are sharing this lovely moment. In the 1960s, theological conservatives espoused a fundamental assumption of Tarnation, that the universe was on our side and all boys should get drafted to fight for it. There were, of course, certain deferments, the least desirable of which was disqualification for being the sole surviving son in a family. My brother and I have admitted relief that it never came down to that.

The inescapable suggestion provided by evidence in this essay is this: the ever-expanding universe and the concept of Tarnation are conterminous.There is a cogent, workable resolution to this enigma but I can't remember where --there should be a word for that-- I left it. But which ever way time takes us and however we make our way through it, there is one indestructible self-delusion that helps one through --repeat after me: "I can hardly wait for tomorrow because I get better-looking every day!"


  1. I have to admit--not because I am apparently the inspiration for that hypothetical teacher of yours here--that I like your discursive explanation far better than that of the Online Etymological Dictionary. So here IT is:
    tarnation Look up tarnation at
    1784, Amer.Eng. alteration of darnation (itself a euphemism for damnation), influenced by tarnal (1790), from phrase by the Eternal (God).

    Rather pedestrian in comparison, I think. I much prefer an explanation from a panoptic and savvy human like you!

  2. Most kind. Thanks. In their own way, I suspect the etymologists are reaching even farther than I here.

  3. So, I'm getting uglier backwards? I shall have to get myself a cuppa (moon walking?) and ponder this post. Wow, what a good start (finish) to the day! Thanks. :)

  4. Not sure, CarrieBoo. Degree of ugly depends on what I crash into while moonwalking --which I'm not allowed to do in the house anymore.

  5. A fun post! Never heard quite such an explanation before. :)

  6. There they are...those clogs I want that the catalogue sez has only size 8! You found Cindarella!

  7. Yes, easy to slip on by the back door and, except for pumpkins, simplify the harvest.

  8. Hi-ya. You just visited my blog for the first time, so I figured I'd return the favor and come check out yours. WOW! THREE of 'em??? How impressive. While I really enjoy your poetry on the other blogs, I'm more drawn to your essay here. It appeals to both my nerdy side and my wordy side. Very clever, dear sir. Count me in as your newest follower. Nice to meetcha.


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