SNP’s word of the day: Demotic

Illustration by Lewis Mirrett
Illustration by Lewis Mirrett

Word: Demotic

Meaning: Of/relating to ordinary, plain-spoken, colloquial language; vernacular.

Usage: “[Smith’s] verses were resolutely demotic, even as she played with the imagery that Rimbaud drew from the Bible and Eliphas Lévi and fairy tales and illustrated geographies, and she deployed this imagery even as she devoted poems to Edie Sedgwick, Marianne Faithfull, and Anita Pallenberg.”

You should know it because: The best thing I read this week was Luc Sante‘s elegiac review of Patti Smith‘s writings, as well as writings on Patti Smith, and then some photographs of Smith, too. It’s in the New York Review of Books online. When you come back from that—and you should come back slowly and gently—let’s think about demotic. It denotes the quotidian rhythms of every-person speech, and came from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, who used demotic language in everyday life and hieratic language for writing and lecturing and philosophizing. Such a clear distinction seems antediluvian in a post–David Foster Wallace world, one in which even great writers, great Tweeters, etc. write like they talk—or rather, like they think they talk.

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