Why is "seldom" a discouraging word?

By | Sunday, May 29, 2011 4 comments
The other day I was asked why “seldom” is a discouraging word. It was a profound and curious question. Personally, I have never found “seldom” to be discouraging; however, I have been told that for some people, when they are at home on the range with deer and antelope playing and the skies are clear for a majority of the day, hearing “seldom” is very discouraging indeed. Some of these people can become bedridden if repeatedly accosted by aggressors shouting “Seldom! Seldom! Seldom!” I have dubbed this condition “seldomosis.”

I promised that I would look into the source of seldomosis, but unfortunately I find myself with more questions than answers:
  • Is the phenomenon of being discouraged upon hearing the word "seldom" restricted to people who are at home on the range?
  • Is this perverse reaction to “seldom” weather specific? Among the people who get despondent at hearing the word “seldom,” are they only effected if the skies aren't cloudy? If it is a cloudy day, signaling that rain is on the way and the crops will be saved from the drought, does that diminish their linguistic sensitivities?
  • What is the connection to frolicking hooved mammals? Apparently deer and antelope playing is in some way involved in causing seldomosis. What about other animals? If squirrels and badgers play, but deer and antelope busy themselves with grazing, can that also cause “seldom” to be a discouraging word?
  • Which of these factors are more significant: weather, or animal entertainment? Or do both need to be in place, at home, on the range, to create seldomosis? Perhaps clear skies without animals playing would make “seldom” only mildly dispiriting.
  • Is this purely an auditory phenomenon? If a person is home on the range, the skies aren't cloudy all day, and there are both deer and antelope playing, will they be discourage by reading the word “seldom,” or must they hear it spoken to have the wind knocked out of their sails?
  • Lastly, are there any other words that upset sufferers of seldomosis? If so, is it phonetic or semiotic? That is to say, would “solemn” or “selenium” or “celadon” cause as much dismay as “seldom?” Or would those words be fine, but “rarely” and “infrequently” bring about feelings of hopelessness.
Any assistance that you can provide in unraveling this mystery would be much appreciated.
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4 comments:

  1. Maybe seldomosis is a form of Mad Cow Disease which makes hooved mammals play.

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  2. Follow-up... I've been having some interesting conversations about the poem/song "Home On the Range."

    "Home On the Range" is, of course, the state song of Kansas (one of our 50 states for my Canadian friends.) As with all Kansas songs and poems it is written with very explicit punctuation since Kansas residents (it's primary audience) are otherwise likely to misinterpret it. The phrase in question is clearly written parenthetically, "Seldom is heard (a discouraging word.)"

    Dr. Brewster M. Higley (1823-1911), the author of the text, was a well known early sufferer of seldomosis. For Higley, this reference to the dispiriting nature of "seldom" acts as a counter-balancing point to his otherwise uplifting glorification of the central plains of the US.

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  3. Sorry, I should also have pointed out that Higley reinforces this idea in the 3rd stanza of his poem where he states:

    On the banks of the Beaver,
    where seldom if ever,
    Any poisonous herbage doth grow.

    This heart-rending sentence laments the fact that Higley was (temporarily) homeless after having his family's land was repossessed by the Beaver Bank of Wichita. Hagley had been on his way to the bank to pay the mortgage, but was unable to enter the facility due to the presence of thick stands of hemlock growing on the bank's unkempt lawn. Hagley was so discouraged by this that he imagined the "poisonous herbage" would be there forever, so he would never be able to own a home again. The infamous "Beaver Bank Hemlock Fields" remained for over 100 years until they were removed as part of the S&L crisis cleanup of the 1980's.

    In spite of these few sad references, Hagley's poem was otherwise so positive and moving that it was widely heralded, turned into a song, and adopted as the state song of Kansas. Hagley's royalties allowed him to repurchase the family land as well as several adjacent plots, developing a large roaming estate. There he was able to rebuild his ancestral home and surround himself by servants and sycophants, well trained to never utter the word "seldom."

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  4. "Where seldom is hear a discouraging word" is an inverted way of saying discouraging words were not often heard. That, in turn, is a double-negative expression meaning that encouraging words were often heard.

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