Herbert McCabe on the sesquiguous

Herbert McCabe on the sesquiguous

I should, perhaps, introduce here my invention of the sesquiguous, which lies between the ambiguous and the plonking or flat statement. The plonking statement is one-dimensional, clear, unarguable and unimportant: in theological terms it belongs to the pre-conciliar world of what were thought of as clarities and certainties. The ambiguous statement on the other hand has two meanings, and is eminently suitable for conciliar documents, in particular for ecumenical documents, which have to be read in at least two ways by ex-opponents who are moving cautiously towards each other: ambiguity is the style of the liberal. We need, therefore, a word for what has neither two meanings nor one meaning, but one-and-a-half meanings, and ‘sesquiguous’ therefore springs to mind; a sesquiguous utterance is one in which the speaker both commits himself to a position and is simultaneously aware of the inadequacy of what he is saying, and of his own position in saying it: it is as I say really a form of irony. It involves shifting slightly to one side and taking a critical look at what you are and what you are saying, and at who is saying it. It is, in fact, the effort to overcome the ineluctably alienating character of signs and language as such. […] Nothing can really be said plonkingly, truth can only be conveyed ironically with an eye to the nearly always comic inadequacy of the signs used. (You cannot convey that you love someone except sesquiguously, or as we say, with a sesquiggle.)

from God Matters (Geoffrey Chapman, 1987), 176.

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