“Is this some oblique DT arising from word withdrawal?” I asked myself, rubbing my eyes and rising to seated. Before me was a sort of comic chimera, half toad and half tome, and it uttered but one word: quodlibet.
Ah, whatever could that be, culling me from my cuddly bed? O bed quilt, have you formed in a fog this frog and quarto? Its presence seemed to coldly bid me to speak at length. I could leave it, but I felt obliged to quibble about it. “Have you ad-libbed this?” I demanded. But again it made its quiet, bold reply: quodlibet.
It is not, pace Aristophanes, a musical being, this ribbeting, quodlibeting thing that addressed me in the night, and yet a quodlibet, in the musical tradition, is a juxtaposition: a rendition of acquisitions – quotes of notes – in just the position to play them one against the other. Did the risible vision wish me to weave together “The Huron Carol” and “Paint It Black”? Vivaldi and Led Zeppelin? “Is it music you seek, o spectral freak?” But again it said but quodlibet.
Such a word, as though from a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Clearly Latin; I rose and took to my books. It seemed a word built of spare parts: round rocks rolled at front, and at back, and in the middle a sheaf of papers or a stock of books. And it was made from two joined parts: quod, “what,” libet, “pleases.” “And so what pleases you, o syncretic beast of synthetic word?” And still it coldly bid: quodlibet.
On I read, to find that Renaissance scholars would expatiate or debate ex tempore on a nonce topic suggested by one from the audience. This academic cadenza was the first object of this word. And then from that came a smaller sense, an equivalent of “quibble.” “So then,” I said and turned again to the exigent amphibian, “the occasion of this invasion is an improvisation on a theme? Pray what, o fiend from a dream, is the topic on which I shall exhaust the capacity of my sagacity and loquacity?” And once more it broke the sound of silence: quodlibet.