Imagine a cacophony of curves and curls, a kind of rocaille quincaillerie a-go-go, not so much baroque as going for broke… a rather cuckoo occurrence. Imagine a whole city, squirrelly with coquilles and asymmetrical curves, like a pile of wood shavings from a carpenter’s plane growing quickly into vines… look, and oh, see, oh, see, oh, see… an atrocity? Rocococity!

Ah, the ferocity of rocococity. For some people, “oc oc oc” might be the sound of gagging at the sight, but for others the curls (ocococ) will spur excited curiosity. Oh, the rococo – a late development of the baroque, just as rococo may also be playfully built on baroque and rocaille (shellwork, grotto-esque and perhaps grotesque) and coquille (a scallop shell) and no doubt something fun or diminutive about the repetition. The doubled /k/ gives a nice kick, with a wind-up from the /r/ and a slide into home with city.

Originally the term rococo was used dismissively to say the style was old-fashioned, but over time what was old can become, if not new, then at least charming again. There are rococo rooms in palaces, and even entire rococo churches, but your best bet is to look in the theme rooms in museums – try the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston or the Victoria and Albert in London, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I think the Louvre has some too, though one might after all randomly bump into rocococity out and about in Paris.

If rococo rooms may daze your eyes, though, surely rocococity will too. How many c’s and o’s are there? Three of each, but it’s ro-co-co-city really. And though rococo puts the stress in the middle on the second syllable, rocococity puts the stress on the middle in the third syllable, to echo ferocity, precocity, and so on. This may be the only symmetrical thing about rococo and rocococity! The baroque was tidy and mannered, the rococo rather less so… it’s what happens to a decorative art when the gardener goes on vacation and doesn’t come back.

But of course rocococity can spread beyond the decorative arts. It infected painting. But more than that: the property of rocococity may be attributed to things not artificially contrived at all, just curly and wanton and asymmetrical: “electromagnetism behaves in essentially the same simple way on all scales, varying only in its general strength, whereas gravity becomes increasingly rococo as you zoom into microscopic scales – signaling that the theory eventually gives way to a deeper one such as string theory or loop quantum gravity. But ‘eventually’ is so far off that physicists can usually neglect the rocococity.” Gravity? And microscopic rocococity? Yes, indeed, and we are reminded of the infectiousness of rocococity: “The rocococity of gravity should infect the other forces.” And who said that? George Musser, in Scientific American (Forces to Reckon with: Does Gravity Muck Up Electromagnetism?).

So here we may have thought of rocococity as some mere frivolity, and we have failed to consider the gravity of the situation! But is it string theory or loop quantum gravity? Well, what do you see in rocococity… strings or loops?

Thanks to Stan Backs for mentioning rocococity and the Scientific American article.

One response to “rocococity

  1. Thanks to Amy Toffelmire for bringing to my attention the song “Rococo” by Arcade Fire:

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