enfarce

There are always rules, of course – rules about how to do things and rules within rules and rules about making rules. A common and important question is “Who enforces the rules?” But another question, not common but also valid – for different reasons – is “Who enfarces the rules?”

You don’t know this word enfarce? Of course you don’t; don’t pretend you do – no one uses it anymore. Until now, that is, because I, with my remarkable lexical activation power, say they shall. 

You can make a guess about what enfarce means. You’ll probably be wrong, but make a guess anyway.

Did you guess that it means ‘make a farce [out of them]’? As in take the piss, make a mockery, do the reductio ad absurdum? Good guess! It’s wrong, but it’s a good guess, because you’d think, wouldn’t you? But no, this farce is the same farce that is the source of the farce that means ‘a ludicrous piece of theatre’, and it happens that farces are called farces because they, too, were at first enfarced.

If you know French, you may be guessing where this is going. French for ‘stuffed’ (as in stuffed turkey) is farci, from the verb farcir, and the related noun for ‘stuffing’ is farce. It all comes from Latin farcio ‘I stuff’. The theatre pieces called farces got the name, as far as we know, because they were originally comic interludes, stuffed into performances of greater import (have you ever been to a Cirque du Soleil performance? think of their clowns).

So enfarcement is stuffing something in – into a turkey or a sausage, or less literally into whatever else (as when, for instance, a novelist enfarces an ideological monologue into a story). And when we talk about enfarcing rules, we can mean either of two things: (1) stuffing a rule in where it doesn’t really belong; (2) padding rules with extraneous material. Both of these things are quite common with rules. 

For (1), anyone who deals with legislation and contracts knows that extraneous details get attached as a way of accomplishing extra things with less effort. (I’m put in mind of how, when we made the offer on the place we now live in, I added a request that the microwave oven be included, because even though they’re inexpensive, I knew we might never get around to getting one otherwise.)

For (2), the typical jargon of rules lends itself to padded phrasing such as “The act of walking upon the lawns of these premises is expressly prohibited” where “Don’t walk on this lawn” would suffice. But also, often enough, sets of rules that could be simple and straightforward gain extra rules; for example, an office dress code that starts out as a single sentence prescribing “businesslike attire” gradually, in response to specific complaints, gains provisions specifying that bare knees are not to be visible; that no part of any toe is to be visible; that non-religious and non-medically-necessary headwear is not to be worn within the office space, excepting plain hair bands and barrettes; that bare elbows are not to be visible; that no sleeve shall have a hole in it other than the standard holes at top and bottom to allow the arm to pass through it eventuating in the hand; and so forth. 

All rules need to be enforced, of course, or they’re not really rules, and you need to know whose job it is to enforce them. Rules do not, on the other hand, need to be enfarced. But they will be. And when they are, it’s worth knowing who’s doing it.

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