You’ve all heard of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, of course. But what about ipsedixitistic? Try this to that famous tune:

Supercilious mumpsimuses, ipsedixitistic,
Prone to captious pickiness, so priggish and sadistic,
Just-so stories not so apodictic as just mystic…
Supercilious mumpsimuses, ipsedixitistic!

What, you can’t sing it straight through at high speed on first try? Then you’re not trying hard enough. It’s so simple, 87% of four-year-olds can do it.

Where did I get that figure? Everybody knows it. It’s obvious. I read it somewhere, anyway.

Well, what. Didn’t you know that 78% of statistics are made up on the spot?

If you haven’t met this word ipsedixitistic before, you will likely come to love it soon. Of course it’s a bit of a party trick to say – or even to read – but once you see how it’s put together it’ll be a bit easier. It comes from Latin ipse dixit, literally ‘he himself said it’, a thing that followers of Pythagoras and, later, other thinkers were prone to saying (though I imagine at least some of them said it in Greek at the time, not Latin). It was a flat appeal to authority: something must be true because their vaunted teacher said it (not that he even did in every case). A modern parallel would be “My English teacher always taught me…”

From this comes ipsedixitism, whence also ipsedixitist (one who utters ipsedixitisms) and ipsedixitistic (characterized by ipsedixitism). Ipsedixitism (or, countably, an ipsedixitism) is something that appeals flatly and dogmatically to an authority (citations typically not forthcoming), but it can also appeal to the speaker’s own authority: an ipsedixitism can be just a flat, dogmatic statement. Most variants on “That’s not good English” are ipsedixitisms. You’re expected to accept that the thing speaks for itself.

Which would be res ipsa loquitur, by the way. (Implied is the authority of the speaker, who has the discernment to point out things that lesser intellects ought simply to accept.) But in ipsedixitisms, res does not actually loqui ipsa. They may insist that it’s omnibus notum (known by everyone), scilicet (obviously), but the very fact that they feel obliged to point it out gives the lie to that – res ipsa loquitur (or, as logicians like to say, QED)! In fact, though ipsedixitisms are presented as apodictic (speaking the incontrovertible truth), they’re typically mumpsimuses: mistaken beliefs held to dogmatically.

There are many kinds of ipsedixitistic utterances. Grammatical prescriptions (and other statements about language, such as “English is the most expressive language”) are common, but so are statements about society (such as “there’s no such thing as society”), economics, and, of course, cooking (ideas about aluminum foil, lifting the lids on pots, and the proper handling of a Bialetti come to mind). The most tiresome ones, though, are the ones where someone, encountering a statement well supported by extensive research, calls it an ipsedixitism. My own quick survey of social media instances suggests that these make up a substantial minority of uses of the word ipsedixitism, but I won’t say that’s reliably true everywhere – you might as well check it out for yourself.

Thanks to Ellen Jovin and Stan Carey for talking about this on Twitter today, inspiring me to write about it.

2 responses to “ipsedixitistic

  1. The interesting thing about this post is that it sent me googling Bialetti, because that’s what it says on my kettle. I had no idea it was a famous brand. When I went to replace the old, deceased electric kettle I picked the white one because it matched the kitchen. My kettle however is electric and doesn’t sit on the stovetop. Does that make it an oxymoron?

  2. Pingback: Link love: language (77) | Sentence first

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