Sometimes, the conjunctions are the most powerful parts of our sentences. Just what do they mean? What is the true purpose of “and” or “or” or “yet”? In the following, I look at a particular example: “but”.

A teacher of mine once told me that his favorite word was ‘but’. He said that there was no word more economical: no word that for so few letters could accomplish so much, and with such subtlety. With three letters it could contradict pages and pages worth of sentences; like multiplying by zero, it had the effect of turning everything that came before it into a blank, meaningless nothing. It seems, sometimes, that that single word has the power to destroy everything that has ever been. History, mathematics, science, all it can be wiped clean by the cliffhanger created by an unpunctuated sentence ending with ‘but’.

“You’re great, but…”
“Everyone’s important, but…”
“Oh, Jeffrey! You are an absolute star of an individual, and for you I would pluck the stars from their seats. But… (name of other romantic interest implied here)

If there is any single axiomatic turn of phrase that the children of the twenty-first century can parrot mindlessly, it is that with great power comes great responsibility. So why do we toss it around like it’s nothing more than a conjunction? Why are we so freely able to take this negation, this ultimate cancellation of reality, and place it into whatever we choose? Do we not understand the power that it wields?

‘But’ complicates. And my postmodern sense of self longs not for more disorder within the wasteland that is our modern cultural heritage, but for a method by which we may connect the dots of our insanity and madness and delusion, and by so doing make some sense of the darkness through which we crawl. But hey, who am I?


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