Wednesday, February 07, 2018

`But What Is a Fade?'

I propose removing fadeless from dictionary life-supports and returning it to an active, healthy life. The latest citation in the OED dates from 1854. That year, in My Schools and Schoolmasters, or, the Story of my Education, the Scottish geologist Hugh Miller wrote “deathless, fadeless ray.” In 1796, in a poem addressed to Joseph Pottle, Coleridge wrote: “May your fame fadeless live!” Both usages hint at fulsomeness but the intensity might be lowered in modern vernacular. For instance: “Donald’s behavior has moderated somewhat in recent days, but his fundamental obnoxiousness is fadeless.”

Charles Lamb felt otherwise. His friend Bernard Barton had sent him a volume of his poems. In a letter written on this date, Feb. 7, in 1826, Lamb says: “One word I must object to in your little book, and it recurs more than once — fadeless is no genuine compound; loveless is, because love is a noun as well as verb; but what is a fade?”

The OED includes an entry for fade as a noun meaning “a company of hunters,” dating from the sixteenth century, but that’s not what Lamb had in mind. Among Barton’s poems I find “fadeless bloom,”fadeless sheen” and “fadeless glory.”  With him it amounts to a verbal tic, and recalls those unfortunates who find everything in their lives awesome. Fadeless, with its echo of fatalist, is a fine alternative to unfaded and this. Lamb closes his letter to Barton with this: “With these poor cavils excepted, your verses are without a flaw.”

1 comment:

David W. Sanders said...

I like the post better with the Not Fade Away photo.