Word Inflation: Good. Greater. Greatest. Totally great.

Word inflation. That’s a phrase David Foster Wallace uses in Infinite Jest. I’m now 100 pages into the beast and came across two excellent passages. I’ve learned that even if I can’t grasp the novel at a macro level, I can still revel in the micro.

Here’s a passage about Jim Struck after an exhausting day of tennis:

"My bones are ringing the way sometimes people say their ears are ringing, I’m so tired."

"I’m waiting til the last possible second to even breathe. I’m not expanding the cage till driven by necessity of air."

"So tired it’s out of tired‘s word-range," Pemulis says. "Tired just doesn’t do it."

"Exhausted, shot, depleted," says Jim Struck, grinding at his closed eye with the heel of his hand. "Cashed. Totalled."

"Look." Pemulis pointing at Struck. "It’s trying to think."

"A moving thing to see."

"Beat. Worn the heck out."

"Worn the fuck-all out is more like."

"Wrung dry. Whacked. Tuckered out. More dead than alive."

"None even come close, the words."

"Word-inflation," Stice says, rubbing at his crewcut so his forehead wrinkles and clears. "Bigger and better. Good greater greatest totally great. Hyperbolic and hyperbolicker. Like grade inflation."


And here’s Wallace describing, in passing, the sensation of seeing somebody’s feet under public bathroom stall doors:

Something humble, placid even, about inert feet under stall doors. The defecatory posture is an accepting posture, it occurs to him. Head down, elbows on knees, the fingers laced together between the knees. Some hunched timeless millennial type of waiting, almost religious. Luther’s shoes on the floor beneath the chamber pot, placid, possibly made of wood, Luther’s 16th century shoes, awaiting epiphany. The mute quiescent suffering of generations of salesmen in the stalls of train-station johns, heads down, fingers laced, shined shoes inert, awaiting the acid gush. Women’s slippers, centurions’ dusty sandals, dock-workers’ hobnailed boots, Popes’ slippers. All waiting, pointing straight ahead, slightly tapping.


Here are other wisdom nuggets or cool phrases I’ve come across in my 100 pages:

  • "There is something vaguely digestive about the room’s odor."
  • "Like a stick of butter being hit with a mallet."
  • "He didn’t reject the idea so much as not react to it and watch as it floated away."
  • "Mario, you and I are mysterious to each other. We countenance each other from either side of some unbridgeable difference on this issue. Let’s lie very quietly and ponder this."
  • "Hal likes to get high in secret, but a bigger secret is that he’s as attached to the secrecy as he is to getting high."
  • "Mario’s thinking-hard expression resembles what for another person would be the sort of comically distorted face made to amuse an infant."
  • "Schitt then falls into the sort of silence of someone who’s enjoying mentally rewinding and replaying what he just came up with."

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