Tuesday, March 20, 2007
The lowest (or highest, depending) ordinal to be used before “-rate” is third. I was reading one of the n+1 threads, and someone referred to someone else as a “tenth-rate Satie.” Could you really begin to distinguish between a ninth-rate and eight-rate Sartre, for example?
Also, my favorite entry at “The Rosewater Chronicles” is this selection of readers’ reports. If I may quote one:
You stupid fuck! How can you submit to us an article with this incredibly stupid footnote? You obviously have not learned anything. . . . Keep playing around with Walter Benjamin and you will have a brilliant career among assholes such as yourself.
I gathered that there was a backstory. I have some that I’d like to quote from, but a combination of cowardice and discretion prevents me. Nothing as piquant as the above, however. But by all means feel free to share.
Unless, of course, you are discussing the Royal Navy in the Age of Sail, in which you can go as far as sixth rate.
Figuratively, though. Etymologically, “tier” has nothing do with “third,” though for a long time I thought it did.
I’m convinced that if you’re trying to sort out authors for easy description to people who haven’t read much of a genre, “fourth-rate” is a valuable term. The first-rate authors in a genre write literary classics that you think are going to survive the test of time, second-rate write works of literary interest, third-rate write (sometimes) entertaining pop reading, fourth-rate really shouldn’t have been published. Or, in SF for instance, going from first to fourth rate might be: John Crowley, Michael Moorcock, Michael Crichton, Charles Runyon. It’s important to give the third-rate writers some pride of place; being able to do a workmanlike job is more than many writers can do. Plus the fourth-rate ones sometimes have the MST3K “so bad they’re good” effect, and the third-rate ones generally don’t.
Fifth-rate, then, might be thought of (in a way similar to the Arabic invention of the zero) as those writers who are theoretically capable of writing something, but who have not yet actually done so.
But below that, yes, I think you’re into the realm of purely imaginary numbers.
I’ve said for a long time that there is no priority lower than third. I’ve seen people prioritize as far down as maybe tenth, but they were manic, obsessive bureaucratic ideologues who needed to be locked up.
And “third priority” means somewhere between “maybe, if we get around to it” and “never, if I have anything to do with it.”
In rating colleges I’ve vacillated between three and five ranks. Probably it should be four ranks, but an odd number seems best.
My alma mater is at the top of the third rank or bottom of the second in a system of three, and at the top of the fourth rank in a system of five.
The ‘tenth-rate’ combinative form merits lexicographic treatment (OED cites: 1824 Tait’s Magazine, 1889 Spectator); Swinburne got down to seventh-rate, and Harold Bloom to ninth. But the n-plus-oneth is a new low.
I used to do this Russell’s hierarchies of logical types too. As I remember, you have individuals, classes, classes of classes, etc. You can pretty easily get up to Type Four or Type Five, but do you ever get up to Type Seventeen or Type Thirty-Two? Do the different types start feuding with one another, with maybe the Thirteenth Type and the Seventeeth Type ganging up on the Eighth Type?
I never returned to this research after I sobered up. For all I know, high-level math and programing do need the higher types.
nnyhav, that same Bloom interview that you link to contains “fiftieth rate poem”, though without the dash.
Rich—yes, and concluding that interview with Gnosticism would indicate that it’s unbounded.
My reviews so far have been non-sociopathic, but I’m sure I’ll have a “whopper” to share soon.
Adam, there’s a relevant Frost poem.
There was one New Yorker cartoonist, perhaps one of many that felt the same way, who yelled at Ross one day during the thirties, “Why do you reject drawings of mine, and print stuff by that fifth-rate artist Thurber?”
“Third-rate”, said Ross, coming bravely and promptly to the defense of my stature as a cartoonist and his own reputation as an editor.
--James Thurber, The Years With Ross