A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan continues. If he had lived Marshall would have been 100 on July 21, 2011. Join me in the countdown to his centennial, and an exploration of more of his observations on the way media work in the electric age in which we live.

Three words a day.

Marshall McLuhan (September, 1930, age 19).  Dear Diary:

Today my habit of memorizing the meaning of three new words a day has paid off handsomely.  Professor Allison, who was lecturing today on Milton, started his lecture with a question.  “What is the meaning of “imprimatur”?  No one else but me could answer.

Me (December, 2010, age 58).  Words, words, words!

The habit of looking up words in the dictionary (the O.E.D. naturally) was one of the few McLuhan picked up from his father.  It was a habit he maintained for most of his life.  McLuhan’s biographer, Philip Marchand writes, that much later in his life McLuhan once remarked “that a single English word was more interesting than the entire NASA space program.”

Two of the words the young McLuhan committed to memory were “scaturient” and “sesquipedalian.”  Whether he ever found a time to use them seems unlikely.  “I say, Marshall, do you see those two streams, the one gushing forth one-and-a-half times more than the other?”  “Yes, their scaturient and sesquipedalian character certainly caught my eye.”  But that was not the point.  Words themselves fascinated him.  More than the launching of a rocket.  To understand this is to understand McLuhan.

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, pp. 14and 19.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Communication, Education No Comments

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