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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

Researching “mono” in the OED this first Sunday of August…

Why mono? Because it is an important word for Elizabeth Finch. She’s a lecturer extraordinaire in the latest novel by Julian Barnes. In fall 2019 I taught a course on this British writer. But that was before I began posting a page a week on Literature I’ve Loved (and love).



This afternoon, scanning seven large pages of my unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, I counted over 220 words that begin with mono. I did not, however, count the long column of words beneath the singular, mono.

Back when I taught high school English in the 1970s, I often gave students a list of vocabulary words and assigned a piece of writing that required using all of them. So, just now I decided to do this for some words that begin with mono. Here I go!

Will the monoglot who bears the initials, DT, ever disappear?

Dear Divinity in some intelligent place, tell me how to withstand the monotony (not to mention the pain) of this monomaniac’s monosyllabic monologues? DT promises a monocracy for mono-culturists who wear red caps (favorite color of the big D) and yell about makin’ America great ‘agin’. Meanwhile the lardaceous monocular DT claps his greasy hands, which are an effect of his monophasy (burger only diet). And this because he awarded a popular franchise a monopoly over his gut.

Now, what would Elizabeth Finch tell the monocrat? That shifting multiplicities define culture and civilizations. So… keep to your monorail, which hopefully leads to prison, where you will be “saddled with your body to the last corn, cataract, and bunion.” (Thank you, Julian, for this final phrase.)

EF, as I will call her, knew lives contain clutter, which needs to be expunged so that you and I can again see more clearly. Expunge! Don’t you love this word? To bring to an end: quash, quell, squelch, crush, vanquish, squash!


Next week I promise to discuss polyglot Julian’s new fact-fiction novel, Elizabeth Finch. A third of it is about Julian the Apostate, the last emperor of Rome, killed in the Persian desert in 365 A.D. What did this mean? The defeat of polytheistic Hellenism and the triumph of monotheistic Christianity. Ms. Finch tells her adult students, one of whom is narrator Neil, that “some might conclude this (triumph) was a bad idea.”




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