February 26, 2007


conceit: n. [con-SEET']
1.A favorable and especially unduly high opinion of one's own abilities or worth.

An ingenious or witty turn of phrase or thought.
A fanciful poetic image, especially an elaborate or exaggerated comparison.
A poem or passage consisting of such an image.
4a. The result of intellectual activity; a thought or an opinion.
b. A fanciful thought or idea.
a. A fancy article; a knickknack. b. An extravagant, fanciful, and elaborate construction or structure: “An eccentric addition to the lobby is a life-size wooden horse, a 19th century conceit” (Mimi Sheraton).
--Merriam Webster's International Unabridged Dictionary, Third Edition.

"Outside the Hollywood bubble, however, this conceit--that money and celebrity may be enough to crown The Nominee--can seem like, well, a conceit."--Zernike, Kate. The New York Times, "The Week in Review" (Pt. 4), pp1 & 4, 25 Feb. 2007.

Conceit must surely be a busy word out there in the field of discourse, what with five definitions to serve.

For our purposes, I have partially whited-out four of the definitions above that are not at work in Zernike's sentence.

What Zernike needed (and found) was a noun that refers to an idea that is, to its credit, the result of research and analysis but also somewhat "fanciful, odd, or excentric." Thus if Hollywood in 2008 eventually failed to deliver a winner, Zernike could say that back in February of 2007 she saw merit in the concept but also the possibility that it could turn out to be only a hopeful projection, a fanciful wish, an ungrounded conceit.

Of the five senses of the noun conceit listed above, only one--an overweening sense of oneself; conceitedness"--can take the adjectival form ("conceited"). Example: "Did you see how that conceited hostess lifted her nose at me?"

To communicate the idea that "Zernike is a writer who knows a conceit when she sees one," o
ne would not say "she is a conceited writer". Nor would one refer to her essay as a "conceited essay" if the idea were "the essay points out a conceit about Hollywood and politics."

All one can do when using conceit in the sense of "
a fanciful, odd or extravgant idea" is use the nominal (noun) form, conceit: "Zernike was prescient in February of 2007 to recognize that the idea that Hollywood could deliver a presidential nominee was only an optimistic conceit."


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