"There is a Hand to turn the time,
      Though thy Glass today be run,
      Till the Light that hath brought the Towers low
      Find the last poor Pret'rite one . . .
      Till the Riders sleep by ev'ry road,
      All through our crippl'd Zone,
      With a face on ev'ry mountainside,
      And a Soul in ev'ry stone . . .

Now everybody --"



So saith Tyrone Slothrop's heretical Puritan ancestor William Slothrop, as seen on page 887 1 of Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow.

Mr. Pynchon and the OED have a bit more to say than Webster 1913 does.

Here and there in Gravity's Rainbow (and it's a central theme, for those who haven't already gotten all vacant and wandered off) Pynchon speaks of preterition and preterites in the OED's2 sense 3: "One who is passed over or not elected by God; cf. 'preterition' 4. rare". This is Calvinist theology: The race is not to the swift; it's to the Boss's favorites. Why are they favored? Don't ask. They just are. It's easy to see how that kind of a God would appeal to those with inherited wealth. A cynic might observe that those people have a lot of money to spend subsidizing bright boys like John Calvin who tell them that God loves them best.

The OED's quotation is a sheer delight, and right on the money too: "1864 Fraser's Mag May 533 The reprobates who are damned because they were always meant to be damned, and the preterites who are damned because they were never meant to be saved." Put that in your liberation theology and smoke it.

The same OED tells me that the Latin prefix "preter-" or "praeter-" signifies "past, by, beyond, above, more than" etc. Hmph. "Past" is not "passed"; go figure.


1 The Bantam paperback; Your Pagination May Vary.

2 Now who, what red-blooded American among us, would not pay good money to see a steel-cage grudge match between EDB and the OED?

Pret"er*ite (?), a. & n.

Same as Preterit.

 

© Webster 1913.

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