Today’s Bizarro, with a pun on fugue:

(with an accompanying pun on minor). There’s a musical and a medical sense of fugue; from NOAD2:

Music a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts.

Psychiatry a state or period of loss of awareness of one’s identity, often coupled with flight from one’s usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy.

Remarkably, these two words share an etymology, going back to Latin fuga ‘flight’, related to the verb fugere ‘to flee’ — with metaphorical extensions of flee in two different directions, in two different domains. (Because of the common etymology, the two words are listed in dictionaries in a single entry, though the relationship between the two will not be obvious to any ordinary speaker of the language.)

In tandem with this ambiguity, there’s a parallel ambiguity in minor: a musical sense, referring to a scale or to an interval within that scale; and an older general sense, meaning ‘lesser in importance, seriousness, or significance’. The first is a metaphorical development from the second, and both are contrasted with major. So: a minor fugue, a contrapuntal composition in a minor key or a psychiatric condition of lesser importance.

(Bonus: the Latin fug- ‘flee’ root crops up in other English words: fugitive, refuge, refugee, and the rarer fugacious ‘passing away quickly, evanescent’.)

19 Responses to “fugues”

  1. Mark A. Mandel Says:

    But not in the name of the sixties (and onward) rock group The Fugs.

  2. Mark A. Mandel Says:

    quoted w credit

  3. Mark A. Mandel Says:

    I always figured that the musical sense came from the parts “chasing each other” through the piece, each being somewhat behind the preceding one.

  4. Harold Knight Says:

    Behind unless in stretto or sharing an episode.

  5. Evangelia Says:

    A pun worth to be in Frasier:)

  6. Evangelia Says:


  7. Frederick Kintanar Says:

    A single lexical entry? There needs to be better criteria for polysemy than obscure history. I think a contemporary learners dictionaries would list them separately, on the criterion that they are not construable (by a certain ideal reader, whose knowledge is being modeled) as extensions of the same base domain/background frame.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      This passage is clearly in English and it uses terminology from semantics, but it has no connection I can see to the topic. With regret, I conclude that it is a troll, so I’ll delete further comments of this sort.

      • Mark A. Mandel Says:

        With respect, I disagree… but (1) it’s your blog, not mine, and (2) I’m very (“Excessively.” “Shut up, Loiosh.”) tolerant of thread branching, and not just in my blog.

        FWIW, I think the comment was honestly intended. But if it’s from someone unfamiliar with your blog and your rules or customs for it, I can see how the misunderstanding arose.

  8. Evangelia Says:

    @arnold: “in” as in “to be in a film/play/etc”, i.e. part of
    @mark: yes, famously so. An example off the top of my head and maybe not the best one (but you’ll find loads if you look around) “Excuse me, Niles, but I’ve got news for you: Copernicus called, and you are not the centre of the universe”

  9. Evangelia Says:


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