A regular genius

The One Big Happy for 3/6/10 (yes, 2010), just arrived in my comics feed:


(#1) Ruthie, to her neighbor James, about the adjective regular ‘exemplary’ (in either of two different ways of being exemplary)

The two senses, from NOAD:

— Ruthie’s sense here, roughly ‘ordinary, run-of-the-mill’ (referring to a routine example of its type), what I’ll call run-of-the-mill regular, which will accord with Ruthie’s experiences of the way the adjective is commonly — you might even say regularly — used:

4b mainly North American of a normal or ordinary kind; not special: it’s richer than regular pasta.

— the sense in a regular genius, roughly ‘true, quintessential’ (referring to a perfect example of its type), what I’ll call quintessential regular — a much more specialized, and infrequent, usage:

3e informaldated rightly so called; complete; absolute (used for emphasis): this place is a regular fisherman’s paradise.

(cf. the plural: these places are regular fisherman’s paradises.)

Notes on quintessential regular. In naming a type, quintessential regular is used in indefinites, almost always in canonical count indefinite NPs: with the singular indefinite article a, or (more rarely) in an indefinite bare plural (as above).

The natural homes of quintessential regular are in predicatives (this place is a regular paradise) and in objects (we visited a regular paradise; we canoed to a regular paradise), though in a subject is possible (a regular paradise confronted us). And since it conveys being a perfect exemplar of some type, we expect the type to be something remarkable, admirable, noteworthy, extraordinary (especially for positive qualities): it was a regular feast / banquet, exclaiming about the meal, is fine, as is it was a regular garbage dump of a meal; but it was a regular dinner ‘it was the quintessence of a dinner’ (even with accent on dinner) is odd.

Some data from the regular entry in OED3 (Dec. 2009):

A. 8. Chiefly colloquial. As an intensifier: complete, absolute, utter, veritable. [cites from 1740 (Samuel Richardson, Pamela) through 2003; all of the NPs (all predicative or in objects): [referring to a man] a Regular Piece of Clock-work, a regular climax of poetic beauty, a regular thoroughgoing Apostical, a regular flood, a regular bonfire, a regular eighteen-carat cad, a regular old Belsen [referring figuratively to the Nazi prison camp], a regular feast, a regular arsenal]

Every one of them is of the form a regular plus a nominal head referring to something noteworthy.

Run-of-the-mill regular, in contrast, occurs within a variety of NP types, and those NPs in various syntactic functions, including as subject. From the relevant OED3 subentry:

all regular parish churches, the regular form of the [Chinese] character, not equal to any regular size, a Scotch bagpipe orchestra in … alternation with the regular orchestra, regular torpedoes can travel at only 35 knots

Still more senses of regular. The adjective regular is a regular goldmine of ambiguity — turning on the distinction between everyday run-of-the-mill regular and the very specialized quintessential regular, as in #1; but then on a variety of other senses as well, as in another OBH comic strip, in my 11/20/19 posting “A regular festival of ambiguity”:


(#2) Three senses of (ir)regular in just four panels: inflectional exceptionlessness — regularity in inflectional form — in the first panel; defecation at constant times — digestive regularity — in the last

And in the second panel Ruthie’s brother Joe gives us his version of a sense that NOAD glosses as:

North American (of a person) not pretentious or arrogant; ordinary and friendly

and exemplifies with an occurrence of the conventional collocation, bordering on idiom, regular guy. On that sense, from the 2019 posting:

The general sense here is something like ‘behaving normatively’, which cashes out in different ways depending on the relevant reference class of people and the speaker’s experience of them. Not being pretentious or arrogant, being ordinary and friendly, are aspects of normative behavior in our culture. More specifically, for a kid like Joe in [#2], a regular guy is one that’s cool and comes over to the house and plays video games and all that.

Further development: regular guy. An expression that evaluates someone according to their conformity to what are perceived to be the central and most salient characteristics of a guy, but someone who doesn’t stand out in any significant way.

Although regular guy has been attested in use for females, it’s mostly used for males and usually conveys normative masculinity (with all that comes with it: athleticism, competitiveness, emotional restraint, toughness, etc. though all in moderation, plus solid heterosexuality), along with openness, friendliness, fairness, and other likeable qualities, and also sociocultural averageness on a number of dimensions (celebrities, conspicuously rich people, artists and scholars, etc. will have a hard time counting as regular guys).

(As I noted back then, I do pretty well on the likeable qualities, but miss the boat on all the rest; a regular guy I am not.)

One Response to “A regular genius”

  1. ROBERT S RICHMOND MD Says:

    What religion consecrates prune juice instead of grape juice?

    The Regular Baptists.

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