Ifs, Ands, or Buts?

but: Archaic conjunction indicating exclusion; obsolete in today’s usage.

26bdc6da8da0b94015af1110.L… and so the latest edition of Aforista’s dictionary declares the word “but” to be defunct. Can the OED be far behind? I can’t resist mentioning that Pat and I anticipated this lexical milestone in the first book we ever worked on together—PragMagic, a compilation of material from the late Marilyn Ferguson’s newsletter Brain/Mind Bulletin. In it we coined the motto,

Holism means never saying “but.”

Defining holism as “the theory that the universe can be seen in terms of interacting wholes that are more than the mere sum of their individual parts,” we suggested …

In a complex and diverse world, we should try to live increasingly inclusive lives. We must connect in as many ways as possible. Every time we say the word “but,” we implicitly exclude something, make an exception, say that something doesn’t belong.

In my own decades-long writing career, I’ve paid a fair amount of attention how often I use the word “but.” No, I haven’t eliminated it entirely, but I’m pretty sure I use it less and less as time goes on. It’s a habit that Pat and I recommended cultivating in PragMagic …

… living with increasingly fewer “buts”—and a lot more “ifs” and “ands.”

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