Playing pocomon

Trolling too hard to be a true poco.

I recently re-read Ford Madox Ford’s great novel The Good Soldier (the saddest story, but pure joy!) and came across this sentence near the end describing the casual lifestyles of the local gentry: “It is queer the fantastic things that quite good people will do in order to keep up their appearance of calm pococurantism.”

I’m sure I knew what pococurantism meant at some point — I last read The Good Soldier thirty or so years ago — but I pulled a blank here and had to pull out the dictionary. As a noun, pococurante is defined as a careless or indifferent person, someone who displays a lack of concern. As an adjective, someone who is careless, nonchalant or apathetic. It comes from the Italian poco (“little”) and curante (present participle of “to care,” or “caring”).

In fact, it’s a word with a solid literary pedigree. In Voltaire’s Candide there’s a Senator Pococurante and Laurence Sterne uses it Tristram Shandy. As near as I can tell, it’s traditionally been used to carry a negative connotation. A pococurante is an idle person who’s not doing anyone any good. Perhaps someone shirking their duties and responsibilities. When the Ashburnhams in Ford’s novel affect the appearance of “calm pococurantism” it’s a bit like conspicuous comfort and being above it all. Or, as a former first lady’s coat once put it, “I really don’t care. Do U?”

But I like to see pococurantes in a more positive light. Isn’t pococurantism a little like the classical Greek notion of ataraxia? Or the modern cool? Still, there are moments where one should be cool and care, as Thomas Pynchon once put it. In such cases the word, which sounds silly enough, still makes a handy pejorative.

Words, words, words


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