There “But” For The

After our class discussion about There But For The, I realized how intrigued I was with the section titled “But” and how Ali Smith utilizes the multiple definitions of the word throughout the chapter. The last section of the chapter, titled “But (my dear Mark)” writes that “but…is very occasionally a preposition but is mostly a conjunction,” telling us that Smith mainly used the word as a conjunction throughout the chapters. She defines the word conjunction using the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary and deconstructs the definition to explain or wrap up the chapter “But” and tell of what’s to come. The section ends with the quote “the way things connect,” and this is appropriate because the chapter was the beginning of explaining how everyone was connected.

I used the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary to define the word “but,” since it’s the name of the section. Here is a link to the online dictionary. I won’t quote the entire definition to try to keep this blog post from being excessively long, so check out the whole thing on the website! Ali Smith writes that “but is mostly a conjunction,” and the dictionary defines “‘but’ conj: contrary to expectation; used to emphasize the word that follows it.” These two definitions speak volumes to how Smith laid out the novel. In this second section of the novel, Miles acts contrary to how everyone at the dinner table expected him to. He seems completely fine throughout the entire dinner, as we see through Mark’s narration, and then quietly goes upstairs and locks himself away in the house. The “The” section describes the situation after Miles already locked himself in, whereas the second section backtracks and shows us how out of the blue this was. From Mark’s point of view, nothing was really sad during the dinner that could’ve triggered this response; the first definition of the word “but” embodies how everyone felt about Miles’ actions.

The second definition of “but” as a conjunction applies to how the chapters connect to each other. “For” takes a more intimate look at Miles’ life and the struggles he has been through; the first section briefly goes into his past and the second section is narrated by a man that doesn’t know Miles that well. Using but as a way to “emphasize the word that follows it” draws attention to the “For” chapter, where we begin to understand Miles as a person rather than a strange celebrity locked inside of a house.

Smith writes that she is focusing on the use of but as a conjunction, saying that it “is very occasionally a preposition.” I think it’s still important to examine it’s use a preposition when analyzing the novel. The dictionary simply defines but as “prep: except.” It may be a little far fetched, but if we take this definition along with the definitions of conjunction that Smith utilizes in the section, it can be applied to the connection between Mark and Miles. Mark was the outsider during this chapter; the guests at dinner were fascinated with his mother’s suicide and we see, right after Mark sees Miles on his way to the room, the guests talking about Mark and his mother while he acts as an outsider looking in. He stands outside of the group and listens in. Miles is in a similar position, for he physically excludes himself from the group by leaving and going upstairs. These parallels are drawn in the “but” chapter; Miles and Mark are the exceptions, are outside of the group, making the preposition definition of but applicable. Some intriguing bit of information that the dictionary offered was the etymology of the word. It reads “etymology: Anglo-Saxon butan, meaning ‘outside of’ or ‘without’, from be by + utan out.” This ties in to the connection between Miles and Mark, that exist outside of the dinner party.

Smith’s decision to title the second section of There But For The “but” has many meanings and leaving it up to interpretation. Using the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary was imperative to understanding this section, for initially I used Webster’s and the Oxford Dictionary, but then realized that Smith specifically points to a dictionary. The definition provided in that particular dictionary tied “But” together for me!


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