The absurdity of the word ‘Pataphysics’



The word ‘pataphysics1 is ‘all Greek’ to both of us, hence meaningless. And because it is meaningless it can, like an empty container, be filled by anyone with any meaning, thereby becoming meaningful to anyone.


The word pataphysics is assembled from 3 Greek words which are absolutely meaningless to English speakers, therefore occult,2 and relatively, therefore almost meaningless even to Greek speakers,3 namely:


Meta, deliberately not translated into English4 and upon which English speakers have superimposed the fundamentally vague to incomprehensible notions of ‘with’, ‘across’, or ‘after.’

Phusis, deliberately not translated into English and upon which the fundamentally undefinable notion of ‘physics’ (and which originally meant ‘nature’) is superimposed.


Together they make up metaphysics,5 a quite meaningless word.


If the Greek word epi, upon which English speakers superimpose the fundamentally meaningless notions of ‘upon’ or ‘above’, is added, then, after meta and epi are compressed into a single word, we have the completely meaningless word pataphysics.


In other words, by translating the former into English we arrive at the fantastic meaning of pataphysics, namely:


Upon or above - with, across or after - nature,


and which is a wholly spam word invented by Alfred Jarry (1873 – 1907)6 as a schoolboy prank.


So, is the word pataphysics meaningless? Well, not quite.6 Firstly, it derives its meaning from its function of attracting meaning, much like an empty beer glass invites to be filled with Guinness, cider, water, soma or ’the blood of our Lord’. And, secondly, Jarry8 has provided a definition, namely: “Patataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions that create universes supplementary to this one.”9,10


Which means that the word pataphysics can mean anything you wanted it to mean, just like the words god, nirvana, brahman, soul (originally German), nature, love, forest and so on and on.











1.    The spoken word pataphysics is a meaningless complex soundbite or grunt. It becomes meaningful when meaning (essentially a private notion or idea fantasy, i.e., an imaginary solution) is superimposed on it.

2.    Occult meaning: secret, hidden, concealed, covered over. When presented it is interpreted by an observer as: mystical, supernatural or magical and therefore inviting superimposition of fantasy.

3.    Because their meaning derives from private fantasy.

4.    Like, for instance the words, Christ, democracy, psyche, ego, idiot, nirvana, Buddha, and so on and on. Because untranslated they can mean anything you want them to mean, hence retain absolute meaning flexibility. Such flexibility gives its user maximum adaptation (thus survival) flexibility, more often than not used by priests and politicians as self-serving manipulation means.

5.    The word metaphysics is meaningless because the words meta (i.e., given to mean with, across, or after) and nature (i.e., physics) are undefinable.

6.    Alfred Jarry was a classic idiot savant (like the Buddha and/or Nagarjuna). Endowed with high intelligence and parading extraordinary erudition he lived spontaneously, a devil-may-care rule unto himself. That he chose to exhibit himself to the world as rank buffoon jabbering absurdities is merely incidental. His absurd, scatological and rather adolescent supplemental universe was but one special case application of the imaginary solution procedure which, in different circumstances, created the wonderful work of art, the Jumbo Jet.

7.    The word/name pataphysics is completely meaningless until meaning is superimposed on it. And the meaning superimposed on it by Jarry is ‘the science of imaginary solutions’, hence ‘the science of fantasy.’ Similarly, Google is a completely meaningless word/name. But everyone knows what it means, namely ‘search engine.’

8.    Possibly for once neither drunk nor drugged but lucid.

9.    It should be noted that the pataphysical function described by Jarry is the sine qua non of survival of the higher vertebrates, such as, for instance, the human as top predator. Jarry merely gave that function its name. By comparison, the word metaphysics (to wit, ‘after or beyond nature’) attributed to Aristotle is inane. Aristotle’s collection of his personal fantasies about what he had claimed he had observed should have been called ‘Art’ since, as many have noted, art (naturally) follows nature.

10.        What is pataphysics?