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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) the belief that inanimate objects can display spite against humans

tangled iphone headphones

Most popular on HH this week was the word resistentialism, a term for the belief that inanimate objects can display malice or spitefulness towards humans. And if you’ve ever used the vacuum cleaner here at HHHQ, you’d know precisely what that’s like.

Admittedly, resistentialism is not a particularly serious term: labelled “humorous” by the OED, it’s a pun on existentialism coined by the English humorist and journalist Paul Jennings in a satirical essay published in 1948.

Parodying the verbose philosophical studies of the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Jennings wrote that the theory of resistentialism was the work of a Cambridge scholar whose research on the subject—the so-called “Clark-Trimble Experiments”had proven the theory unequivocally:

Before the Royal Society in London, Clark-Trimble arranged 400 pieces of carpet in ascending degrees of quality, from coarse matting to priceless Chinese silk. Pieces of toast and marmalade, graded, weighed, and measured, were then dropped on each piece of carpet, and the marmalade-downwards incidence was statistically analysed. The toast fell right-side-up every time on the cheap carpet, except when the cheap carpet was screened from the rest (in which case the toast didn’t know that Clark-Trimble had other and better carpets), and it fell marmalade-downwards every time on the Chinese silk. Most remarkable of all, the marmalade-downwards incidence for the intermediate grades was found to vary exactly with the quality of carpet.
“Report on Resistentialism”, The Spectator (1948)

Jennings described resistentialism as a “philosophy of tragic grandeur”—the “philosophy of what Things think about Us”—at the heart of which is the basic tenet that “things are against us.”

Since then, the term has fallen into occasional use in English when photocopiers jam and refuse to print the last sheet of several hundred, or when unattended headphones left to their own devices in a coat pocket squirm their way into a Gordian knot. Or seriously—the HH vacuum cleaner. That thing has a mind of its own...

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