It is to an exceeding degree dependent not on how happy you were overall, but on how much delight you took in just a couple of things, how rosy and comforting your reflection will be on your school days, which way of thinking eludes our pathetic circumscription of mind as a young person. (RAMBLING MUSINGS ON THE PAST)

I don't understand the construction of this and this use of "circumscription."

  • What's Rambling Musings on the Past?
    – user230
    Jun 15, 2014 at 12:37
  • Where on earth did you find this? It reads like a tongue-in-cheek parody of the worst sort of 1920s sentimental memoir. Jun 15, 2014 at 13:58
  • @StoneyB: I'd say the main problem with the turgid phrasing is it makes the relatively simple point being made sufficiently obscure that one might easily miss how totally arse-about-face the thinking is. For most purposes, it's not so much that your value judgement of your past is dictated by a couple of specific memories - more likely you remember those specific things vividly precisely because they "typify" your established attitudes. So you repeatedly call them to mind in later years because they mesh well with your (older) perspectives. Jun 15, 2014 at 16:04
  • @FumbleFingers I do not think so. Then why is it a common occurrence that even people who used be to bullied at school can conjure up heart-warming good ol' memories of high school days?
    – user2492
    Jun 15, 2014 at 16:17
  • I'm no cognitive psychologist, but my general understanding is "people who used be to bullied at school" correlates more strongly with "people who now remember and dwell on having been bullied". Many others who were also bullied (perhaps significantly more strongly, or continuously) simply "choose" not to remember the relevant instances. Most of what people remember about the past they do because it resonates with current preconceptions. Ask any legal/police worker how reliable eye-witness testimony is. Jun 15, 2014 at 16:48

2 Answers 2


Literally, circumscription is the act of circumscribing (marking the limits/boundaries of something). Per OED, figuratively it can mean laying down of the limits of meaning - so effectively...

circumscription = definition, description.

The which way of thinking bit is a (somewhat stylised) variant of a way of thinking which in this context.

So in total the highlighted text means...

Young people have a pitifully limited understanding of "mind" [what it is, how it works], and cannot grasp the way of thinking being discussed here.

  • @username901345: You haven't provided a link to the source so I can look at more context, but the cited text is "more or less" grammatical. Although my general feeling is it's poor quality, being unnecessarily verbose and convoluted. And I find the specific words to an exceeding degree both pompous and "unnatural" (normal English would use very, and the standard "natural" pompous version would normally be to a considerable degree). Jun 15, 2014 at 13:16
  • 2
    @username901345: Yes, but why do you ask? Obviously this isn't your own text, or you wouldn't be asking what it means. You seem to be seeking reassurance that there's some merit in it - but again that can hardly be because you like what it says at the semantic level, if you don't fully understand the words. My own feeling is that people who can't write fluently (non-native speakers excepted) probably can't think coherently, and that the style of the text as cited is typical of vague thinkers whose ideas would not stand close scrutiny if clearly expressed. But that's just an opinion. Jun 15, 2014 at 13:48
  • @username901345: I guess. Complex idea do tend to require complex articulation, so there's an inevitable tendency for people to adopt a complex writing style simply because it gives the impression that their facile musings are in fact "deep". But let's face it, just because you're getting paid to churn out magazine articles and newspaper columns on a regular basis doesn't mean you've got a constant supply of sophisticated points to get across. The main purpose of such stuff is usually just to make the reader think he's clever because he [thinks] he can understand it. Jun 15, 2014 at 15:06

You may be confused by the use of which as a relative adjective rather than a relative pronoun. You see this regularly in ordinary interrogatives and free relative clauses:

Which way of thinking shall we follow?
Which way of thinking he follows is the subject of the next section.

In your passage, however, it is used in a bound relative clause. This use is rare today, but it was common into the early part of the 20th century.


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