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For this text:

"When you're a guy, and a dad," I told Freddy's scarecrow, "and you have to ask your wife to put £5,000 of her bonus into the joint account so that the garage won't refuse your card, and all the jokes about being a Kept Man are worn away, the word is 'vasectomising'..."

I know I have asked the "almost-the-same" question again, but the really important thing that I want to ask is not the meaning of 'a Kept Man' and 'vasectomising' (basically I know their meaning now), but it is this question:

Can I understand the last two clauses (i.e., "and all the jokes about being a Kept Man are worn away, the word is 'vasectomising'...") in this way (because I think the author omits something between these two clauses, doesn't he?):

and all the jokes about being a Kept Man are worn away, oh yeah, right, and they use a word called 'vasectomising' when they are joking.


Thank you in advance!

The full context is:

Though sure, there's no denying that the money stuff hasn't helped the marital stuff. "When you're a guy, and a dad," I told Freddy's scarecrow, "and you have to ask your wife to put £5,000 of her bonus into the joint account so that the garage won't refuse your card, and all the jokes about being a Kept Man are worn away, the word is 'vasectomising'..."

Garden time swallowed me up, because the next thing I knew, Lorna was calling me from the patio.


Excerpted from David Mitchell's short story The Massive Rat: online link

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Since OP is asking exactly how that final clause works, I think it's important to recognise that it doesn't mean other people use the word "vasectomising" when teasing the speaker. It means that's the word the speaker thinks best describes his circumstances (even if he's never heard it thus used before).

Grammatically, it's a somewhat questionable usage. The speaker sets out several relevant aspects of his circumstances (he's a guy and a dad, relying on his wife's money, the butt of jokes that have worn thin). He's effectively using vasectomising as a gerund noun to mean the process which is happening to him.

Personally I think although it's a perfectly comprehensible usage in context, it's very unlikely anyone else would use that particular gerund form. Even allowing for the fact that doctors usually bury their mistakes rather than admit them, I can't imagine a surgeon saying "My vasectomising of Mr Smith was a mistake".

It seems to me that strictly speaking the word should be vasectomisation, given that alternatives such as emasculation, castration are far more likely than the gerunds emasculating, castrating in this exact context. But vasectomisation is an even less common "word" than vasectomising, so I guess if the writer wants the reader to think about the word vasectomy rather than the grammar, he's made the best choice.


To make the whole sentence more "grammatical", one could rephrase it slightly as...

The word for the situation [all the rest of the text except that final clause] is "vasectomising".

...but obviously because that text in the middle is so long, the sentence would be stylistically clumsy. So the speaker chooses instead to put all the descriptive text at the beginning, tack his final clause on the end, and let his audience/readers work out the precise relationship between the two sentence elements.

  • "He's effectively using vasectomising as a gerund noun to mean the process which is happening to him."----yeah!that's what I think also, I think that it can't mean the narrator is having a surgery called vasectomy all the time.so the fact is he uses the word 'vasectomising' to describe the narrator's circumstances. – Lincoln Aug 20 '13 at 3:26
  • i think it's also ok to rephrase it slightly as : er...there is a word called 'vasectomising'... – Lincoln Aug 21 '13 at 1:23
  • @J.R. ok. I got it. I shall use the "@" to noitfy another person. – Lincoln Aug 21 '13 at 14:02
  • my assumptions in my question are wrong... the right explanation is "The word for the situation [all the rest of the text except that final clause] is "vasectomising"." as you said. – Lincoln Oct 4 '13 at 12:50
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I think you're close. I would reword it like this:

[When] you have to ask your wife to put £5,000 of her bonus into the joint account so that the garage won't refuse your card, and all the jokes about being a Kept Man are worn away – the word they use is 'vasectomising'...

or maybe:

all the jokes about being a Kept Man are worn away – the word I keep hearing is 'vasectomising'...

At any rate, I don't know if I'd go so far as saying that the author "left something out." The mid-sentence transition is somewhat jarring, but I think we are supposed to realize he's just babbling, and spilling out his thoughts in a rather disjointed way. That's what happens sometimes, when you confess to scarecrows.

In other words, people don't always speak using strictly grammatical sentences, so, as writers, we have a lot more liberty to "leave something out" when that something happens to be between two quotation marks.

  • yeah,as you said, there are two possible , and I think one could rephrase it also slightly as: uh,there is a word called "vasectomising". – Lincoln Aug 20 '13 at 3:33
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    I think @FumbleFingers touched on a key point, that he's describing his own plight, not necessarily repeating a word he had heard used. Anyway, I think you're getting the idea. – J.R. Aug 20 '13 at 8:29
  • yes,it's more possible in that way, I think to correct the sentence i said before in this way would be better: er...there is a word called 'vasectomising'... – Lincoln Aug 21 '13 at 1:20
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    @GodelSaint: Undeniably there is such a word. Quite apart from the fact that David Mitchell has used it, and we understand it, there are a couple of hundred instances of it in Google Books (mostly spelt with a "z"). But I bet Mitchell is the only one using it as a "gerund noun". – FumbleFingers Aug 21 '13 at 3:27
  • @GodelSaint: There's no need to keep repeating comments, or to post identical comments in two answers on the same question. – J.R. Aug 21 '13 at 8:38

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