High grade ha

In Brief

One "touch of the artist about old Bloom" is his inclination to play with words. Ithaca shows his fondness for poetic anagrams (in his youth he composed several hilarious ones on his name) and acrostics (he sent Molly a love poem whose opening letters spelled his name). Aeolus shows him pondering a silly "spelling bee conundrum" that Martin Cunningham has shared with him: "It is amusing to view the unpar one ar alleled embarra two ars is it? double ess ment of a harassed pedlar while gauging au the symmetry with a y of a peeled pear under a cemetery wall." Sirens finds him reflecting bemusedly on "Answers poets' picture puzzle": "See blank tee what domestic animal? Tee dash ar most courageous mariner." Bloom's most striking and characteristic way of playing with letters is the recurrent truncation of words in his interior monologue, first encountered in Calypso when he picks up his "Plasto's high grade ha."

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The ha has come to be owing to the final letter in the "sweated legend in the crown of his hat" being worn away by repeated use. But it carries its mutilated morphology into Bloom's consciousness, becoming a new word in his vocabulary. When the narrative mentions the hat again at the beginning of Lotus Eaters, the free indirect style honors Bloom's word choice: "Under their dropped lids his eyes found the tiny bow of the leather headband inside his high grade ha. Just there."

Many interpretive responses to this shortened word are possible. One writer of a weblog (www.spectacle.org) infers that the entire novel is a high grade (allusive, intellectual, pretentious) ha (a big joke, setting up and sending up the overly serious reader). Alternatively, one might do something with the fact that, in the instant before Bloom's eyes spot the headband inside his ha in Lotus Eaters, he has been reading other "legends" in a shop window: "In Westland row he halted before the window of the Belfast and Oriental Tea Company and read the legends of leadpapered packets: choice blend, finest quality, family tea. Rather warm. Tea. Must get some from Tom Kernan." Has one company's legend poached a letter from another's? Is the kidnapped T struggling to rejoin its fellow letters, like the straggling "apostrophe S" at the tail end of the Wisdom Hely's billboard parade in Lestrygonians?

Whatever one may make of this verbal odd duck, one can be certain that it is not flying solo. In the previous paragraph of Lotus Eaters, Bloom has drawn very similar constructions from the idioms of common speech while thinking about a poor street urchin: "Tell him if he smokes he won't grow. O let him! His life isn't such a bed of roses. Waiting outside pubs to bring da home. Come home to ma, da." And in Nausicaa a sleepy Bloom seemingly cannot be bothered to fully pronounce the word "bat" to himself, even silently: "Ba. What is that flying about? Swallow? Bat probably. . . . Ba. There he goes. Funny little beggar. . . . Like a little man in a cloak he is with tiny hands." In this instance, the narrator seems to be conspiring with Bloom, because "Ba" implies an allusion to ancient Egyptian metaphysics that supports the rumination that the bat is "Like a little man."

Some of Bloom's truncations of English words seem to be drawn from the idiomatic speech of business and advertising. In Calypso he thinks of "M'Auley's down there: n. g. as position," i.e. no good. In Aeolus he evidently uses a workplace shorthand when he asks Nannetti to insert a short paragraph about Alexander Keyes' business into the paper: "Well, you can do that and just a little par calling attention. You know the usual. Highclass licensed premises. Longfelt want. So on." (Later in the chapter, a fellow newspaper employee uses the same locution: "—  Of course, if he wants a par, Red Murray said earnestly, a pen behind his ear, we can do him one.") Lotus Eaters shows Bloom musing on shortened words that Gifford glosses (without attribution) as hailing from marching chants in the British army: "Half baked they look: hypnotised like. Eyes front. Mark time. Table: able. Bed: ed."

However much these peculiar idioms may be inspired by the language of commerce and common speech, they extend deep into Bloom's consciousness, shaping the way he apprehends the world. Writing a letter to Martha in Sirens he thinks, "Accept my little pres." In Eumaeus he thinks hiring a cab would be a good idea "in their then condition, both of them being e.d.ed" (which Gifford glosses as "Slang for finished, exhausted"). And so on.

Nor do these quirks remain confined to Bloom's thoughts. They bleed out into the narrative textures of the novel, keeping company with faux-journalistic abbreviations (e.g., "K. M. R. I. A." in Aeolus, Kiss My Royal Irish Arse), familiar abbreviations of titles and expressions (the first section of Wandering Rocks alone has M.P., B.A., D.V., S. J., and C.C.), the witty attack recounted in Lestrygonians ("U.P.: Up"), the chopping-up and reconstitution of the protagonists' names in Ithaca ("Stoom" and "Blephen"), the slang mangling of words at the end of Oxen of the Sun ("S'elp me, honest injun," "Seed near free poun on un a spell ago a said war hisn," "Sign on long o me"), and the endless condensations and recombinations of ordinary words in Sirens ("Bloo smi qui go. Ternoon," "Bloom ate liv," "Siopold!").

In some sense, then, Bloom's mind and the mind writing the novel become one. Ulysses captures something quintessential about modern uses of language in its many abbreviations, acronyms, and fragmentations, and these linguistic innovations seem to have been inspired to a large extent by the protagonist's immersion in the mundane milieus of shoptalk, commercial advertisements, popular journalism word games, and contemporary slang.

JH 2017
Fragments from a word-completion psychological experiment. Source: www.dailykos.com.
A few of the thousands of English words that have settled into shortened nickname versions of their polysyllabic originals, as observed by Panchalee Thakur on a weblog. Source: www.linkedin.com.
Words with their vowels sieved away, as often happens on Twitter to meet the 140 character limit. Source: www.linkedin.com.
Initialized condensation of "For attention of Amy, work from home today. Per your request please find attached work in progress file. In my humble opinion, I'll reply by end of day. Talk to you later, Ria." Source: www.linkedin.com.
Business names formed from the compounding of word fragments. Source: www.businessnamingbasics.com.