Ever since Dick Bauman used the word polysyndetic in an email to me to describe the kind of chaining together of lines achieved by a quotation like “he said”, I have held in my head a definition of syndetic as a kind of discursive conjunction. Returning to the essay in which I used Bauman’s proffered a term and now working with computational approaches to text analysis, I found myself wanting to make sure I understood the term a bit more. It turns out that syndetic is used in three different domains and the way its various meanings overlap fascinates me.

In the sense that Bauman introduced to me, in linguistics syndetic coordination is a grammatical form of syntactic coordination of syntactic elements with the help of a coordinating conjunction. E.g., “Peter, Paul, and Mary” or “Spam and eggs, please!” As a unit, the elements with the conjunction are called a syndeton. Elements coordinated with conjunctions are an asyndeton, or, I assume, asyndetic, and those with multiple conjunctions are, as my texts may have been, polysundetons or polysyndetic, e.g.:

And St. Attila raised his hand grenade up on high saying ‘O Lord bless this thy hand grenade that with it thou mayest blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy. ‘and the Lord did grin and people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals and fruit bats and…

Among archivists, syndetic relationships are conceptual connections between terms, including genus (broader than), species (narrower than), nonpreferred equivalence (use, see), preferred equivalent term (used for), and associated term (related term). The relationships and the manner in which those relationships are organized is described as the syndetic structure.

Finally, among mathematicians, syndetic sets are subsets of natural numbers that have subset of the natural numbers, having the property of “bounded gaps”: that the sizes of the gaps in the sequence of natural numbers having the property of “bounded gaps”: that the sizes of the gaps in the sequence of natural numbers is bounded. Where to go from there … I haven’t a clue.

So, really, all I have is that three things that seem to be a part of my current world: textuality, ontology, and mathematical sets all seem to converge in the term syndetic. If only I could find the mystery that this key was meant to unlock…

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