Word of the Day: Recherché

Last November, I solicited suggestions for good books for the beach. Thanks for all the great ideas! One of the books turned out to be as irresistibly erudite as it is heavy, literally and figuratively. It is Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter. If you are or aspire to be a decent writer, mathematician, computer programmer, or composer (to name a few) this fascinating tome should be on your reading list.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid dwells on the theme of recursion and infinite loops for 750 dense and demanding pages. So far in this post, I have described this book as "erudite", "heavy", and as a "fascinating tome". But a single word describes it most aptly, a word whose etymology the author explores in Part I of the book:


Dictionary.com defines recherché as, [F.] Sought out with care; choice. Hence: of rare quality, elegance, or attractiveness; peculiar and refined in kind.

Douglas Hofstadter painstakingly describes recherché as, "literally, "sought out", but [it] carries the same kind of implication [as "ricercar" a "kind of fugue, perhaps too austerely intellectual for the common ear"] namely of esoteric or high-brow cleverness."

Recherché is something we seek (and create!) that is of esoteric or high-brow cleverness.

The fugue to which Hofstadter alludes in this definition appears in Bach's Musical Offering, part of which employs musical methods, or "canons". Canons are simultaneously executed, thematically-congruent, harmonic variations on the same musical theme. Think, three blind mice sung by six different voices that start at different times or at different points in the song, sing at different paces, in different pitches, and some of which sing the song backwards. I won't ruin the book for you but Hofstadter goes on to discuss the recursive, canonic, and recherché drawings of M.C. Escher, which I have always adored.

Recherché techniques are everywhere: in books, poems, movies, music, mathematics, architecture, genetics, and many other fields. But I believe that computer programmers are the Bachs of the current day. Bach's recherché spirit and clever canonic methods live on and thrive in the developer community. One need look no further than code art, obfuscated code contests, ASCII art, & etc., for proof of this fact.

Comments (7)

  1. SBC says:

    wow! I went through the GEB-EGB well over twenty years ago & still see that its deeply appreciated. I think the book won a Pulitzer prize(??).

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