This week’s Weird Words writing prompt is a special challenge! Not only are we asking the impossible, we are expecting the incompossible. What is so incompossible about this prompt? What does incompossible even mean?
Those are good questions which we would be happy to answer, but first…
Use, portray, describe, or otherwise demonstrate the proper use of the word “incompossible.” As with our other Weird Word prompts, this one is very open-ended. Any medium or style is welcome!
Incompossible is one of the trickier words in our Weird Words series, because it has such a specific and nuanced meaning. It almost means “incompatible” and it is nearly the same as “impossible,” all the while being a lot like “mutually exclusive” and yet not quite meaning the same thing as any of these words. So what does incompossible mean?
“Incompatible elements don’t work well together,” explains Simon Hertnon, author of Endangered Words, “mutually exclusive events are not simultaneously possible because of each event’s qualities, and incompossible elements and events cannot occur simultaneously because of the laws of the universe.” The distinction between these concepts is subtle, so some careful observation is necessary to sort them out. Otherwise, they are a bit of a mess.
Let’s say that we decided to be really efficient. We have washed our dishes and we washed our laundry, now it’s time to dry them. One of us, probably me, stumble upon the bright idea of accomplishing both tasks at the same time. We put the wet dishes and the wet clothes in the dryer, closed the door, and turned on the machine. Congratulations are clearly in order, I am obviously brilliant. Who else could have come up with an awesome plan like this one, right? I am soo cool!
Pretty soon, though, we hear a bunch of crashing and clanking going on inside that dryer. We open it up to find that our dishes have rolled all around in there and shattered. There are bits of glass and stray forks tangled all up in our still-wet clothes. This was a seriously terrible idea—a seriously terrible idea that you came up with, which I had absolutely no involvement in.
Drying the dishes and the clothes together was a poor choice because dishes and clothes dryers are incompatible. They just really don’t get along when you put them together. Dishes are rude, they say offensive things, the dryer gets its feelings hurt, it knocks the dishes around some, and before you know it they’re in a big fight. Dishes and dryers are not, however, mutually exclusive.
When two things are mutually exclusive, it means that the existence or occurrence of one makes the existence or occurrence of the other impossible. For instance, I could not have possibly come up with the idea to put the dishes in the dryer because while you were making that terrible plan all by yourself, I was at home thinking up another writing prompt and petting my cat. That’s my alibi and I’m sticking to it! I’m sure my cat will back up my story. Since I cannot be in two places at once, I cannot have both been at my house writing and at yours putting your dishes in the dryer. The two stories are mutually exclusive.
So now that we know the difference between elements that are incompatible and events that are mutually exclusive, what does it mean for something to be incompossible?
To understand that, we’ll start by turning on our hypothetical scenario machine. I’m going to use the machine to send you across the ocean. Once there, I need you to pick up my car and drive it back to me by four o’clock. That would be an easy task if I left the hypothetical scenario machine running, but I’m going to shut it off.
You now have two significant problems carrying out my request, but first let’s talk about the problems you don’t have. To begin with, you and I aren’t incompatible. We get along pretty well, or at least I like to think we do, except when I’m coming up with crazy and destructive ways to help you dry your dishes. Next, we aren’t mutually exclusive. I exist and so do you. Nothing about me existing makes it impossible for you to exist simultaneously. I have, however, given you an incompossible job to do.
I don’t own a car, so there is no way you could drive my car to me. That is a fundamental law of the universe:
Roggen + Car =/= Ownership
But we’ll assume that you overcome that barrier by stealing some random car and hoping that I won’t notice that it’s not the car I don’t own. You still cannot drive your stolen ride back to me, because there is an ocean between us, and unless you just hijacked Lyndon B. Johnson’s convertible, that car is going to sink. That is another fundamental law of the universe:
If Car = Lyndon B. Johnson’s Hoopty, then
Drive Across Ocean = Theoretically Possible
If Car = Not LBJ’s Hoopty, then
Drive Across Ocean = Impossible
Driving across the ocean is going to be impossible. It just can’t happen. This makes our four o’clock rendezvous incompossible. The reality that we live in has rules which exclude the possibility of you driving my car back to me by the appointed time, hence the task I gave you is incompossible.
This all works out well for me. If anyone wants to know who put the dishes in the dryer, I’m blaming you. You’ve disappeared overseas which makes you look pretty guilty if you ask me, and my cat won’t tell anyone that I wasn’t home. It’s not like you can refute my story from all the way over there.
…wait, is that LBJ’s car coming up the beach?
“not jointly possible; inconsistent, incompatible”
(Credit: Simon Hertnon)
(Roggen Wulf, 2014)