On the Conjunction 'but'

5 August 2000

The bi­og­ra­phy of Maxim Jacubowski (which appears on the first page of The Mammoth Book of New Erotica–he is the editor; I did not buy the book) begins with the in­for­ma­tion that he was “born in England but ed­u­cated in France.” What meaning is to be at­tached to the word “but”? Why was “and” not used?

Here, “but” is used as a conjunction. As a conjunction, “but” con­nects two con­trast­ing phrases, and draws at­ten­tion to the fact that though the latter phrase does not gen­er­ally follow from the former, this is a case in which it does. For example, “My father is Anglo-Australian, but my mother is Chinese.” Did Maxim use “but” in this sense? Could one con­ceiv­ably be sur­prised that Maxim was ed­u­cated in France having been born in England? Is the re­la­tion­ship between the two events sig­nif­i­cant in and of itself?

The answer to these ques­tions is no. Maxim did not use “but” in this sense. His use of “but” was not in­tended to inform. Instead, Maxim used it in a way that was in­tended to amuse. Yes, it is so: Maxim used “but” in a hu­mourous way, to suggest that there was some­thing sig­nif­i­cant about his study­ing in France even though there was not; to suggest that a French ed­u­ca­tion ex­plained some aspect of his persona even though no such ex­pla­na­tion was required.

In Aus­tralia and New Zealand “but” is some­times used adverbially, as the final word of a sentence. If used in this way, “but” means “though” or “however.” For example, “Burger Rings taste good but.” (This is a line from a tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ment for the Aus­tralian snack “Burger Rings.”)

Presently, this con­struc­tion is only used ironically, or as an affectation. Was it, at one time, in common use? I do not know. My memory for these things does not stretch back that far.