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A quote in a book contained the word "con[struction]."

It was used just as the word construct would have been. Is con ever used as an abbreviation of construction? Would there be any other reason to complete the quote like that?

Unfortunately I can't quote the context; I lost the bookmark, I don't remember the page, and I lack a searchable copy. I do remember that the quote was not weird in any other way, and that there was no apparent reason to do this. The book in question is Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. The word might have been "con[truct]".

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Both construct and construction have several meanings. Without context, I can do no more than sum up what the dictionaries give as possible senses. Perhaps it would help if you defined your notion of construct (you say "It was used just as the word construct would have been"). I understand it is difficult to explain something you're not sure about yourself! But I think some extra information could be added. –  Cerberus Apr 16 '11 at 16:47

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think Stephenson is just making a little joke. The full sentence is

The boundary between Self and Environment is a social con[struct].

By using the word construct he's asserting that this boundary isn't 'real', in that it's created by social conventions. But separating off the con part allows him to simultaneously assert that it's a 'deceitful trick' which by implication we're to understand we won't fall for after we've read and inwardly digested the wise words in his book.

Update Apparently my somewhat supercilious tone above is unjustified. The sentence appears in the novel as reported speech by Charlene, a character who appears to have some pretty odd ideas about the nature of society. Specifically at this point in the book she's asserting that all men would be clean-shaven if it weren't for the social pressure to be hirsute. It looks like Stephenson places these words in her mouth in order to poke fun at her attitudes.

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Ah! A social construct, that makes sense. –  Cerberus Apr 16 '11 at 17:08
    
Thanks Fumble, that makes sense. Out of curiosity: how did you find the sentence? –  Tim N Apr 16 '11 at 17:16
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@Tim: I hesitate to say where I got it... I just googled the author & title, noticed a pdf file in the first page of results, and downloaded it. In retrospect I now realise I'm probably in breach of copyright. But Hey! - I doubt I'll read the whole thing, so no lost sale there. And maybe some others will buy it after seeing this topic (sailing really close to the wind, you might try including swordplay in search terms). –  FumbleFingers Apr 16 '11 at 19:21

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