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Once again, here I am with a question raised by the highly unintelligable Hitchens...

It can be equally useful and instructive to take a glimpse at the closing of religions, or religious movements. The Millerites, for example, are no more. And we shall not hear again, in any but the most vestigial and nostalgic way, of Pan or Osiris or any of the thousands of gods who once held people in utter thrall. god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens, p. 169

As a result of a long and tedious searh, I have -rightly, I hope- concluded that any but the most XXX means "all the other things except for the one which is the most XXX". Oddly enough, I can't figure out the exact meaning of vestigial in the phrase in bold in the above quote and can't come up with a meaningful explanation of the whole phrase either.

Any help would be appreciated greatly.

  • Grammatically, this is a Nobbut-Cleft. The any is ungrammatical without the not in we shall not hear again, and that governs the whole sentence. The whole thing means 'we will hear of them -- if at all -- only in the most etc, etc.' – John Lawler Jun 14 '15 at 20:42
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    @John Lawler - I'd never encountered the Nobbut-Cleft before, thanks Professor. – user98990 Jun 14 '15 at 21:04
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    One very minor correction (which I hope you will appreciate, just as I appreciate minor corrections in my understanding of my own second language). You have 'concluded that any but the most XXX means "all the other things except for the one which is the most XXX". ' Not quite: the most XXX here simply means something which is especially XXX. For example, it would terrify all but the most courageous person doesn't mean that you would have to be the most courageous person in the world, just that you would have to be exceptionally courageous, to avoid being terrified. – Morton Jun 14 '15 at 22:32
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    Sorry @JohnLawler, I'm new here and trying to get used to commenting properly. I came across some material which (as far as I can see) lacks not in this phrase. Here you are: BBC and Google (**I can't give the links to google books since they're too long for the comment section.) I hope you don't mind considering these. Thank you again. – A.K. Jun 15 '15 at 6:36
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    @JohnLawler I was addressing the OP, not your comment. Sorry for the misunderstanding - I can see why it was confusing, and I'll remember to be clearer about it next time. – Morton Jun 15 '15 at 15:34
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Vestigial in this context means all but a very small remnant of something that was once much larger or more noticeable.

vestigial adjective: forming a very small remnant of something that was once much larger or more noticeable. "he felt a vestigial flicker of anger from last night"; synonyms: remaining, surviving, residual, leftover, lingering. see, Google

Nostalgic is used to mean characterized by or exhibiting feelings of nostalgia. i.e., expressing a romantic or sentimental sensibility.

nostalgia noun: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. "I was overcome with acute nostalgia for my days in college"; synonyms: reminiscence, remembrance, recollection. see, Google

So, Mr. Hitchens is expressing the opinion that we shall not be hearing much of the gods Pan and Osiris (or any of the thousands of gods who once held people in utter thrall) because reason has vanquished them and all that is left of these gods is a very small remnant (i.e., in literature and myth), therefore only someone suffering from nostalgia, who has a romantic, sentimental and backward-looking understanding of the irrational concept of supernatural deities, is likely to discuss "the gods" at all.

  • That's really a comprehensive explanation. It helps me understand the actual meaning of the whole sentence. Thank you very much. – A.K. Jun 15 '15 at 6:42
  • My pleasure, A.K. Hope you enjoy ELU. :-) – user98990 Jun 15 '15 at 18:07

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