In Knut Hamsun's Mysteries, the narrator says:

Genius in the popular sense is not the unprecedented, but merely a human apropos; it makes you stop, but not rear up.

Is it grammatically correct to say "an apropos"? I've not seen it used as a noun like that before.

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  • 2
    Apropos "apropos", no one knows how it's supposed to be used. – Hot Licks Jul 2 '17 at 12:10
  • I don’t understand how the general meaning is clear… As semi-coloned, it makes you stop, but not rear up is a grammatically irrelevant secondary thought, is it not? The remaining Genius in the popular sense is not the unprecedented, but merely a human apropos has several possible meanings, but does any of them work? Grammatically it seems to me the most obvious is: … not the unprecedented apropos, but merely a human one… but semantically, how could that fit genius? – Robbie Goodwin Jul 24 '17 at 22:43
  • @Robbie Goodwin Sorry I only just saw your comment. The general meaning is that the term genius has been diluted such that it is no longer considered a rare exceptional thing but instead commonplace. It's not irrelevant; the analogy is that something exceptional does not just make you stop, rather you do so with urgency and thus rear up. You don't do this for something ordinary; you just come to a stop. My issue was that I had never heard "apropos" used like that before, though it is a slippery word and may have been the translator's choice. – user243684 Sep 7 '17 at 14:39
  • Hey, once you accept that the rest of the example means only what it means, and not what someone pretends it means, we can move on to looking at the meaning of apropos What did your dictionary and/or search engine of choice tell you about apropos, please? – Robbie Goodwin Sep 7 '17 at 20:30
  • @Robbie Goodwin You've lost me; who is pretending and about what? Hamsun's narrator is saying that the term genius today is no longer describing the exceptional, only the commonplace. Perhaps without the context it's not clear. His use of apropos as a noun is very unusual and does not seem to fit neatly any definition in the OED. I suppose the fact no-one has found an answer probably suggests there isn't one! Hamsun did often experiment with words and phrases after all, and, as I said, it might be the translator's doing. – user243684 Sep 7 '17 at 22:02

Webster has this to say about apropos being used as a noun:

English borrowed "apropos" from the French phrase à propos, literally "to the purpose." Since it first appeared in 1668, "apropos" has been used as an adverb, adjective, noun, and preposition.

When it is used as a noun, it can mean (an) aside.

  • 1
    Can you cite the source for "When it is used as a noun, it can mean (an) aside."? Just curious. Thanks. – Kris Jul 2 '17 at 13:54
  • @Kris: Though not a cited source, the French usage of "à propos" is pretty much the same as the English "by the way": it implies that the following statement is tangential, not the main focus. (I could cite a Dutch source that I've found, as Dutch has also borrowed "à propos" from French, but I doubt many of you would understand the citation so it seems a bit unnecessary) – Flater Aug 1 '17 at 16:02

Think of the word 'appropriate' when you read 'apropos' As in Genius is appropriately human. It doesn't stand out the way it used to. Another example of apropos wuld be..."I wanted to bring a gift to your party. Considering the fact it is a wedding, a bottle of wine felt apropos."


To confirm User26328's answer, dictionary.com's definition is:

  1. Obsolete by the way.

The thesaurus entry for 'by the way' includes:

aside, incidental, coincidental etc.

So 'a human apropos' is a nonstandard way of saying 'a human aside'.

This is nonstandard because generally 'apropos' means 'in relation to' (as can be seen by the second definition being obselete).

  • 'By the way' is not a substantive, and none of the synonyms you link to is either. 'Aside' here is the 'these considerations aside' = 'apart from these considerations' usage. It would be better listed as 'aside from'. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 2 '17 at 23:33

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