Posts filed under Language

Reclamatio Plebis

Campaign to reclaim plebes as a term of praise rather than an insult.

Of course people use plebe as an insult because our entire perspective on the ancient world is deeply deformed to favor the worldview of the ruling class and its pretensions to aristocracy, and hence we assume without much question the contempt that they constantly expressed for plebeians, and most of all for those plebeians who were self-conscious of their lower-class position and made it a basis for solidarity and disruptive action in the politics of the City.

But then, the fact is that like most “aristocracies,” the Patrician Order was little more than a worthless, parasitic, petulant band of thugs, extracting wealth from the rest of the population and from the imperial periphery. They looked down on the plebeians because plebeians worked for a living instead of beating a living out of slaves and endlessly crowing about the inviolable sacred honor of their system of military-extractive complex oligarchy and ludicrously rigged “elections.”[1]

Patricians were pretty awful. Plebeians did what they could to get along with this regime, but when it got too bad, they had a habit of declaring a general strike, lighting off into the hills and saying “Oh yeah? Well, we’ll make our own Rome, with blackjack, and hookers,” and waiting until the patricians got sick enough of carrying their own hods that they begged the plebes to come back. That’s pretty rad.

Shared Article from en.wikipedia.org

Secessio plebis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

en.wikipedia.org


Disdain for patricians. To hell with those dudes. Up the plebes.

  1. [1]You could say, “Oh, the patrician order was morally very bad, but at least with their wealth they had culture, and refinement.” But this is actually an anachronistic view. If you look at the elite culture of the late Republic and the Empire, that had plenty of culture and learning in the midst of appalling cruelty, political sadism and moral callousness. But the ruling elite of the late Republic and the Empire were not mainly patricians; the political power (and most of the actual members) of the patrician order had mostly been wiped out in the last century of civil war. Cicero was a plebeian, Virgil was a plebeian, Ovid was a plebeian. If we go back to the older Republican Rome where the patrician order was a functioning political aristocracy, the great cultural achievements of Patrician Rome, as far as we know of them, basically consist of animal sacrifice, liturgical dance, usually involving some weird blood-play or little bundles of grain, the introduction of gladiatorial combat (around the time of the Punic Wars) and public killing of animals for entertainment, and a theater apparently consisting of a bunch of bad slapstick comedies translated or adapted or ripped off of Greek New Comedy plays. (Here, let me summarize 90% of Plautus for you: “Ha ha, look, there’s a slave, let’s beat him! Ha ha ha, that tricky slave, he dressed one character up so they’d look like another character, now everbody is confused!” This was **** comedy in the golden age of the Roman Republic.) Meanwhile elite figures like Cato the Censor spent their time denouncing modern conveniences, beating slaves, and actively trying to combat the spread of Greek learning and culture.

A Mão Esquerda da Escuridão

So I don’t know if this is your thing, but if it is, you may have noticed that in all of the Iberian Romance languages, the most commonly used words for the left — the direction left, or on the left-hand side — are obviously related to each other: Castilian Spanish izquierdo, Catalan esquerre, Galego/Portuguese esquerdo, etc. — are all obviously related to each other, but none of them seem to bear any particular relation to the usual Latin word for left, which is sinister.[1] So then if they didn’t get it from granddaddy Latin, where’d they all get it? Well, the other day I learned that the answer is that when people give you directions on the Iberian peninsula, they’re all getting their word for left from Basque. Neat.

Shared Article from Wiktionary

ezker - Wiktionary

en.wiktionary.org


  1. [1]Forms of that word still exist in the modern languages — it’s siniestro in Castilian Spanish, sestro in Portuguese, etc. — and they can strictly speaking still be used to mean to the left or on the left-hand side. But their primary use is much more like English sinister, to suggest something perverse, evil, unsettling or insidious; using them to indicate left as a direction or handedness would be to make a word choice with a certain connotation of archaism or exoticism, like using sable instead of black to describe the color of my coffee table.

Officer Involved

Normally, people who write newspaper headlines are notorious for removing any word that they could possibly cut — often paring away so many words that they leave ambiguous or utterly cryptic headlines.[1] Not always, though:

Officer-involved shooting leaves 1 dead

Sometimes, an officer is involved. Ever notice how far a newspaper writer will go, when an officer is involved, just to avoid writing Police killed a man in so many words?

Here’s the story to go with the headline:

Metro Police are investigating a deadly officer-involved shooting Sunday morning near Buffalo and Alta Drives.

According to police, the incident was a neighbor dispute with possible shots fired on the 7000 block of Palmdale Avenue. SWAT teams were called out to assist as the barricaded male suspect was shot and transported to University Medical Center where he died of his injuries.

“At some point the individual came out carrying a rifle. Our hostage negotiators asked a number of times for the subject to put down the rifle and at some point raised the rifle in their direction, ” Metro Capt. Matt McCarthy said. Several of our officers fired on our subject to stop the threat and the subject went down.”

No officers were injured.

–Jonathan Cisowski and Mauricio Marin, Officer-involved shooting leaves 1 dead
LasVegasNOW.com (23 Sextilis 2015)

Metro Police have shot eight people in Las Vegas this year. They killed five of the eight people they’ve shot.

Also.

  1. [1]See, for example, the ongoing series of Language Log posts on Crash Blossoms.

No Human Being

Actions may be legal, or they may be illegal. Whether they are moral or not is a totally separate question. (When the law is wrong, lawbreaking is the right thing to do.) But while actions may be illegal, people are not. A person’s existence and life and worth aren’t reducible to the papers that they carry or the legal or political status that they have. If you’re talking about people that way, you ought to consider talking about them a different way. Referring to women or men or children or human beings by their legal status alone is dehumanizing and insulting to them; it is also coarsening and brutalizing for the person doing the referring. It encourages the worst in those who do it, and it justifies inhuman reactions toward those that it is done to. No human being is “illegal.”

See also.

War Speech

It’s maddening to reflect that literally every single president of my lifetime has been involved in a war in Iraq.[1] For more than 20 years of my life, U.S. presidents have been continuously at war against Iraq in some way or another. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, every one of them, started a new assault on Iraq at some point in their presidency, whether in the form of cruise missile strikes and aerial bombing, or lethal sanctions, or for the third time now a ground invasion. The only president of my lifetime who did not start a new war against Iraq was Ronald Reagan; and that’s only because he was too busy helping the Iraqi government get chemical weapons so they could fight a bloody proxy war for him against Iran.

The U.S. government’s two decades of continuous war and blockades in Iraq has killed over a million people, most of them civilians and children, in the name of national policy. The details of the policies always shift, every enemy turns out to be unique in their brutality, but the means of enacting them always remain the same: more missiles, more bombs, more soldiers, and more dead children in Iraq. And now the president speaks of humanitarian missions.

Yesterday night, President Obama gave a speech announcing that he would escalate the U.S.’s third war against Iraq, and that he would widen the war into Syria as well. I can’t say that the speech is extraordinarily belligerent; but only because what is outrageous in the speech is so ordinary, after all these years so deeply familiar with year after year of war in Iraq. The language is as shopworn as it is mendacious. In his speech, the President said:

. . . Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy. First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. . . . And our own safety — our own security — depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for — timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth. May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.

— Barack Obama, remarks on ISIL/ISIS and war on Syria and Iraq, 10 September 2014

These words — these exact words, without any change, could have been uttered by George W. Bush. They sound like him, full of hunting down terrorists and If you threaten America…. They could have been spoken, just as they are, by William Jefferson Clinton. They read exactly like every war speech that George H. W. Bush ever gave.

The dates and the names change, but the war rhetoric is always the same. Every President is a war President, and in war, every President talks in the same voice, from the same mouth, with the same lies, for the same ultimate purpose: to legitimize politically-organized mass murder. If you elect a liberal President who marched against the Vietnam War, what you’ll get in the end is a President. If you elect a humble foreign policy conservative, then he will govern as a President anyway. If you elect a Progressive President, then the fact that he is President will always turn out to be far more relevant than the fact that he is a Progressive. Electing presidents or changing political parties will never end war: No matter who you voted for, the winner always becomes the Government.

For war is essentially the health of the State.

See also.

  1. [1]I was born in 1981.