Churchill on Reading.

Winston Churchill was a vainglorious bastard, but he was unquestionably eloquent, and I can’t resist posting this passage from his Thoughts and Adventures (1932; via Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti):

‘What shall I do with all my books?’ was the question; and the answer, ‘Read them,’ sobered the questioner. But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.

It is a mistake to read too many good books when quite young. A man once told me that he had read all the books that mattered. Cross-questioned, he appeared to have read a great many, but they seemed to have made only a slight impression. How many had he understood? How many had entered into his mental composition? How many had been hammered on the anvils of his mind and afterwards ranged in an armoury of bright weapons ready to hand?

It is a great pity to read a book too soon in life. The first impression is the one that counts; and if it is a slight one, it may be all that can be hoped for. A later and second perusal may recoil from a surface already hardened by premature contact. Young people should be careful in their reading, as old people in eating their food. They should not eat too much. They should chew it well.

Since change is an essential element in diversion of all kinds, it is naturally more restful and refreshing to read in a different language from that in which one’s ordinary daily work is done. To have a second language at your disposal, even if you only know it enough to read it with pleasure, is a sensible advantage. Our educationists are too often anxious to teach children so many different languages that they never get far enough in any one to derive any use or enjoyment from their study. The boy learns enough Latin to detest it; enough Greek to pass an examination; enough French to get from Calais to Paris; enough German to exhibit a diploma; enough Spanish or Italian to tell which is which; but not enough of any to secure the enormous boon of access to a second literature.

Choose well, choose wisely, and choose one. Concentrate upon that one. Do not be content until you find yourself reading in it with real enjoyment. The process of reading for pleasure in another language rests the mental muscles; it enlivens the mind by a different sequence and emphasis of ideas. The mere form of speech excites the activity of separate brain-cells, relieving in the most effective manner the fatigue of those in hackneyed use. One may imagine that a man who blew the trumpet for his living would be glad to play the violin for his amusement. So it is with reading in another language than your own.

I disagree about reading good books when young — I think such reading lays down good, fertile soil for later growth rather than hardening the surface — but I nodded my head vigorously to most of it, especially the final paragraph.

Comments

  1. I think it is as an effect of the British classical education, for many, that some of the greatest ideas and literature ever made were imprisoned at the “schoolboy” level of digestion. Of course, one can envy those schoolboys who if later they *did* decide to take Sallust or Aeschylus seriously had something solid to build on.

    Or consider J.S. Mill’s horrifying autobiography, in which he recounts reading Plato at a tender age and utterly dismissing him in the most facile way imaginable. (I think the commonest experience of this for Americans may be with “Walden”: Thoreau is such an outrageous hypocrite! just as Socrates is a shallow bamboozler.) Mill’s election of an anti-human philosophy was no doubt based on his own temperament, but IMO this induced obliviousness helped.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    I found this with Latin literature; the great Roman authors were not writing for schoolboys and I just wasn’t mature enough to see the point of them. Happily I was taught the actual language well enough that I was able to return and reread them after I’d grown up a bit.

    It’s my impression that this is less the case with Greek, but that may simply reflect that fact that I haven’t read nearly as much in that language. But maybe there is a sense, to overgeneralise wildly, in which classical Greek literature is less mature than Latin; cf primary vs secondary epic. Greek literature is (sometimes, a little) like an extremely intelligent and attractive adolescent; Latin, like a worldly-wise or even somewhat cynical grown-up of a Certain Age.

  3. Dan Milton says:

    I’m surprised that Churchill would use the word “educationist” (or am I attributing to him my dislike of pretentious Latinisms?).
    Without having the resources to check here, I would have thought the word younger than 1932 anyway.

  4. I guess the market for nursery rhymes in Latin is not cornered yet, but the real money are probably in the young adult literature. It probably needs a good hoax putting the works into Antiquity to convince people to read them.

  5. But maybe there is a sense, to overgeneralise wildly, in which classical Greek literature is less mature than Latin

    Harrumph. Somebody needs a good enkyklios paideia.

    I’m surprised that Churchill would use the word “educationist” (or am I attributing to him my dislike of pretentious Latinisms?). Without having the resources to check here, I would have thought the word younger than 1932 anyway.

    Nope; OED citations:

    1807 Monthly Rev. Sept. 17 Many of our modern educationists, (da veniam verbo)..may be compared to the man who tried to put a quart of wine into a pint bottle.
    1829 Blackwood’s Edinb. Mag. 25 130 The sensitive educationists of this thin-skinned age.
    1876 J. Grant Hist. Burgh Schools Scotl. ii. v. 209 Educationists have written for and against the system of giving school prizes.
    1934 Amer. Speech 9 318/2 The new noun overview is now being worked as hard by educationists as ‘purposeful’, ‘challenge’,..et al., have been in the past.
    1972 M. L’Engle Circle of Quiet i. 45 There are educationists..who think that creativity itself can be taught.
    2010 Daily Post (Liverpool) (Nexis) 19 Aug. 16 As educationists would confirm,..the sooner a child starts learning a language, the easier it is.

  6. Thoreau is such an outrageous hypocrite!

    As someone who read “Walden” in my mid-fifties (part of my extremely intermittent program to become a Better American), my problem with Thoreau was not that he can be hypocritical but that he is a dreadful, pious scold, a humorless prig. The kind of person to back away from at parties before he starts lambasting you for your imperfect lifestyle.

  7. @David L: That was frequently my impression of Thoreau’s Walden as well. Sometimes he had fairly interesting things to say. However, his attitude was frequently infuriatingly self-righteous and snobbish. The thing that I remember finding particularly odious was his caustic description of some other people he had to transact business with as he was setting himself up at Walden Pond. He clearly felt that the members of this family were ingrates, and he tried to tie his disapprobation of their lifestyle to a metaphor about the poor quality of their cabin’s foundation construction—as if these (supposedly) real people’s morality could actually be judged by how well laid out their home’s foundation was.

  8. Trond Engen says:

    as if these (supposedly) real people’s morality could actually be judged by how well laid out their home’s foundation was

    There’s a justified and ancient connection between building quality and morals. You find it in both Matt. 7:26 and The Three Little Pigs. But does that make people hire an engineer?

  9. Churchill had a formidable verbal intelligence, though clearly from his decision-making at Gallipoli not the commensurate general intelligence. He also, unsurprisingly from the context of his birth, hated and despised a long list of ethnic and racial groups, which hatred I would expect to lead to very few people admitting to reading him these days.

    I have no objection to this post, though Churchill despised my ethnic group, but I am surprised to read it, in this context, of Languagehat being completely okay with dismissing the validity of speech of a specific grouping by race and sex.

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    Matthew 7:26 is more about surveying. And the Three Little Pigs should have made more thorough enquiries about the neighbourhood before purchasing their lots, with particular attention to crime rates, especially wolf-on-pig incidents.

  11. I have no objection to this post, though Churchill despised my ethnic group, but I am surprised to read it, in this context, of Languagehat being completely okay with dismissing the validity of speech of a specific grouping by race and sex.

    Huh? You’re going to have to be more specific; I have no idea what relation this post has to that comment.

  12. I read that thread a bit further today (after giving up on this site, then in the context of a personal defeat also mentioned in that thread, which defeat was easily remedied by an American-politician wig at the next repeat of that professional exam); no of fucking course not, fuck off. If you are literally senior wrangler at Cambridge you know you are élite, but otherwise, if you have not yet achieved all your goals, you are (and should appropriately conceive of yourself as) mediocre until proven otherwise.

    Languagehat’s phrasing as listed dismisses the validity of speech of almost all of a specific grouping by race and by sex. That is morally wrong, and it is specifically aimed at my race and my sex. It’s a big internet, I don’t plan to read this site any more despite my dithering on that today (I think I read it seventeen years up to that point? A hard habit to break). I have no quarrel beyond that, and I wish all of you happy lives and successful children and grandchildren.

  13. Good lord. I’m pretty sure you misread/misinterpreted me, but there’s not much point my saying so, since apparently you won’t read it. I wish you a happy life as well!

  14. Trond Engen says:

    @Aidan: No. Please, no. I was glad to see you back today. I hate it when good people part ways over a failure of communication. And I think there may be a very interesting point at the bottom of this one.

  15. You quoted and repeated:

    The world is full of mediocre white men who need to shut up.

    This doesn’t dismiss Churchill, who was neither mediocre not convinced of the fact that he was mediocre. It does in practical terms dismiss almost any early-in-his-career white man who is not full of hubris, independent of whether he is untalented, mediocre, or talented. Because you can only realistically tell talent with some experience.

    I read what you wrote then, with some clouds on my career, as racism and sexism towards white men. I read it now, with those clouds eased, as racism and sexism towards white men. I don’t imagine that you wish me in particular ill, and I wish you a happy life and successful children and grandchildren.

  16. You’re completely missing the context; I certainly don’t want you or any other particular person to shut up, my outburst was in reaction to the undoubted fact that white male voices have been drowning out others for centuries now, and they need to back off a bit and let those other voices be heard — “they” in general, not you in particular! Surely you don’t object to that idea, even if I expressed it infelicitously? I mean, for generations the book review sections (to take one minor but representative example) have been full of white men reviewing the books of other white men, occasionally (and generally condescendingly) reviewing books by women and people of color; now, I’m happy to note, the NYT Book Review seems to have at least half reviews by women, and they seem to be taking representation much more seriously. Surely that doesn’t bother you? That’s all I was talking about. And like Trond, I was glad to see you back and hope you’ll stick around.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    The world is full of mediocre white men who need to shut up.

    …That doesn’t even say all specifically mediocre white men need to shut up…?

  18. Exactly! As a mediocre white man myself, I’d hardly make such a rule.

  19. AJP Crown says:

    There’s a justified and ancient connection between building quality and morals.
    That was exactly my reaction based on professional experience.

    Churchill was an amazing man and as a bricklayer he knew something about building quality. My English ancestors were very lucky to have had him as the PM in 1940. Hitler of course wanted to study architecture but I doubt he ever learnt very much about building quality or morals. Nasty drawings too. (I feel on safe ground criticising Hitler.)

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    Mediocre white men rule!

  21. Re Hitler: If I recall correctly, his paintings, which seem to have been not bad with regards to technique, were criticised by the Viennese academy for having too many buildings and too few people in them. Make of that what you will.
    I entirely share the sentiment of whoever it was who said that the academy should have accepted him, as the world would have been saved from war and horrible crimes for the price of having one more mediocre painter.

  22. As Gogol (and undoubtedly many other satirists) has discovered it is impossible to make fun of anyone because people with the same station in life would get offended. His Inspector General even managed to offend a person not mentioned. The czar on seeing IG said “Everyone got hit and I more than anyone else”.

  23. Bathrobe says:

    There are simple but maybe not easy answers. Treat people with respect!

    I have my third attempt at a professional exam pending at the end of this month. The body examining me would have been, thirty years ago, predominantly men. It now has a slight predominance of women, a more pronounced predominance in the non-coal-face, predictable, self-regulatory positions, including the examiners. Any interaction (application for posts, professional exams) with the body I have had where my sex was evident, and especially, where my hairline, as a bald man unremarkable in his appearance otherwise, has been unrewarding and negative, where less-competent female colleagues sail through. Any interaction where these things have been concealed has been friction-free and positive. Anyone who deals with me at any length in my profession has no issue with my competence and interaction; the same female colleagues who sail through are honestly surprised I don’t progress.

    All circumstantial, and I am a capable man who can bore you at length with reason to believe in me, I will manage this. But if you want to disrespect large groups of people on the basis of their race or their sex, go fuck yourself.

    This is the comment that no one took any notice of. Including me (I find myself often skimming threads). But it should have been noted, if only for the last three words.

    The problem seems to be that “white (male) privilege” has taken over as a term du jour, as though that puts everything right. It doesn’t. It just sets up another category of judgement and abuse. That is not to deny that there has been entrenched, systematic discrimination in white male-dominated societies against people on the basis of race and sex, and Hat is more aware of this than most (is the current term “awoke”?), but “mediocre white man”, a racially dismissive term that Aidan was protesting against, doesn’t really help. As Trond pointed out, “mediocre black man” would actually be a racially motivated insult. While Hat didn’t mean anything by it in the context, it could easily strike a chord, and did in this case.

    I hope that Aidan stays; I would be sad to see him go. He has been a fixture on LH for many years and his comments are always welcome. Hat has his quirks but he is a tolerant host on just about any issue but prescriptivism and other kinds of officious meddling with language — he’ll even put up with Chomskyanism.

  24. John Cowan says:

    Mediocre white men rule!

    Yes. And even where they don’t, mediocrity rules anyway. Or as Tom Robbins called it, the tyranny of the dull mind.

  25. Trond Engen says:

    As Bathrobe I re-skimmed the other thread. I remember I hardly could keep pace reading, and when it suddenly turned back to creoles the last several comments on the “mediocre white men” sub-thread must have gone unnoticed – at least by me, but quite likely by most of us.

  26. I saw some of Hitler’s cityscapes and thought they were fairly good, on par with what might be expected from a relatively ordinary professional artist. Apparently, they were not considered in style at the time, however. Obviously, if he had gotten the art schooling he wanted, the world would have suffered less.

  27. I don’t know that Hitler finding success as an artist would have kept him from his true calling as a sadistic maniac. Goebbels had his PhD. Göring was a good pilot. Etc.

  28. There are so many contingent facts that led to the utter atrocity that was the Nazi regime. If things had been even slightly different, I doubt that Hitler personally would have come to power. The most likely outcome for 1930s Germany was probably a less extreme right-wing authoritarian dictatorship. There were evidently plenty of people in the precarious states of the interwar period who were ultimately willing to go along with and commit whatever acts of violence were asked of them. However, the attitudes at the very top made a difference in the overall tone. Most states that had seen their old institutions shattered in the early twentieth century were not that terrible, although they were by no means free. However, there were some outliers, in Germany, Russia, Croatia, that proved that with a bit of bad luck, it was possible to descend quickly into the worst kinds of violent, totalitarian depravity.

  29. The difference between two sides in WWII:

    On one side were people who wanted (or pretended) to be good and rationalized their actions as ultimately good (however flimsy the pretext).

    The other side essentially said “We are evil and it’s awesome”.

  30. The propaganda facing out is always “this is for the public good”. That was true for the Nazis, that was true for Frederick Lindemann, that was true for Stalin, that was true for the Khmer Rouge. Sometimes they believe their own story, sometimes not.

  31. o, @SFReader: i commend to your attention klaus theweleit’s rewarding and disturbing Male Fantasies, which goes into great detail about exactly *how* Good the officers of the Freikorps (who became the backbone of the NSDAP, after their original sponsors in the SDP stopped paying them) believed they were, how much Better they aspired to be, and precisely how they justified (though not exactly rationalized – that wasn’t a big category for them) every detail of their actions as self-evidently Good, especially after their party controlled the german state…

  32. Masha Gessen:

    Who’s worse, Putin or Trump?
    In a way, I think Trump is worse. I never thought I would hear myself say that. […] I think in the end, Putin is somewhat less cynical. He has an idea – it is self-aggrandising and absurd on the face of it – that if he stepped away Russia would fall apart and so he has to carry this burden. And for his labours he deserves to have the yachts and the palaces and all that. But he is doing it for his country. Trump doesn’t even have that delusion. It’s all power and money in their purest form. And you could dig as deep as you want, you would never find a shred of responsibility.

  33. David Eddyshaw says:

    There is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea.

  34. though clearly from his decision-making at Gallipoli not the commensurate general intelligence

    Bit of backwards projection there. Churchill was not necessarily wrong that striking the Central powers through the “soft underbelly” of the Balkans was a better alternative than slogging it out in Flanders. It was also not surprising given the Ottoman Army’s poor performance against the Russians and the general British racism of the time, that Churchill believed that the Ottomans would be much easier to fight than the Germans.

    Like a lot of very intelligent people, Churchill got carried away with the aesthetic brilliance of his plan and ignored the inconvenient real world details.

  35. PlasticPaddy says:

    @vanya
    I think the particular problem with gallipoli was that it was supremely defensible and not practically stormable if the defenders had powder and shot for cannon. The more general problem with former Yugoslavia is that it provides excellent opportunities for guerilla-type resistance (in fact this was a part of the Yugoslav defence plan and may go some way to explain the general access to weapons when the country broke up).

  36. AJP Crown says:

    I agree with 99% of Vanya. Don’t forget that Churchill was a professional soldier who went to Sandhurst from school and served in India and then in Sudan under Kitchener at the battle of Omdurman. After Gallipoli he resigned and was sent to the Western front with the rank of full colonel. For 40 year old modern politicians with more experience of the real-world details of warfare there’s Napoleon (Wellington was older) but not many others.

    I read something good on Churchill & Gallipoli recently but I can’t remember where. My memory of the book is that although he became the scapegoat Churchill deserves less blame for the military failure than he commonly gets. Here’s something. My gt uncle who was there (as a 16 year-old he’d held the Australians’ horses on the beach) loathed Churchill because of it, but by 1940 he was safely living in Australia himself.

    Churchill is a bit marmite (I love Marmite). For me, his role in WW2 overrides the siege of Sidney Street or whether he liked Irish working class Catholics or wanted to keep India or other one-issue details; in those cases, his opinions are unexceptional for the time – right-wing politicians have right wing views, what else is new – and imo essentially trivial. He was to some extent right to worry about Communism, and right about the Nazis when few outside Germany agreed with him.

  37. AJP Crown says:

    Also I’m compelled to point out that CHURCHILL ON READING sounds to me like he had views on the quickest route from London to Blenheim if you wanted to avoid the late Sunday return traffic on the M4.

  38. Trond Engen says:

    their original sponsors in the SDP

    Was there ever a special relationship between the Freikorps and the SPD? The German federal government inherited the sponsorship for the Freikorps, and I’ll agree that the reformist wing of the SPD had been co-opted into the nationalist concept of the state, especially during WW1 but also after decades of social and democratic reform by nationalist parties in the Bismarck tradition, but my understanding is that the Freikorps felt loyalty to the (ideal of the) strong pre-war German state and nation and saw the SPD (as well as the democratic center-right) more as a temporary evil.

    When the SPD took the central positions in the first republican government, they tried to uphold a fragile balance between reform through democratic institutions and the inherited authoritarian state, and this went up to and including the use of the Freikorps as paramilitaries against revolutionary uprisings (most famously when the minister of defence ordered the action that had Karl von Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg abducted and executed). I suppose that may be seen (favorably) as an attempt to align the Freikorps with the democratic project or (less favorably) to recruit the populist (non-aristocratic) strands of nationalism for the reformist wing of SPD, but it was soon clear that the Freikorps had their own preferences and couldn’t be contained. When they were officially disbanded in the aftermath of the failed coup of 1920, they found their natural home on the authoritarian right and eventually regrouped under the newly founded NSDAP.

  39. Isn’t he the only US president in recent times who has not started a war?

  40. Yet.

  41. Brett: “However, there were some outliers”

    In the 1930s (and 1920s in some cases) the outliers were the democracies. A brutal violent dictatorship was the norm:
    eg. Spain – with horrendous attrocities on both sides of the civil war,
    Italy – brutal suppression of the left, as well as genocide against Croatian, Slovene and German populations in the former Austro-Hungarian territories
    Greece – genocide against the Macedonian and Turkish population,
    Yugoslavia – brutal suppresion of the Montenegrin and Macedonian population, genocide against the Albanians
    Even France kept Spanish refugees in something like concentration camps at the end of the Spanish civil war.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    I think in the end, Putin is somewhat less cynical.

    Does it make sense to call a narcissistic sociopath “cynical”? Trump basically believes he’s the only human being.

    He has an idea – it is self-aggrandising and absurd on the face of it – that if he stepped away Russia would fall apart and so he has to carry this burden.

    By now, of course, he has made it so. If he “stepped away” now, not having built up a successor, Medvedev and a bunch of billionare mafiosi would fight it out rather literally.

  43. Didn’t he actually improve the economy in the US – at least before COVID – or is that a misconception?

  44. David Marjanović says:

    Isn’t he the only US president in recent times who has not started a war?

    He almost started a war with Iran pretty much on a whim. Ten minutes before the attack he suddenly canceled it, apparently after a phone call with Putin.

    Obama didn’t start wars, he joined two existing ones.

    Didn’t he actually improve the economy in the US – at least before COVID – or is that a misconception?

    Traditionally, US presidents get all the credit when the economy (however measured, usually just by the Dow Jones) does well and all the blame when it doesn’t. Both of these are unfair.

    Before COVID, all the simple indicators kept going in the same straight line where they had been since Obama ended the Great Recession… I think what this really shows is that the economy is resilient enough to basically ignore the Republican tax cut for the rich in 2017, the government shutdown of I can’t even remember which year, and the trade war with China and to a lesser extent the EU; all of these were expected to depress the economy, and pretty much didn’t. What else has Trump, or Congress during his tenure, done (before COVID) that could influence the economy much?

    (Infrastructure Week?)

    Spain – with horrendous attrocities on both sides of the civil war

    Three sides, really; the self-declared Anarchists were just another authoritarian fraction.

  45. “Three sides, really”

    Good point. There was a lot of bloodletting between the anarchists and the united left (or whatever they were called). Though if the Beevoir book on the Spanish Civil War is anything to go by, most of it was in one direction.

    I’m sure there are examples from the same time period in other countries too. eg. I even recall there were some repressions against the Greeks in Cyprus at the time. The English Raj too was not a fun place from what I can gather, but at least they didn’t use concentration camps like they did earlier in South Africa with the Boers.

  46. the self-declared Anarchists were just another authoritarian fraction.

    That’s unfair, but I’m not about to get into a detailed rehashing of the Spanish Civil War — been there, done that.

  47. @ Brett,

    There are so many contingent facts that led to the utter atrocity that was the Nazi regime. If things had been even slightly different, I doubt that Hitler personally would have come to power

    you’re talking about historical irony. That actually isn’t a particularly productive concept for historiography, but it sure has been good for the fantasies that make for art. It’s historical irony that supplies the ellipses and exclamation marks when we think, say,

    if only the American cotton harvests of 1859 and 1860 hadn’t been exceptionally good, the warehouses in Manchester wouldn’t have been filled to capacity in 1861 and then the Laird rams might have wound up in the Confederate navy as intended in 1863 and Rhett wouldn’t have wound up telling Scarlett, “Frankly, my dear. . . .”

    Or if only Longstreet had attacked in time at Gettysburg, allowing Lee to swing east, cut the railroad bridge over the Susquehanna at Harrisburg, take defenseless Philadelphia, bring Maryland into the war, and cause When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d to be a different poem!

    Or on the other hand, if only Meade had counterattacked after Gettysburg, crushing Lee’s army on the impassable banks of the flood-swollen Potomac two years before Ford’s Theater!

    Or if only First Officer Murdoch had thrown the Titanic’s rudder over or reversed the propellers, but not both! (But he did both. . .)

    Or if only Actaeon hadn’t gone hunting on Kithairon on Artemis’s bath day!

    Remember Professor Teufelsdröckh thundering, “Close thy Byron, open thy Goethe“? Well, close thy Ranke, open thine Aeschylus. Or, closer to home, thy Hardy, author of “Hap” and “The Convergence of the Twain.”

  48. you’re talking about historical irony.

    I don’t see it. To say “if X hadn’t happened, Y wouldn’t have happened” is not ironic in any sense I understand.

  49. AJP Crown says:

    Even France kept Spanish refugees in something like concentration camps at the end of the Spanish civil war.
    The English Raj too was not a fun place from what I can gather, but at least they didn’t use concentration camps like they did earlier in South Africa with the Boers.

    It was tremendously fun for some people, but it’s the British raj not the English, and with French or South African concentration camps if you want to avoid misunderstanding, then make it clear that you’re not talking about extermination camps or death camps, which came later; nowadays these are synonyms for concentration camp. Kitchener may have done many things but he wasn’t attempting genocide; there’s no need to make things seem even worse than they actually were and I’m sure you can avoid using ‘concentration camp’ unnecessarily if you want to.

    if the Beevoir book on the Spanish Civil War is anything to go by
    Antony Beevor is a great military historian but Hugh Thomas’s The Spanish Civil War is still the standard English language work, afaIk.

    Obama didn’t start wars, he joined two existing ones.
    The big beef with Obama is his use of drones.

  50. I’m sure you can avoid using ‘concentration camp’ unnecessarily if you want to.

    That’s what they were called. That was their name. If ignorant people get confused, let them learn something, don’t dumb down history.

    Hugh Thomas’s The Spanish Civil War is still the standard English language work, afaIk.

    Very outdated by now. (And he was wrong about the anarchists.)

  51. David Eddyshaw says:

    That’s what they were called. That was their name

    Quite so.
    That zit on the face of the body politic, Jacob Rees-Mogg, not long ago attempted to airbrush this:

    https://theconversation.com/concentration-camps-in-the-south-african-war-here-are-the-real-facts-112006

  52. David Marjanović says:

    Teufelsdröckh

    LOL, that’s a completely obsolete extreme swearword – Dreck, in less ornate spelling, is a pejorative for “dirt”, but used to be overused as a euphemism for “crap” so much that it was widely considered unsayable perhaps as recently as 100 years ago. “Devil’s crap”, in a vaguely aristocratic spelling, is a great name for a first-generation mad scientist. I’ve been giggling this whole time.

    nowadays these are synonyms for concentration camp.

    They really shouldn’t be, though, because most of those the Nazis built weren’t death camps either. Lots of people still died there, but that wasn’t the main purpose.

  53. The big beef with Obama is his use of drones.

    Use of which has actually increased under the Trump administration.

    Before COVID, all the simple indicators kept going in the same straight line where they had been since Obama ended the Great Recession

    Latest economic figures suggest that the recession actually started in February. Still, COVID can plausibly be blamed for that as the massive shutdown in China in January may have precipitated a slowdown in the US.

  54. John Cowan says:

    Churchill himself wrote “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg” from the viewpoint of a Churchill in a world where Lee won, speculating about the consequences if Lee had lost. They wouldn’t have been pretty, whereas the narrator’s 1930 with the English-Speaking Union of 1905 that averted World War I is about the best state of things he can imagine. But after all, even alternate!Churchill is a conservative: “whatever is, is right”.

  55. David: In case you miss the reference, Prof. Diogenes Teufelsdröckh is the author-surrogate in Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, a notable Early Victorian work by the only major second-generation British Romantic not to die young. How I loved it as an undergraduate: You mean people could actually write prose like that back then?

  56. For me, reading “It is a mistake to read too many good books when quite young.”, along with what continues after that sentence, it doesn’t seem to be saying don’t read good books. It’s saying, in part, don’t read so many that you can’t properly take in what you do read. Quality of reading, not quantity. And, along with that, saying that some books can be read too soon to really be meaningful, or as meaningful as they could be. Though that’s individual.

  57. AJP Crown says:

    don’t dumb down history.
    Jacob Rees-Mogg not long ago attempted to airbrush this

    Then I withdraw my quibble. I wouldn’t want to side with Grease Smog; he’s as vile and stupid as Trump, merely weaker. It’s not dumbing down, though. I don’t like the conflation argument; what’s ‘dumbing down’ is to say that criticising the Nazis et al. when Britain built its own concentration camps is hypocrisy (it would make more sense to use the Maze prison in N.I. as the kind of British place you wouldn’t want to emulate), but I can live with it.

    most of those the Nazis built weren’t death camps either. Lots of people still died there, but that wasn’t the main purpose.
    Killing 6m. Jews must have been a tiny bit the main purpose, at least after the Wannsee conference. These things don’t happen by “Whoops!”

    Use of which has actually increased under the Trump administration.
    Well, sure. Anything Democrats can kill Republicans can kill better and in larger quantities as technology improves.

  58. Killing 6m. Jews must have been a tiny bit the main purpose, at least after the Wannsee conference. These things don’t happen by “Whoops!”

    For heaven’s sake, the point isn’t that the Nazis didn’t have death camps, it’s that concentration camps aren’t the same thing as death camps and it’s a mistake to conflate the two.

  59. John Cowan says:

    You’re right at the organization level, but at the individual level, one is malice-aforethought murder and the other is depraved-indifference/heart murder. The Soviet Union had no death camps in the Nazi sense, but it was clearly at least part of the purpose to work the victims to death.

  60. Ellen K. says:

    The U.S. camps where citizens and immigrants of Japanese ancestry were kept are called internment camps rather than concentration camps. This word avoids the “death camp” association. It’s also, on the literal level (that is, looking at the meaning of the component words), actually harsher and more accurate, I would say. It brings out the lack of choice. Calling such places “concentration camps” seems like euphemistically avoiding the fact that people were put in them by force, not choice.

  61. You’re right at the organization level, but at the individual level, one is malice-aforethought murder and the other is depraved-indifference/heart murder. The Soviet Union had no death camps in the Nazi sense, but it was clearly at least part of the purpose to work the victims to death.

    Are you saying we should conflate two different things because they’re both bad and if we make a distinction we might seem to be implying that one is not-so-bad and therefore maybe not bad at all? That’s a standard rhetorical move of the extreme left, but I don’t think of you as part of that gang. Yes, it’s bad when people die who shouldn’t have died, but there is still a difference between being shot or gassed and being worked very hard by people who didn’t care whether you lived or died — which is not the same as being deliberately worked to death, and I’d like to see your sources for “clearly at least part of the purpose.” Anne Appelbaum, who literally wrote the book on the Gulag, said succinctly that “The Soviet camp system, as a whole, was not deliberately organized to mass-produce corpses—even if at times it did.”

  62. The U.S. camps where citizens and immigrants of Japanese ancestry were kept are called internment camps rather than concentration camps. This word avoids the “death camp” association. It’s also, on the literal level (that is, looking at the meaning of the component words), actually harsher and more accurate, I would say.

    I agree.

  63. The Nazi camps started off like the Soviet sort – meant to lock up real or imagined enemies, not caring much whether they died there -, and some of the camps were mostly like that to the end. Only with the occupation of Poland and the Wannsee conference they were developed into annihilation camps. I think that’s the point DM also wanted to make.

  64. @ LH,

    To say “if X hadn’t happened, Y wouldn’t have happened” is not ironic in any sense I understand

    the interpretive problem generated by if-then formulations is that they give rise to a sense of cause followed by effect, and that sense often is an illusion: a deeply satisfying one related to dramatic irony, the little did they know effect. Nobody remembers the sinking of the Doña Paz (1987; 4386 deaths) but everybody thinks they remember the sinking of the Titanic (1912; 1503 deaths), and the reason for that difference is strictly and merely aesthetic. The story of the Titanic happens to fit Aristotle’s model of tragedy, the story of the Doña Paz happens not to, and that really is all there is to it. If you desire something you can call a cause (for the sinkings; for your true or false memories) you’re always free to Wikipedia Doña Paz, but I bet you won’t remember that non-fiction the way you remember fictions like “Take her to sea, Mr. Murdoch. Let her [brief but significant pause] stretch her legs.”

    And that’s why Jacques Derrida’s useful word “play” back in 1967 has helped historians have productive second thoughts about the meanings of the component words of Leopold von Ranke’s celebrated phrase wie es eigentlich gewesen.

  65. In recent years, the US internment camps for Japanese (and Texas Germans, too) have been getting pointedly called concentration camps, a corrective dysphemism, if you will.

    Canada has its own repulsive history of such, going back to WWI, when descendants of Germans, Austro-Hungarians, and other undesirables were imprisoned, and subjected to abuse and forced labor. During WW2 Germans (including German Jews) and Japanese were likewise “interned”. I’d be curious to know what the present-day discourse in Canada is like about the camps.

    I first learned about the WWI Canadian camps when tracking down the history of J. G. Wolf or Wolfe, a German-Canadian with an interest in languages, who was held at Kapuskasing. He corresponded with Sapir and Boas, and while imprisoned compiled dictionaries of Wishram and Tsimshian using their manuscript materials (where are you, marie-lucie?) Their correspondence is in various archives, and I hope to peruse it some day.

  66. AJP Crown says:

    Language: For heaven’s sake, the point isn’t that the Nazis didn’t have death camps, it’s that concentration camps aren’t the same thing as death camps
    Yeah. That was MY point. I said right at the start

    with French or South African concentration camps if you want to avoid misunderstanding, then make it clear that you’re not talking about extermination camps or death camps, which came later

    Language: it’s a mistake to conflate the two [concentration & death camp].
    I’M not conflating them, ffs. That conflation is the way the name concentration camp is used by the general English-speaking public and usage trumps definition, I’ve been led to believe by you. Furthermore, if I write ‘Nazi concentration camp’, there’s no implicit understanding that “before 1942, this was a place for thieves, degenerate artists, Gypsies, gays & lesbians and some Jewish people, whereas after…and by the way the Soviets never had per se death… blah, blah, blah” so your answer to JC (though a good one) is moot; most people don’t distinguish.

    Ellen: [Internment camps] brings out the lack of choice. Calling such places “concentration camps” seems like euphemistically avoiding the fact that people were put in them by force, not choice.
    It’s more precise and for my part I’d just as soon not have the significance of places like Auschwitz watered down by giving internment camps the same name. That was my original point. Judge each for what it was, and perhaps we ought to be more careful with the names.

  67. AJP Crown says:

    Y Canada has its own repulsive history of such, going back to WWI
    ‘Repulsive’ is going too far. ‘Repulsive’ is spending any part of 1914 – 1918 on the Western front and that’s what many Canadians did; losing your civil liberties or even seeing the odd person shot dead occasionally isn’t remotely comparable.

  68. I wasn’t talking about the experiences of the people in the camps, but the motivation of the people who sent them there. It was callousness riding on the back of bigotry.

  69. David Marjanović says:

    David: In case you miss the reference

    I did, thanks!

    I think that’s the point DM also wanted to make.

    Yes. (Also all imagined potential enemies.)

    Canada has its own repulsive history of such,

    Ah, I didn’t know that.

  70. Traditionally, US presidents get all the credit when the economy (however measured, usually just by the Dow Jones) does well and all the blame when it doesn’t.

    Maybe we should measure the health of the economy by Gini acceleration

  71. The lesson from British Boer-war camps should be that it is not good to put civilians into them, at least it doesn’t work very well for the civilians. The lesson that a lot of (aspiring) mass murderers and their apologists seems to take is that if British could do it, so do they.

  72. Y: Australia did the same thing. Not sure about NZ, but it might have been a standard British empire thing in ww1 and ww2. The irony is that pro-Yugoslav and anti Habsburg propaganda was so strong in the Croatian diaspora at the time that most Croatians wouldhave been happy to be conscripted for the Entente. Instead they got the massacre at Odessa.

  73. “Anne Appelbaum, who literally wrote the book on the Gulag, said succinctly that “The Soviet camp system, as a whole, was not deliberately organized to mass-produce corpses—even if at times it did.””

    This is sentence is an incomplete representation of Appelbaum’s views. As she has explained, the Gulag was run in a way that intentionally killed inmates by starvation. Not everyone, but a large percentage of inmates, were intentionally deprived of rations while forced to do heavy labor, so that they starved to death:

    The essence of the OGPU’s “profitable” system, invented in the Solovetsky Islands in the 1920s and sold so successfully to Stalin, was to feed prisoners according to their productivity… [I]t was this system for allotting or denying food to prisoners, not deliberate killing, that caused the greatest number of deaths. The weak prisoner, in the famous words of one survivor, quickly falls into a vicious circle. Since he cannot do his full quota of work, he does not receive the full bread ration; his undernourished body is still less able to meet the demands, and so he gets less and less bread. He employs his last remaining strength to creep off into an out-of-the-way cornerà. Only the fearful cold finds him out and mercifully gives him his sole desire: peace, sleep, death.

    https://www.anneapplebaum.com/2000/06/15/inside-the-gulag/

  74. Bathrobe says:

    Sometimes it can be extremely depressing reading LH.

  75. AJP Crown says:

    Bathrobe you’re right, but it’s odd the enthusiasm: 70-odd comments in a day. And then GREEK XÉNOS gets just one.

    Jonathan Morse, about Doña Paz vs Titanic I think it’s right that disasters shouldn’t be rated by the number of deaths, just wrong that Doña Paz isn’t remembered at all (at least, until I looked it up). Tragedies are personal, so someone’s child drowning in a rowing boat will always be more significant to them than either Doña Paz or Titanic. Safety regulations, statistics, political legislation etc. rate disasters by number of deaths for separate reasons (see Covid) but for a disaster to be remembered it needs personal significance. That’s why newspapers write otherwise absurd headlines like “3,000 Killed, including 3 Britons” for their UK edition. It partly (not completely) accounts for why few people in Britain would know there were 7 million street children in Russia by 1922, or something like that.

  76. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Da dyvelsdræk = asa-foetida, as recently covered.

    I have to admit that I never assigned any independent meaning to the concentration part of concentration camp, it seemed so disconnected from the usual sense when the only ones I saw mentioned were in fact the more infamous of the Nazi ones. You could say it was thoroughly de-euphemized by the time I was born (1960).

    So for me and probably many of my generation, concentration camp simply means extermination camp, even though lots of Danes were actually interned in less atrocious ones and came home more or less alive.

  77. This is sentence is an incomplete representation of Appelbaum’s views. As she has explained, the Gulag was run in a way that intentionally killed inmates by starvation. Not everyone, but a large percentage of inmates, were intentionally deprived of rations while forced to do heavy labor, so that they starved to death:

    Yes, I’ve read the book. But they were not deprived of rations in order that they would starve to death, they were deprived of rations to force them to work harder if they could, and if not not to waste rations. Obviously it doesn’t make any difference to the inmates who died, but if that’s the only criterion, why bother differentiating between deaths at all? When the Soviet rulers wanted people dead, they shot them. When they wanted their labor for free, they sent them to the Gulag. I trust it’s clear to you and anyone who’s been reading LH for any length of time that I am not trying to diminish the horrors of the Gulag, but it’s important to make distinctions. The Gulag camps were not death camps; Birkenau was.

  78. SFReader says:

    German Stalags killed about three million Soviet POWs by starvation.

    The reasons why are not quite clear, but it appears to be a mix of German administrative incompetence and deliberate policy not to spend resources to feed people who were considered by Nazis to be racially inferior.

    There was also a useful byproduct for Nazis of such policy – over a million desperate starving Soviet POWs joined various German organized collaborationist groups to avoid certain death in Stalags.

  79. AJP Crown and others, two pedagogical commercials, one of them immodest.

    The immodest one: for introducing the idea of tragedy to soph lit, I once made up a one-page visual aid full of shipwreck stories — all of them worse in terms of loss of life than the story of the Titanic, all of them (unlike the story of the Titanic) forgotten. The question at the end is, “Why?” and you know how Aristotle would have answered it, but I think the stories are interesting. If you’d like a copy, email me at morsej001@gmail.com.

    The modest one: if you have to teach soph lit tragedy yourself, an excellent auxiliary is A. R. Gurney’s tragicomedy Another Antigone, which transposes Sophocles to a contemporary American campus rather resembling MIT, where Gurney taught. Gurney knew the classics, his Creon-figure lectures about them, and your students (unlike all but one of his) will enjoy learning what he has to say.

  80. AJP Crown says:

    A.R. Gurney’s mother married his wife’s father.

  81. John Cowan says:

    Are you saying we should conflate two different things […] there is still a difference between being shot or gassed and being worked very hard by people who didn’t care whether you lived or died

    I’m saying that those are one thing and not two things, and the thing they are is murder, though the first is intentional and the second is the result of depraved indifference. Here comes da judge on the latter subject in Debettencourt v. Maryland (1980), which was an arson case, but many of the same rules apply:

    […] the wilful doing of a dangerous and reckless act with wanton indifference to the consequences and perils involved is just as blameworthy, and just as worthy of punishment, when the harmful result ensues as is the express intent to kill itself.

    This highly blameworthy state of mind is not one of mere negligence… It is not merely one even of gross criminal negligence… It involves rather the deliberate perpetration of a knowingly dangerous act with reckless and wanton unconcern and indifference as to whether anyone is harmed or not. The common law treats such a state of mind as just as blameworthy, just as anti-social and, therefore, just as truly murderous as the specific intents to kill and to harm.

    In a Pennsylvania case of 1946, a teenager was convicted of murder after he shot and killed his friend in a game of “modified Russian roulette” in which each player shoots at the other instead of himself. There was no intent to kill here, but the defendant knew the action was dangerous and was obviously unconcerned.

    German law is similar: if the defendant knew their actions were likely to cause death and accepted the probable results: cases include setting fire to an inhabited house (which would be murder in the U.S. for other reasons even if the defendant did not know it was inhabited) even though the intent was to burn down the house and not to kill people.

    The Nazi authorities, like the Soviet authorities, knew that by forcing people to do heavy labor under conditions of cold and starvation and disease they ensured that many of them would die who could otherwise have been saved, and they didn’t care: that was depraved-indifference murder on a mass scale. Even setting the law aside, I see no moral difference whatsoever. I am perfectly fine with lumping the people who were gassed on arrival at Auschwitz or Majdanek (which were mixed-purpose camps) with the people who were worked, as I said, to death there, as all victims of the self-same crime.

  82. I understand the legal situation; I remain convinced there is a difference between deliberately killing someone and putting them in a situation where there is a strong likelihood of death, and so does the law (there being different degrees of murder in the US and presumably in other venues). If you choose to lump them all together because they’re all Bad, so be it; I differ.

  83. Do I understand you to say, or imply, that there is no meaningful distinction between death camps and labor camps (where many people died)? I assure you most people would rather be sent to one than the other.

  84. John Cowan says:

    Of course there’s a difference to the people sent to one or the other. But between those who send them? No.

    I was deliberately eliding the question of degrees of murder or of murder vs. (aggravated) manslaughter; for one thing, they are wildly different in different jurisdictions. (In NY State, they are both second-degree murder, first-degree murder being confined to killing cops, prison guards, witnesses, etc.) But here’s a nice example from a law review article:

    If you open a lion’s cage so that he charges into an arena and fatally mauls the Christians (or whomever) there, that is intentional murder, since your intent is for the lion to kill these particular Christians. But if you open the other end of the cage, letting the lion loose on the spectators so that some are mauled and killed, that is depraved-indifference murder, since no individual in the crowd can claim (from the afterlife, presumably) that you intended to kill him. Nevertheless, you intentionally opened the cage, knowing that people were likely to be killed, and you didn’t care.

    And I don’t lump these together because they are bad, but because they are murder.

  85. Trond Engen says:

    The demarcation between the cathegories of camps is not always clear in practice. The same goes for the third cathegory, the internment camp (concentration camp sensu strictu)*. In Hitler’s Germany both the camp system and the policy of internment evolved, one big step at the time. The full apparatus of extermination wasn’t established in all its cruel ingenuity until near the end of the war, and even then huge numbers of prisoners were killed by cold, toil, hunger and sadism or indifference from campguards in what was nominally labour. The motivations and rationalisations among those participating in the atrocities were also highly diverse. A totalitarian regime aims to be everything for everybody, and in order to be so successfully totalitarian as Nazi Germany, there must be ways to come on board with the project for people of all backgrounds and with any moral or socio-political Weltanschauing. It’s terrifying for those of us who take pride in our inherently sound values and rational idealism.

    I say this mostly as an excuse to recommend Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones).

    *) Also other types of detainment like refugee camps. A camp like the one on Lesvos could well turn into an extermination camp without a single decision made or action taken by any person or institution, only failure to do anything actively to avoid disaster,

  86. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s terrifying for those of us who take pride in our inherently sound values and rational idealism.

    Well said.

  87. Trond Engen says:

    Me. Weltanschauing

    Oops.

  88. Most of the opponents of current US refugee camps have been taking very seriously the possbility that they would evolve into passive killing camps. There’s the tiny consolation that whatever happens there is not for a lack of public foresight.

  89. AJP Crown says:

    Any tiny consolation should be assuaged by the physical and sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder that have already been carried out overseas by the American army and the CIA at Abu Ghraib.

  90. AJP Crown says:

    Sorry, Y! Don’t mind me. I’d had rather too much wine and a mojito last night. I ought not to drinkcomment.

  91. Rodger C says:

    AJP: No, thank you. And “murder by depraved indifference”–that’s a phrase Americans may be hearing more of in more than one context.

  92. AJP Crown says:

    True, but it’s easy to blame America for everything when there are appalling, evil, clueless people in charge all over. Take Modi, for example.

  93. Yeah, I’m afraid appalling, evil, clueless people in charge is the latest thing. Even worse than Ronnie & Maggie, and I never thought I’d say that. But it’s just another turn of the wheel of history…

  94. ə de vivre says:

    Any tiny consolation should be assuaged by the physical and sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder that have already been carried out overseas by the American army and the CIA at Abu Ghraib.

    And currently within the US by ICE, the CBP, and private subcontractors in the immigrant camps.

    I was surprised to learn that Japanese Canadians were not allowed to return to the coastal areas they’d been expelled from until 1949. Apparently, the white-supremacist government in British Columbia was only too happy to let the laws stay in place indefinitely, much to the consternation of white supremacists in Alberta, where most of the internally displaced Japanese Canadians ended up.

  95. And currently within the US by ICE, the CBP, and private subcontractors in the immigrant camps.

    And, of course, in the prison system as a whole.

  96. ə de vivre says:

    Yeah, that wasn’t (unfortunately) an exhaustive list of places in the US where people in positions of power are able to commit heinous crimes against vulnerable people with impunity. My intended point was that the US government doesn’t just engage in systematic and intentional human rights abuses overseas. There seems to be a perception (which I’m not accusing anyone of having, but which I certainly sometimes feel on a nonrational level) that abuses governments commit domestically are somehow worse or more concerning than abuses committed overseas. What concerns me is that prisoners in the normal justice system, in theory, have certain well-defined rights, which oblige the government to occasionally keep up the appearance of following the laws it has enacted. ICE and the CBP, on the other hand, act in a permanent state of exception. “Normal” police also have this state of exception built into parts of their operations, but to institutionalize entire paramilitary branches that operate completely in a state of exception feels worse by some quantum-of-evilness amount.

  97. I dunno — I get where you’re coming from, but (as a committed anti-nationalist) I don’t measure evil by where or in what national/international circumstances it’s committed. And I suspect that the perception you mention is not so much that abuses governments commit domestically are worse than those committed overseas as that they are more easily accessible to the domestic public, and therefore it might be more possible to do something about them. But that’s only a suspicion.

  98. clueless people in charge is the latest thing

    For the last decade or so I’ve been watching in silent sadness as verbs transfer their number agreements from subjects (“people . . . are”) to subject complements (“people . . . is”). It seems to be house style now at the New York Times, but whadda yexpect from that source. But If even LH is going the way of the Times, I guess the time has come to break out the Cavafy.

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51294/waiting-for-the-barbarians

  99. In your righteous indignation you are missing a linguistic subtlety. In “clueless people in charge is the latest thing,” the phrase “clueless people in charge” is taken as a ding-an-sich; it is not the people who are the thing, it is the phenomenon of clueless people being in charge.

    Also, Edmund Keeley is no poet.

  100. Hannah Arendt pointed out, in The Origins of Totalitarianism that European powers were initially much more willing to practice brutal tactics in their colonies than closer to their homelands. In the colonies, the violence and repression were being applied against people who were both far away and deemed racially inferior. One of the major developments of European totalitarianism was the reimportation of such tactics back to Europe itself.

    That does not mean, of course, that all colonial regimes were equally bad. Mohandas Gandhi, when he was younger, traveled extensively around the British Empire, and he saw a lot of discrimination and exploitation of native peoples. As a result, he erroneously thought that he has seen, in India and elsewhere, the worst of European racism in action. He did not comprehend how much worse violence was possible, and made some statements about the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews that seem hopelessly naive in retrospect. He was by no means alone in misunderstanding such matters, of course, but it illustrates that even someone who had dedicated his life to working on behalf of oppressed people could, by basing his conclusions on what he had seen of the British Empire,* egregiously misapprehended the seriousness of the human rights situation.

    * In Heart of Darkness, Conrad’s narrator at one point early on, while looking at a map of colonial Africa, muses that the British areas are getting some genuine benefits from their colonial status. To some extent, this shows Marlow’s British jingoism and also his naivety; however, as he explores the (never actually identified by county name) Belgian Congo, it can serve as a serious reminder that colonial systems do not, even in messy, real-world practice, have to be so utterly depraved.

  101. ə de vivre says:

    Could be. Might also be that the closer to home the abuses occur, the more people feel “this could happen to me or someone I care about.” Or it could be a feeling that governments will do as much as they can get away with, and so if they can get away with committing abuses at home then that’s indicative of a higher general level of danger. But I agree that exporting human rights abuse doesn’t make a country freer any more than exporting plastic waste makes a country more environmentally friendly.

  102. For my money, Keeley > Mendelsohn, but I don’t read Greek.

    But I also think verbs > nouns. See: “putting clueless people in charge” not only resolves the uncertainty, it transforms the mere Ding to a Tat.

  103. Strugatsky brothers planned (but unwritten) sequel to “The Prisoners of Power” described infiltration of Maxim Kammerer into the fascist Island Empire which turned out to be completely different from what he expected:

    .. the world of the Island Empire [was] built with the ruthless rationality of a Demiurge eager to eradicate evil. In three circles, roughly speaking, was divided this world. The outer circle was a cesspool, a drain, a hell of this world – all the scum of society flocked there, all drunks, trash, rubbish, all sadists and natural-born murderers, rapists, aggressive boors, perverts, beasts, moral monsters – pus, slags, social feces … Here was THEIR kingdom, which knew no punishment, here they lived according to the laws of force, meanness and hatred. By this circle, the Empire surrounded itself against the rest of the world, engaging in defense and striking out.

    The middle circle was inhabited by ordinary people, in no way extreme, people just like you and me – a little worse, a little better, still far from angels, but no longer demons.

    And in the center was the World of Justice. “Noon, XXII century”. A warm, welcoming, safe world of spirit, creativity and freedom, inhabited exclusively by talented, glorious, friendly people who follow all the commandments of the highest morality.

    Everyone born in the Empire inevitably found himself in “his” circle, society delicately (and if necessary – roughly too) forced him out to where he belonged – in accordance with his talents, temperament and moral potency. This pressure took place both automatically and with the help of an appropriate social mechanism (something like a morality police). It was a world where the principle “to each his own” triumphed in its broadest interpretation. Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Classic.

  104. David Eddyshaw says:

    Hurrah! Another flimsy pretext to link to

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiBnIsh5YzM

    A no go giri …

  105. Fela Kuti is always worth linking to.

  106. AJP Crown says:

    it is not the people who are the thing, it is the phenomenon
    I’m sorry you don’t agree, Jonathan. I’m no linguist but I noticed this a year or two ago. It started with my decision that the (primarily British) practice of calling groups ‘them’ rather than ‘it’ just had to stop – or rather I had to stop doing it. So British Railways, the armed forces, the police, Australia, the Senate: they’re all ‘it’ to me now. Then it became an obsession and in stage two, I’ve been following Language’s protocol myself as often as I can.

  107. … pus, slags, social feces…

    That sounds very odd in English, where the first and third describe gross exudates, but the second is a term of derision for a whole person.* It is not parallel in the way I would expect. Of course, slag in that meaning is not a native part of my American idiolect, so I might be missing something.

    * It occurs to me that slag also has the meaning of “unmelted waste removed during the smelting of metal ore,” which has a negative valance and fits with the other two waste products mentioned in the lists. However, it is non-biological, again breaking the parallelism, and the appearance of the plural slags also militates strongly against this being the intended sense.

  108. David Eddyshaw says:

    Hat can speak for himself, but I thought I’d get in first. (I’m now listening to Fela Kuti, and am in consequence invincible.)

    Hat’s describing a different phenomenon from alternative agreement possibilities for collectives: in “clueless people in charge is the latest thing” the main verb agrees, perfectly regularly, with the subject “clueless people in charge” construed as a clause. It’s equivalent to “clueless people being in charge is the latest thing.”

  109. slag

    Russian-English dictionary translates this common Russian word as

    шлак n м
    slag, dross, ash, cinder, scoria
    (окалина, зола, пепел)
    clinker
    (клинкер)
    waste
    (отходы)
    sinter
    (агломерат)

    Dross and waste are close, perhaps also

    scum

    1. The extraneous matter or impurities which rise to the surface of liquids in boiling or fermentation, or which form on the surface by other means; also, the scoria of metals in a molten state; dross.

  110. Hat’s describing a different phenomenon from alternative agreement possibilities for collectives: in “clueless people in charge is the latest thing” the main verb agrees, perfectly regularly, with the subject “clueless people in charge” construed as a clause. It’s equivalent to “clueless people being in charge is the latest thing.”

    Exactly.

  111. @SFReader: The combination of the word appearing in the plural and the very negative tones made me interpret the sense of slag to be: “a woman who has many casual sexual encounters or relationships.” That is what I thought of, even though the word is not part of my natural speech. (The American word for that sense would normally be slut, but slut in British English has retained much of its older sense of female slatternlyness, rather than promiscuity.)

  112. I’m reading Tendryakov’s 1969 novella Апостольская командировка, and I just got to this:

    Почему кровь, пролитая за тысячу километров от тебя, должна обжигать меньше, чем кровь, пролитая рядом с тобой?

    Why should blood spilled a thousand kilometers away burn less than blood spilled next to you?

    Synchronicity’s a funny old thing.

  113. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Brett:

    I was wondering. I’ve always supposed that “slag” in the sense “woman who is no better than she should be” was British (or, at any rate, non-North American.) Often enough one turns out to be mistaken about such matters though.

    “Slag” is more vulgar and also more personally offensive than “slut” in the UK. You might conceivably write that a woman was a slut in a relatively formal style and with at least an impression of objectivity; neither is true of “slag.”

    The “slattern” meaning of “slut” does occur, but it’s a bit unstable. The loathsome Nigel Farage raised some eyebrows when he told some of his female supporters that they were “sluts” if they didn’t clean behind the refrigerator. Obviously supporters of Nigel Farage are morally defective, but this is not usually held to apply to sexual morality particularly.

  114. AJP Crown says:

    It’s true that calling women slags because the didn’t clean behind the fridge wiould just be weird, but I think slag is originally a more working-class expression that I can’t see faux-tweedy-with-upper-middle-aspirations Farage using. You slut! is an expression that’s often used as a joke BY (British) women, I’ve noticed.

    In contrast to the Needham that looks too hard (and I wonder whether he’s related the the Guardian music critic Alex Needham), I just got a book in the post called Respectable, by Lynsey Hanley, that looks really good. It’s for anyone with an interest in class structures, British in this case, and was highly recommended by Owen Hatherley in an Architecture Review podcast (honest, you don’t have to be interested in architecture to listen).

  115. David Marjanović says:

    шлак

    German Schlacke “unmelted waste removed during the smelting of metal ore”, “mythical metabolic wastes removed by fasting and drinking vegetable juices”.

  116. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    From which we get the BCSM šljaka, referring to the same thing (the ore waste, not the metabolic one).

    This then evolved the slang meaning of work/job, and related to that we also have šljaker (workman/person tasked with drudgery).

  117. The opposite of English slacker!

  118. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    Indeed!

  119. AJP, David and Hat, I do understand what happens when a clause in the plural is made to serve as a singular subject. If I say “People not wearing masks is dangerous” (a made-up example) I’m probably trying to express something about what kind of people those science-scorners are rather than what they do. Still, I myself react to a sentence like that the way I react to “Democrat Party.” I have to pause for a second and parse, and while I’m parsing I’m off balance and confused.

    For “Democrat Party” that’s an intended consequence, the one that’s currently called “owning the libs.” Of course there was little that was democratic about the wing of the Democratic Party represented by A. Willis Robertson,* but Donald Trump isn’t in the business of writing history. The point is the nervousness. But I get just as nervous when I hear something innocuous like “People obeying the traffic laws is safe,” and there the nervousness has no point. It’s just an avoidable awkwardness.

    Especially, geewhiz, when spelling things out with verbs makes the conversation not just more pleasant but clearer too. “People who don’t wear masks present a danger to society ” is longer but less abstract.

    * Long-serving US senator (D-VA) in the mid-twentieth century, Segregationist, authoritarian. The A stood for Absalom. Father of contemporary theologian and statesman Pat.

  120. David Eddyshaw says:

    If I say “People not wearing masks is dangerous” (a made-up example) I’m probably trying to express something about what kind of people those science-scorners are rather than what they do

    That wouldn’t be my understanding: I would not intend any comment at all about the kind of people involved if I put it that way; in fact, I might do so exactly because I wished to avoid saying outright that the people themselves were dangerous. If, on the other hand, I wished to clearly ascribe culpability without beating about the bush, my chosen locution would indeed be “people not wearing masks are dangerous.” The sentences are not equivalent, and the second is not just a less awkward version of the first.

  121. David, will my example work better for you if I rephrase the exclamation as “If I say ‘People not wearing masks is dangerous,’ I’m probably trying to address what those science-scorners are, not just how they happen at the moment to be dressed”?

    For me and I’d guess for others, perception of an action like “people performing refusal to wear a mask” arrives in consciousness bearing a whole deck cargo of social connotations. To try to communicate those with a verb phrase is an understandable move, but it certainly makes for an ambiguous and unnecessarily ugly sentence. But one solution might be to obfuscate the singular and plural in a single noun, perhaps a bureaucratic initialism: “PPRTWAM is dangerous.”

  122. But “ambiguous and ugly” is what people always say about words/expressions they don’t like. Just accept your inner peever; we all have it.

  123. Speaking of which, when I wrote “exclamation,” I meant “explanation.”

  124. SFReader says:

    “People obeying the traffic laws is safe,”

    This is basically Japanese grammar.

    English just needs to borrow nominalizer こと now.

  125. Bathrobe says:

    SFReader, I think we need to sit down and have a good look at the many uses of the English present participle. Or, as in this case, the so-called gerund. The uses are so varied and confusing I’m wondering how non-native speakers pick them up.

  126. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @Badekåbe, who says we do? There is this non-finite form in -ing that can be a noun or an adjective according to mood and need and can also form noun clauses — basically like a joker tile in dominoes. Then we watch in amazement as the native speakers explain why what we did made sense.

    Actually, if I understand what the difference between present participle and gerund is, it’s something to do with headness. People wearing jackets is/are sensible can be either At folk har jakker på er fornuftigt (gerund, there is an S node hiding in there) or Folk der har jakker på er fornuftige (pp, head N plus modifier). Both Danish versions use a subordinate clause with a finite verb, and the predicate evinces the same number agreement as in English (but on the adjective instead of the verb).

    Using the Danish verb forms that are equivalent to the gerund and pp would be possible but extremely weird — Folks haven jakker på er fornuftigt and Folk havende jakker på er fornuftige. (Note that the gerund-equivalent (kentaurnominal) cannot take a subject so a genitive is used).

    (I’m pretty sure the English gerund developed from the same verbal substantive as the Danish centaur nominal, and German forms like Hören and Sagen for that matter).

  127. AJP Crown says:

    morphological constructions called centaurs in Danish? – Half man, half… linguist? The symbol of Poznań is the mechanical goat, according to Wiki.

    People wearing jackets is sensible
    A minor point, but this imo could only be used in the middle of a discussion where it had been introduced by a construction like eg
    “Would it help if there were a rule that people must wear jackets?”
    “Yes. People wearing jackets is sensible.”

    On its own or as an introduction, it’s a bit odd.

    At folk har jakker på er fornuftigt.
    That people have jackets on is sensible.

    Is there a gerund in that? An English gerund is an -ing word that isn’t a pp, like ‘wearing’ is here, but there must be more point to it than that.

    Folks haven jakker på er fornuftigt.
    Folk havende jakker på er fornuftige.

    ‘Folks’ genitive, like German or English. The verb forms I don’t think I ever knew about, but even if it’s weird Danish ‘Folk havende jakker på er fornuftige’ seems like the most similar to English ‘People wearing jackets is sensible’ even though ‘er’ can be sing. or pl. (the origin of the discussion).

  128. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I can’t find a rationale for calling them centaur nominals. Google gives me a redlink on Danish wikipedia and the PDF I linked. The redlink does have a reference to a grammar I don’t have access to; the PDF lists older works that used the term as well.

    Is there a gerund in that? — no, that was the point, though it was misleading to annotate with (gerund). That was to show what English form it corresponded to. Both constructions are most naturally phrased with subordinate clauses in Danish, so har is the non-past finite form and the gerund-like haven is mentioned under “weird” later.

    I suppose you can say People’s wearing jackets is sensible in English too (I don’t know enough German to suppose anything), and maybe that was the way to do it originally, but I would guess it’s been levelled with the noun + pp construction so you can use the ‘nominative’ too.

    I guess we need Trond to tell us if these things exist in Norwegian. I feel that I have too much Danish interference in my Swedish to be sure there either.

  129. ktschwarz says:

    “People’s wearing jackets is sensible”: that’s what Fowler 1926 insists on, vehemently!

    On the question of whether people’s is required, or whether both people and people’s are possible, with different meanings (i.e., what David Eddyshaw said), or whether they’re both possible and may have only a subtle difference in emphasis or no difference, a good place to start is Our Gerunding Wanes, and the links from there to Language Log and to MWCDEU on “possessive with gerund”.

  130. AJP Crown says:

    Trond, yes.

    A centaur word is a French expression (un mot-centaure) for portmanteau words (aka un mot-valise). So ‘portmanteau nominals’, maybe.

    http://detoutpourneriendire.over-blog.com/article-faire-decouvrir-les-mots-centaures-petite-sequence-de-le-on-partie-ii-80104978.html

  131. Trond Engen says:

    Huh?

  132. Can we say that the confusion is because the head of the gerund (the -ing verb) is not at the beginning of the phrase? There is no other place to attach a subject to the -ing verb except before it, and that makes the parsing ambiguous.

  133. Bathrobe says:

    The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language abolishes the distinction between gerund and participle and calls it the ‘gerund-participle’. Which is all well and good, but they also come up with a ‘gerundial noun’ for those cases where the gerund-participle is preceded by an article (She had witnessed the breaking of the seal). This reduces the confusion (maybe?) but doesn’t offer a full escape from the dilemma over how to coherently describe the full range of uses of the gerund and the participle.

    I had a lot of trouble finding how they treat gerund-participles preceded by a preposition. Eventually I found a couple of examples tucked away. For example, the following, in which they treat both as the gerund-participle form of the verb:

    There’s no point in breaking the seal.
    They were entertaining the troops.

    The second is the past continuous (or progressive, as they call it), which they analyse as a catenative verb (‘were’ plus ‘entertaining’) expressing the progressive aspect. There are times when I find their complete overhaul of English grammatical categories quite confusing.

  134. A nice example to illustrate how gerund phrases work is “I don’t like you going out without an umbrella.” The object of like is clearly going, not you, and in everyday speech one would not say “*I don’t like your going out without an umbrella.”

  135. @Y: I’m pretty sure Pullum and Huddleston cover this, but the point is that objects in English can be complete gerund-participle clauses. There is is no single word head that can be identified as the direct object in a sentence like, “I don’t like you going out without an umbrella.” The direct object is the entire clause: “you going out without an umbrella.” More particularly, there is no meaningful way to distinguish which of “you” and “going” should be the supposed head.

  136. I don’t like your going out without an umbrella.

    Maybe not used in many people’s colloquial English but it sounds fine to me.

  137. @Bathrobe: It’s high register, but otherwise unremarkable. Since it seems to be almost semantically identically whether the possessive appears or not, I think this is further reason to see the whole clause as the object.

  138. I should have said “the head of the object clause”, that is the object of like. My point was that the going is being disliked, not the “you”. You is just the subject argument of going.

    Another example would be “I don’t want you catching a cold”. Here the verbal head is transitive, with two arguments (and I can’t imagine anyone ever saying “I don’t want your catching a cold.”)

  139. Lots of examples around.

    He found himself looking into the eyes of a crocodile

    ‘Found’ requires the reflexive ‘himself’ (he-verb-himself), but the finding doesn’t refer to himself; the object of ‘found’ is the whole clause he was looking into the eyes of a crocodile.

  140. PlasticPaddy says:

    @bathrobe
    I parse this one as “he found himself [to be] looking…”, so not quite a gerund. It is not the same as “looking…he found himself”, which for me is “[as he was] looking…”😀

  141. Two different structures.

    And not a gerund, no. But that’s maybe one reason why Huddleston and Pullum decided not to distinguish the two. Besides, you don’t need it to be reflexive:

    He saw someone’s eye peering through the hole.

    Did he see [someone’s eye peering through the hole] or did he see [someone’s eye], which was peering through the hole.

    I think the difference between

    I don’t want you catching a cold

    and

    I don’t like your going out without an umbrella

    might come down to a difference between verbs.

    I find the whole area a can of worms.

  142. January First-of-May says:

    A centaur word is a French expression (un mot-centaure) for portmanteau words (aka un mot-valise).

    I want to take the opportunity to mention one of my favorite etymological fun facts: the term “portmanteau words” was first introduced by Humpty-Dumpty in Through the Looking-Glass, to describe words from the opening stanza of Jabberwocky.

  143. John Cowan says:

    For what it’s worth, there is also the idea that I don’t want you catching a cold is a kind of appositive, in which case catching introduces a NP with an embedded object. Usually these are in the genitive, as in John’s adoption of Irene, and indeed catching of a cold is archaic and nonstandard.

  144. David Marjanović says:

    SFReader, I think we need to sit down and have a good look at the many uses of the English present participle. Or, as in this case, the so-called gerund. The uses are so varied and confusing I’m wondering how non-native speakers pick them up.

    It takes a good amount of practice and explicit teaching.

    (I’m pretty sure the English gerund developed from the same verbal substantive as the Danish centaur nominal, and German forms like Hören and Sagen for that matter).

    The German cognate of the “gerund” -ing is not -en, but -ung. -en forms plain old infinitives, which can be used as nouns just like in Latin & Romance and are then, in many cases, best translated as “gerunds” in English. -ung forms feminine abstract nouns (basically -ation); it is not very productive and has not been grammaticalized at all.

    I suppose you can say People’s wearing jackets is sensible in English too (I don’t know enough German to suppose anything)

    You’re not missing anything.

    Here are the options I can come up with too late at night:

    – An if-then construction with a subordinate clause and no infinite verb form at all: Wenn Leute Jacken tragen, ist das vernünftig.
    – A “the fact that” construction, likewise with a subordinate clause and no infinite verb form: Dass Leute Jacken tragen, ist vernünftig. Only applicable if people are in fact wearing jackets as a norm.
    – Omit the people: Jacken zu tragen(,) ist vernünftig.
    – As above, but nominalize: Das Tragen von Jacken ist vernünftig.
    – As above, but with noun incorporation, because Standard Average European is so overrated: Jackentragen ist vernünftig.
    – Once you’ve gone that far, you can use the present participle and reintroduce the people: Jackentragende Leute sind vernünftig. Only applicable if there are people who don’t wear jackets and are therefore unreasonable.
    – …and ironically you can introduce the genitive: Das Jackentragen der Leute ist vernünftig. Note the definite article. Without it, the genitive plural is wholly unrecognizable and must die: Das Jackentragen von Leuten ist vernünftig. That’s grammatical and parsable but so unidiomatic as to be wholly unacceptable.
    – More likely, you’d resolve the literary participle into a subordinate clause again: Leute, die Jacken tragen, sind vernünftig. Same pragmatic restriction as with the participle.

    Idiomatically I’d go with the third option.

    (…in the standard. My dialect can’t distinguish it from the fifth, among a long list of further complications.)

    “People’s wearing jackets is sensible”: that’s what Fowler 1926 insists on, vehemently!

    Not “people’s wearing of jackets”? Because that way you can parse wearing as the noun it once was.

    A nice example to illustrate how gerund phrases work is “I don’t like you going out without an umbrella.” The object of like is clearly going, not you

    “You, going out without an umbrella? I don’t like that.”

    This strongly suggests that that refers to both sides of the comma at once. But wait, there’s more.

    “I don’t like you while/when/if you’re going out without an umbrella.”

    Suddenly you alone is the object of like, and going is the present participle rather than the gerund.

    In short, I’m not surprised the CGEL calls the whole thing off and says there’s really just one -ing form.

  145. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s in line with a general theoretical position of entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, I think:

    http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/CGELtheory.pdf

  146. What about “I want him gone”? Gone is a verbal noun, heading the clause, with him its subject. There’s no way to use a possessive here, except “I want his having gone”, which no one but a grammarian would want to bring into their house.

  147. @Bathrobe There are times when I find their [CGEL] complete overhaul of English grammatical categories quite confusing.

    I wonder if that would be the case if you’d hap’d upon CGEL as your first grammar, rather than a load of Latin-infused peevery (and over-simplification) from school teachers?

    Rather, I think you’d be saying ‘I find the school text’s grammatical categories quite confusing’. For example, what’s the ‘voice’ in ‘passive voice’?

  148. ktschwarz says:

    Not “people’s wearing of jackets”?

    No, apparently Fowler doesn’t care about that. Some sentences that he endorses as correct:

    Women’s having the vote reduces men’s political power.
    We need fear nothing from China’s developing her resources.
    It should result in our securing the best aeroplane for military purposes.
    Jones won by Smith’s missing a chance.
    This danger may be avoided by whitewashing the glass.

    … so, no need for “of” before the object.

  149. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm
    Re ung/en in German, there are some cases where ung seems to represent the result and en the act, e.g., das Platzieren/die Platzierung, das Entwickeln / die Entwicklung

  150. It started with my decision that the (primarily British) practice of calling groups ‘them’ rather than ‘it’ just had to stop

    This isn’t common in my experience except with regard to sports teams. “Liverpool is a port city on the English west coast”; “Liverpool [meaning Liverpool Football Club] have beaten Chelsea 3-0”. And, interestingly, only in the context of sports. In dire financial straits Liverpool FC may decide to sell property to raise money, but the story will appear in the business press as “Liverpool will sell its stadium”.

  151. I wonder if that would be the case if you’d hap’d upon CGEL as your first grammar

    It’s quite possible that I’d find school grammar utterly confusing. It’s the mental categorisation that you learn first that sticks with you. That’s because it forms a kind of substructure on which you hang your understanding.

    Pullum’s paper linked to above is quite dismissive of the past few hundred years of zero progress in English pedagogical grammar. But the thing is, if a particular approach works reasonably well, most people will stick with it. Overhauling the whole thing takes a lot of work.

    I’m doing my best to understand their approach but my mind keeps blanking out.

    Not “people’s wearing of jackets”?

    According to Huddleston and Pullum, by adding of you make it into a gerundial noun. Without the of, it’s a gerund-participle.

  152. But the thing is, if a particular approach [to a grammar] works reasonably well, most people will stick with it.

    What would a grammar working well look like? Does anybody other than a tiny minority think one jot about a grammar after leaving school? The majority probably think Strunk&White or those wavy green underlines in MsWord are grammar ‘at work’.

    I learnt the traditional English grammar rather backwards: the Latin master pet-peeved that nobody teaches proper grammar any more (this was at a ‘Grammar School’), so he’d have to do that before he could teach us Latin.

    He proceeded to teach via bizarre English sentences which (gasp!) turned word-for-word into Latin. That is, bizarre because of their syntax. (Can you replace bare ‘to’ by ‘in order to’? then you have ‘ut’+infinitive. The chicken crossed the road in order to get to the other side.)

    The substructure on which I hang my understanding is Predicate Logic, closely related to Montague and the various Categorial Grammars. I’m finding the Huddlestone & Pullum Chapter making a lot of sense.

  153. David Eddyshaw says:

    What would a grammar working well look like?

    Exactly. For example, as Geoff Pullum has often pointed out, we have peevers about “passive voice” (or even “passive tense”), who presumably regard themselves as above average on the grammar-knowing front, who are in fact unable to do so much as to accurately identify passive constructions in English. I don’t think one can maintain that traditional grammar teaching was actually successful.

    I too was taught traditional school grammar, and found it interesting (unsurprisingly; child is father of the man, yadda yadda.) Even at that age, though, it seemed obvious there was a lot seriously wrong with it (for example, it was clear that “adverb” was being used as a sort of dustbin category for anything that didn’t easily fit elsewhere.)

  154. John Cowan says:

    The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language abolishes the distinction between gerund and participle

    Indeed, both CGEL and CGEL agree on this point.

    I think there is a pressure in writing (not so much in speech) not to use an accusative pronoun where the gerund-pseudo-clause is the subject of the matrix sentence: His wearing the jacket was sensible, perfect; Him wearing the jacket was sensible, imperfect at best. Modern English doesn’t care for accusative pronouns at the beginning of a sentence.

    “I want him gone.”

    That’s a different construction altogether, the double accusative, like “He taught them English” or “I called him stupid”. You can’t see the case of “English” in English, of course, but it shows up in Latin and also in Greek (more often, indeed, in Modern Greek than Classical) in very un-English constructions like “He hit him the belly”. In English only the semantics distinguishes this acc-acc construction from ordinary dat-scc sentences like “He gave him Aristotle.”

    Englishman: “What would you like for your birthday?”

    Italian (as heard): “A video”.

    Englishman: “Which video?”

    Italian: “No, stupid! The poems of Ovidio!”

  155. AJP Crown says:

    Irishman: “A covid video of poetry? No problem.“

  156. It doesn’t seem sensible to import case system from Greek and Latin into English. If you need a point of comparison, maybe try German. If you chose a random language, like Russian, “He taught them English” comes out as Он учил их английскому, acc-dat; “I called him stupid” is Я назвал его дураком, acc-instr; “He gave him Aristotle” is Он дал ему Аристотеля, dat-acc.

  157. David Marjanović says:

    das Entwickeln / die Entwicklung

    Entwicklung is not a result; it is “development”, so usually a process just like in English. Das Entwickeln makes me think of photographic film…

    This isn’t common in my experience except with regard to sports teams.

    And the government, and Labour, and the police, and corporations, and the fairly few music bands with a singular-looking name.

    You can’t see the case of “English” in English, of course, but it shows up in Latin and also in Greek (more often, indeed, in Modern Greek than Classical) in very un-English constructions like “He hit him the belly”.

    …But in this example, him is totally dative: ethical dative. Or, I guess, the Basque benefactive case.

    (See also excited waffling about “external possessor construction” and “ZOMGZ Icelandic has dative subjects”. The.ACC fuck it does.)

    “I called him stupid” is Я назвал его дураком, acc-instr

    The use of the instrumental to express identity is a Slavic specialty; I think the Pre-Slavs had been hanging around the Finnic equative for too long. (Likewise the Finnic partitive and the Slavic use of the genitive with all negations and wishes, not to mention the repurposing of two different genitive endings as genitive and partitive of a few words like… “tea”.)

  158. John Cowan says:

    If you need a point of comparison, maybe try German.

    Oh, I can do better than that. He taught the man the English language/speech is a covert double accusative because its direct ancestor He lǣrde þone mann þā Englisċan sprǣce is an overt one. The cases are marked on the articles as in German Er lehrt den Mann die englische Sprache. (Though lehren is not often used in speech and its colloquial equivalent beibringen does take the dative, and Modern English has lost the cognate verb altogether, using instead a cognate of zeigen.

    He hit him the belly … ethical dative

    I misremembered, it’s ‘breast’, and it’s Homer: min iónta bále stêthos ‘[he] hit him [in his] breast [as he] walked [by]’, where both min ,and stêthos are accusative.

  159. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ethical dative

    The admirably case-free Kusaal does this sort of thing with indirect objects (which always precede direct) all the time. Almost any verb at all can take an “ethical indirect object”:

    Li malis. “It’s sweet.”
    Li malis o. “He likes it.”

    Alaafʋ bɛɛ ba? “Are they well?” (“Does health exist for them?”)

    O dʋg nim la. “She’s cooked the meat.”
    O dʋgim nim la. “She’s cooked the meat for me.”
    O dʋgim. “She’s cooked for me.” or “She’s cooked me.” This could only be disambiguated by context …

  160. Hebrew does basically the same thing, but with a PP headed by le- “to, for”:

    Ha-yeled lo okhel li. “The kid isn’t eating for me.” = The kid isn’t eating, and their eating or not is within my sphere of responsibility or concern.

    When the construction is reflexive it has an added semantics of “acting without regard for others”, in a good or bad sense:

    Halakhti li ba-rekhov. “I was walking down the street for myself”, i.e. minding my own business
    Hu halakh lo. “He went for himself” = He went off, leaving us to do the dishes! (etc.)

  161. David Eddyshaw says:

    That reminded me that in Syriac, the corresponding preposition l- is used as a marker of direct objects as well as indirect objects, so presumably you could set up “she’s cooked me” type ambiguities in Syriac as in Kusaal. Assuming you had nothing better to do with your time …

  162. Sorry, how do you parse these again?

    Li malis. “It’s sweet.”
    Li malis o. “He likes it.”

  163. David Eddyshaw says:

    Li malis. it be.sweet
    Li malis o. it be.sweet him.

    The verb is intransitive; although there is no formal difference in Kusaal between direct and indirect objects apart from the fact that indirect always precedes direct, there are good criteria for distinguishing transitive and intransitive verbs, despite (as ever) some problem cases. Kusaal is strictly SVO (though with various syntactic resources for preposing verb complements if need be) and has nominative-accusative alignment. The translation “he likes it” is not literal (though this is the normal way of saying that in Kusaal.)

  164. the Finnic equative

    Translative?

    Minua kutsuttiin hulluksi koska unelmoin silmät auki
    They called me stupid because I daydreamed with open eyes.

  165. David Marjanović says:

    I misremembered, it’s ‘breast’, and it’s Homer: min iónta bále stêthos ‘[he] hit him [in his] breast [as he] walked [by]’, where both min ,and stêthos are accusative.

    Interesting.

    Translative?

    Quite possible – I don’t actually know what I’m talking about.

  166. A non-participial instance of agreement in number between verb and subject complement (rather than subject), from an Associated Press review by Lindsey Bahr of a movie called Boys State, as published on August 13 in my local newspaper:

    “Teenage political junkies at a leadership conference doesn’t seem like the most riveting subject matter for a documentary.”

    Why wouldn’t it be proper for me to show my age and ask, “Oh they doesn’t, doesn’t they?”

  167. Teenage political junkies at a leadership conference doesn’t seem like the most riveting subject matter for a documentary.

    Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, but the sentence as stated seems fine to me, with the meaning that what isn’t riveting is “teenage political junkies at a leadership conference.”

    By contrast, if you wrote “Teenage political junkies at a leadership conference don’t seem like the most riveting subject matter for a documentary,” you would be saying that teenage political junkies don’t seem riveting, and oh, by the way, they are at a leadership conference.

  168. Seems fine to me too, so it’s not a matter of age but of grammatical disposition.

  169. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat
    I think jm may be hearing the sentence in a Yorkshire accent…

  170. Well yes: the adverbial phrase “at a leadership conference” functions as a detachable parenthesis. Whether or not that element is in place, the sentence does indeed seem to say that teenage political junkies don’t seem riveting.

    So it’s no surprise that the review’s very next sentence is, “But the new film ‘Boys State’ proves otherwise.” That is (to spell things out), until the crucial conjunction but makes its appearance, the review is saying that this is a movie you might, on an uninformed first thought, think you’d rather not watch. It’s a standard rhetorical move. Compare, say, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,” where the but element is delayed until the penultimate line: “And yet.”

  171. @ajay: actually, notional concord (where the number of the verb follows the semantics of the subject, rather than its syntactic number) is perfectly common in British English for a range of entities, not just sports teams:

    But tonight Whitehall have dismissed the SNP’s calls referring to the new UK internal market bill.

    The drivers at Northfleet now believe that management are not interested in their health and well-being and are more interested in profits than people.

  172. John Cowan says:

    I could never pin down my go-to English syntactician (in both senses of that term) as to which formally singular nouns take plural agreement beyond this: “We use plural agreement if we think of the noun as plural.” Which of course just kicks the can down the road: which nouns are thought of as plural, and why? A sentence like “England has never been defeated [since 1066, I suppose], but England are defeated frequently” is not only bizarre to an AmE speaker on the surface, but it resists analysis. If you want to say “sports teams are an exception”, fine; but where and how did they become an exception? It must be a matter of the last three centuries or so, since cases of notional agreement in AmE are hen’s teeth.

    I once found myself writing “My family live all over the state [of Pennsylvania],” which is clearly notional because the emphasis is on their scattering from a common origin point in Philadelphia two generations ago. But saying “*My team work from all over the country” is impossible, unsayable, like violating negative agreement: “*Any Cowans don’t live in Philadelphia now”. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth trying to utter these.

    One of the signs that Martin Haspelmath is a great man is that he invites me to comment on his draft works (via Academia), apparently because I had sent him a few emails commenting on minor errors in his older papers. (From an older and more civilized age: “The error should be corrected, of course; I did correct it — in a private letter to the author, which is the proper medium for trifling corrections.”) He may also, I don’t know, be overly impressed by the fact that my Academia profile says “independent scholar” faute de mieux. Hrrmphf.

    In any case, in the comments to his most recent paper I was defending the importance of diachrony in synchronic grammar descriptions (of the scholarly rather than the pedagogical sort). In particular, the fact that Russian uses the genitive singular instead of the expected genitive plural in subject position after ‘two’, ‘three’, and ‘four’ is not just a brute fact: it’s because the noun is really the in the (otherwise extinct) nominative dual, which was extended to a paucal by a very normal and well understood semantic process. (English used to use the genitive plural with sufficiently large numbers too: “a thousand of men” has been obsolete for a long time, but “a million of dollars” was current only a century and a half ago.)

    By way of example, I said, “Nothing else [but diachrony] can explain why the plural of goose is geese, the plural of moose is moose, and the plural of noose is nooses. I knew that geese is an ancient umlaut plural of a kind unproductive even in Old English, and that noose is what normally happens to French loan nouns in English: they get the regular plural ending. (Noose forms a triplet with knot, which is native, as the kn- tells, and node almost direct from Latin nodus; the -s in noose is from the Old French nominative singular nous of Latin second-declension masculines. Just saying.)

    But it turns out the example is more apt than I thought. Why does moose, a very recent loan from Algonquian, have a zero plural? Well, because some names of fish and animals are exceptions. But the question “Why are they exceptions?” actually has a rock-crusher of an answer that ties up the whole nodus of this comment: “By analogy with fish and deer (formerly ‘animal’) which are Old English neuters and therefore regularly had zero plural!”

  173. David Marjanović says:

    Are you sure fish was neuter?

  174. According to my Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, fisc is masculine — a beautiful hypothesis slain by an ugly fact.

  175. AJP Crown says:

    England has never been defeated [since 1066, I suppose]
    Depends what side you was on.

  176. AJP Crown says:

    Chelsea always defeats Liverpool because Liverpool are all tossers. England is one of the most unreliable teams in the history of football and when you think of say George Best – in his heyday as well as theirs – it makes you wonder why they don’t field a UK team with Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland.

    OK I wouldn’t write this, but in UK speech there’s absolutely no need for agreement consistency – not by me, anyway. I suspect it’s probably the same in America, but I’m not certain.

  177. AJP Crown says:

    (George Best played for Manchester United & Northern Ireland, in case you wonder what on earth I’m on about.)

  178. As opposed to Pete Best, who played for the Beatles.

  179. AJP Crown says:

    Goodness, that never struck me before.

  180. They’re the best of the Bests.

  181. AJP Crown says:

    And ten to twenty years before Johnny Rotten.

  182. John Cowan says:

    For fish read sheep, which weakens the rhetoric a bit but still works. I am not a person to sacrifice a fact to an antithesis — on purpose.

    The Hat grins smugly at this instance of {me, my} remembering the pretty story instead of the slightly-less-pretty facts. (Gerund, participle, gerund, participle, let’s call the whole thing off, per CGEL and CGEL.)

    Chelsea always defeats Liverpool because Liverpool are all tossers.

    I’m pretty sure whoever wrote my example sentence had Cricket-England rather than Football-England in mind, but no matter.

    I suspect it’s probably the same in America, but I’m not certain.

    What you wrote unnaturally is precisely what I would naturally write in that situation (except I wouldn’t use tossers, which would only startle and confuse). In other words, there is no problem in switching from referring to the team in the singular to referring to its members in the plural. What is unsayable in AmE is narrowly this: a singular subject with a plural verb in the same clause. To me Chelsea are or The Government are is every bit as unacceptable as The dog are, weird as that may seem.

    Manchester United & Northern Ireland

    Sounds like a great name for the result of a corporate merger. When the Detroit News was talking of merging with its rival with the Detroit Free Press, the resulting paper, said the wits of Motown, would be known as the Detroit News-Free Press.

    In sober fact, the papers only signed a joint operating agreement, which allows them to share the business side of the paper (printing, advertisements, office space, marketing, legal, etc.) while maintaining reportorial and editorial independence and thus not running afoul of the (scandalously unenforced) antitrust laws. In practice, both papers are often owned by the same corporate Borg anyway, though this is not true of the News and the Freep. (In 2005, the Gannett chain sold the first and bought the second in a single transaction, though not with the same partners.)

    By the way, I suppose that if you replaced the second occurrence of Liverpool with a pronoun, it would be they? It certainly would be for me; you are referring to the members, not the team. (Though a team can certainly be an [epithet] while having many excellent players, if it isn’t gelled as a team.)

  183. AJP Crown says:

    To me Chelsea are or The Government are is every bit as unacceptable as The dog are, weird as that may seem.

    Wow, I was oblivious to that when I lived in NY. It must have sounded most peculiar.

    the Detroit News-Free Press.
    Haha. My first wife’s from Detroit and I remember the Free Press, not so much the News. It’s a great city, imo.

    “because they’re all tossers” yes, or “it’s a bunch of tossers”. That part has to agree.

  184. @John Cowan: I find, “My team work from all over the country,” almost as acceptable as, “My family live all over the state.” I would, myself, almost certainly use a singular verb in either case, but neither plural agreement really bothers me. I think, for me, plural agreement is acceptable in most cases in which a nominally singular referent basically just a group: a category of membership with no additional unitary superstructure. So flock, crowd, band can be construed as plural, but not government, corporation, society. (Of course, government in Britain also has a somewhat different primary meaning, which pushes plural construction with the British sense a tiny bit closer to acceptability than with the American sense.)

  185. David Marjanović says:

    the Detroit News-Free Press

    😀
    В Известиях нет правды, а в Правде нет известий!

    government in Britain also has a somewhat different primary meaning

    Specifically, it translates to AmE administration – little more than the cabinet.

  186. We discussed that back in 2012, starting here.

  187. John Cowan says:

    AJP: Yeah, the Freep wins all the awards and gets almost twice the circulation.

    Brett: I grant that a team or band is not like a corporation, but it has more structure than a flock or crowd: at the very least a leader and often functionally divided sections. Still, none of that affects my aversion to “The band are really with it tonight”, though again I have no problem with “they could use a new drummer, though”.

  188. @John Cowan: Certainly, a band is not entirely free of structure. There is a gradation between group and college, with the line for where plural agreement becomes allowed drawn somewhere in between. You draw the line all the way to one side, whereas in my idiolect, it is much closer to the center, with band falling on the group side. I briefly wondered whether I think of band as more compositional since I have never played in one, nor been a particular fan of any. However, I feel the same way about orchestra, and I have been in several orchestras. On the other hand, some other ensemble terms—quartet (etc.), camerata, and ensemble itself—have to be singular.

  189. AJP Crown says:

    What about a band’s name? You surely couldn’t say “the Rolling Stones is really with it tonight” or “the Monkees was slightly naff”? But is there a rule based on sing. or pl. names? No. You might say “the Grateful Dead is really with it this evening” even though there’s more than one implied dead person. “The Beatles was overrated”? I think not. The Supremes and the Sex Pistols are usually plural but not always (“The Supremes was one of the all-time great acts of modern pop music.”), the Clash is both. I see no rule here at all but there must be one if I have an intuitive feeling for what’s right & wrong.

  190. But is there a rule based on sing. or pl. names?

    Basically, yes. The Beatles were, the Stones were, the Who was, the Clash was.

    the Clash is both

    Not in these United States.

  191. “The Grateful Dead” takes plural agreement, interpreting “Dead” as a mass noun. This was not the band’s intention; they took the singular term “grateful dead” from the name for a kind of benevolent ghost. However, they must have benefited from a lot of people in the late 1960s thinking that the name was some kind of ironic statement about the Vietnam War.

  192. John Cowan says:

    Yes, nobody claims that a plural subject would take singular agreement. News was historically an exception, where “What are the news?” actually meant “What are the new things?” rather than “What’s new?” But that’s long dead, gratefully or not.

    “The Supremes was one of the all-time great acts of modern pop music.”

    Weird.

    As for the Grateful Dead (the band not the album), googling for “the grateful dead” pops up as many singulars as plurals, at least to start with. The WP article for one starts out with “The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California”, but at the other end of the first paragraph we get “The Grateful Dead have sold more than 35 million albums worldwide.” Now given the texture of WP, it’s certainly possible that that is a national difference of some sort, but it’s strange either way.

  193. We discussed the grammar of the Grateful Dead in this thread a couple years back.

  194. AJP Crown says:

    Dead Grateful would have worked for both s.& p.

  195. AJP Crown says:

    Weird.
    It’s the act that’s singular not the Supremes.

    By the way, with Supremes, was there a double meaning of Supreme Court justiices in the 1960s as there is nowadays?

  196. AJP Crown says:

    Thanks for the link, TR. Almost like a parallel universe it’s a group of people discussing the exact same obscure point.

  197. January First-of-May says:

    In particular, the fact that Russian uses the genitive singular instead of the expected genitive plural in subject position after ‘two’, ‘three’, and ‘four’ is not just a brute fact: it’s because the noun is really the in the (otherwise extinct) nominative dual, which was extended to a paucal by a very normal and well understood semantic process.

    To be fair, it’s not entirely a fact either: часа “hour(s)” has initial stress if it’s the genitive and final stress if it’s the paucal.

    (I don’t think it’s the only such exception, but offhand I can’t think of any others.)

  198. @John Cowan:

    What is unsayable in AmE is narrowly this: a singular subject with a plural verb in the same clause. To me Chelsea are or The Government are is every bit as unacceptable as The dog are, weird as that may seem.

    It took me a while to get used to it, but after a few years among Brits it’s become unremarkable.

    What is remarkable is that I’ve only now realised this happens in my native Spanish too: el Gobierno son todos. I suspect this gets massaged into a more standard form in, e.g., journalistic quotations by adding an initial en, but even a quick search has found plenty of examples.

  199. the Who was, the Clash was

    Both „were“, in my United States, old man ;).

    And Spotify agrees with me: “ The Clash were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November 2002…”

  200. Huh! America is a land of contrasts…

  201. I don’t think it’s the only such exception, but offhand I can’t think of any others.

    Yup, ряд, шаг, and шар work the same way. (I’d love to know the reason!)

  202. AJP Crown says:

    Like I said, then. The Clash is both (or do I mean ‘either’?).

    Key figures of the British Invasion, the mid-’60s mod movement, and ’70s arena rock, the Who were an undeniably powerful sonic force.
    So the Who could be either s. or p. too (that quotation seems to be American). Note that in Britain unless it’s nominative, the music press style has always been to refer to them (or it) as the Whom.

  203. Ha!

  204. David Marjanović says:

    el Gobierno son todos

    That’s just agreement with the other side – obligatory in German. Number: die Regierung sind alle*; person: ich bin es “it’s me”.

    * Unidiomatic, would be sind wir alle – first person, but still plural.

  205. @DM: that would be very much the case if the phrase had been el Gobierno somos todos, or even el Gobierno son todos ustedes. (I have not stopped to think or read about this carefully, but my gut feeling is that things are different when a first or second person pronoun with its own intrinsic number is involved, even implicitly.)

    But you can find cases with other verbs that preclude that reading: “el gobierno hacen”. I don’t think I’d say something like this in careful speech, but neither would I asterisk it; to me it sounds like the kind of vernacular that rarely gets acknowledged by syntacticians.

  206. David Marjanović says:

    el gobierno hacen

    Ah.

  207. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat
    Unfortunately a. Pereltsvaig does not address this precisely. Normally the old russian dual endings (and stress pattern?) were replaced by the genitive ones in a long drawn out process but there were some fossils. I think the doublet chaja/chaju may be a similar thing. I could not find anyone who identified a common environment explaining why these forms should not be flattened to genitive. Maybe Hans knows?

  208. John Cowan says:

    (I’d love to know the reason!)

    Well, go look at your dictionaries of Slovene or OCS and see if there is a similar stress shift in the duals of these words. You owe it to the world.

  209. Alas, my dictionaries of Slovene and OCS don’t provide such details.

  210. In any case, that wouldn’t be a reason, just proof of antiquity.

  211. January First-of-May says:

    Yup, ряд, шаг, and шар work the same way.

    I could go either way for those (particularly for шаг), while something like *три чАса is entirely impossible. I suspect the forms with час had fossilized because they’re so extremely common, while the others are relatively rare.

    Results of LJ-based survey on this subject. TL/DR: it’s not just me.

    I think the doublet chaja/chaju may be a similar thing.

    That’s the partitive, which is much better preserved (multiple other words with similar doublet forms).

  212. I could not find anyone who identified a common environment explaining why these forms should not be flattened to genitive. Maybe Hans knows?
    I am flattered by your confidence in me, but I must admit that I don’t even understand what exactly your question is.

  213. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hans
    The question is, why do chas, rjad, shag and shar have a separate genitive and paucal (i.e., after dva, tri, chetire) form? The endings are identical but the stress is different. The explanation i saw was preservation of an old Russian dual, but why for just these words?

  214. David Marjanović says:

    why for just these words?

    There’s probably random chance involved. My dialect preserves the simple past “was” and “wanted”; “was” is extremely common and suppletive, but “wanted” is less common and entirely regular, so it’s a mystery why it was preserved (when e.g. “had” is gone without a trace, likewise “did”, “made”, “gave”, “took”, “came”, “went”).

    I wonder if stress irregularities are more easily preserved in the inflection of monosyllabic words (час, ряд, шаг, шар) because it’s harder to see if they’re inherently accented…

  215. @Paddy: got you now. I can’t say more than DM, except that chas, shag and ryad are frequently used with numbers, which probably contributed to maintain the difference. I don’t see that explanation working for shar, though.

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