Magisterial.

I’m editing a book on European history that mentions “magisterial reformers” in its section on the Reformation; I suspected this was a specialized sense, and sure enough there’s a Wikipedia article on the Magisterial Reformation:

The Magisterial Reformation is a phrase that “draws attention to the manner in which the Lutheran and Calvinist reformers related to secular authorities, such as princes, magistrates, or city councils”, i.e. “the magistracy”. While the Radical Reformation rejected any secular authority over the Church, the Magisterial Reformation argued for the interdependence of the church and secular authorities, i.e. “The magistrate had a right to authority within the church, just as the church could rely on the authority of the magistrate to enforce discipline, suppress heresy, or maintain order.”

What drives me to post is the shocking discovery that the OED ignores this sense; under “magisterial, n. and adj.” (entry updated March 2000) we get (I’ve included a few piquant citations):

1. Of, relating to, designating, or befitting a master, teacher, or other person qualified to speak with authority; masterly, authoritative, commanding. Also (occasionally) of a person: pedantic, arrogant, or dictatorial. Of an artistic work, performance, etc.: masterly, imposing.
[…]
1988 B. Chatwin Utz 34 The fruit of these researches..had culminated in his magisterial paper ‘The Mammoth and His Parasites’.
[…]
†2. Of, relating to, or displaying the skill of a master artist; (also) having the qualifications of a master. Obsolete.
[…]
3. Of, relating to, or befitting a magistrate or magistrates. Of a person: holding the office of a magistrate. Of an inquiry: conducted by a magistrate or magistrates.
[…]
1847 L. H. Kerr tr. L. von Ranke Hist. Servia 115 In the villages, Subasches appeared as executors of the judicial and magisterial power.
[…]
1957 Encycl. Brit. IV. 430/2 In the villages, the thugyis or headmen, chosen by the villagers and approved by the government, have limited magisterial powers and collect the revenue.
[…]
†4. Alchemy and Medicine. Relating to a magistery; (also) = magistral adj 2. [Of a remedy: compounded according to a physician’s own formula; not included in the pharmacopoeia]. Obsolete.
[…]
1722 J. Quincy Lexicon Physico-medicum (ed. 2) Magisterial Remedy, is yet sometimes retained in the Cant of Empiricks, more for its great Sound than any Significancy.

But nothing that would enable you to decipher a sentence about magisterial reformers rebelling against the Catholic Church. If you can’t go to the OED for obscure senses, where can you go? (Yes, yes, the internet, I know, but my point stands.)

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    Erastianism!

    (Erastus, of course, was not an Erastian, and taught no such doctrine. That’s just the name of the shop.)

  2. Thomas Erastus wrote 100 theses, so he’s five ahead of Luther and wins the competition.

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    Indeed.

  4. AJP Crown says:

    Maybe Magisterial Reformation is a recent term. The citations are only from about 2000. The talk section is interesting, btw.

    1988 B. Chatwin Utz 34 The fruit of these researches..had culminated in his magisterial paper ‘The Mammoth and His Parasites’.

    When he left school, Bruce Chatwin, wearing a long green apron went to work at Sotheby’s where he moved things in baroque gilt frames, on trolleys and up ramps. So did a nondescript boy in my year at school who later became a pretty well-known auctioneer, expert in and valuer of Russian art, dressed like (among others) Batman. It sounds a bit like the mailroom at the William Morris Agency. In retrospect, I wish I’d gone to work at Sotheby’s.

  5. J.W. Brewer says:

    It’s not a 21st century phrase – I know it was around in my own long-gone student days. Some quick googling suggests that it was coined or at least popularized in various works published in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s by the historian George Huntston Williams (1914-2000), and eventually became standard jargon in the field — standardly contrasted with the “Radical Reformation” of the Anabaptists and whatnot who tended to get along less well with the status quo secular authorities. But it’s sort of a fixed phrase with a sort of oddly-twisted variant use of the OED’s sense 3. If it isn’t used outside the specific fixed phrase I wouldn’t necessarily expect the OED to cover it.

  6. Maybe Magisterial Reformation is a recent term. The citations are only from about 2000.

    Ah, that would make sense. Consider this a flare alerting the OED to the new sense, then.

  7. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    Echoing AJP Crown, I wonder who created this specialized usage and when, and what the threshold should be at which specialized usage deserves admission into the OED.

    “Magisterial Reformation” seems to be a coinage that tries to play on meanings 1 and 3 at once. It may also belong to a set of specialized users with an active taste for slightly esoteric highfalutin terminology. After all, Wikipedia devotes to it a mere stub article and gives it two capital letters.

    The Encyclopedia Britannica, in the entry for “The Protestant Heritage” and specifically in its section on “The Minor Reformers,” writes the following.

    No single term adequately covers the Lutheran-Calvinist-Anglican complex, though magisterial, establishment, mainline, conservative, and classical have frequently been applied to these movements.

    As the article continues, it speaks of

    the conservative Reformation … mainline Protestantism … mainstream Protestants … mainline Protestantism … established Protestant churches … the more established Protestant circles. The mainstream Reformers … the mainstream Protestants … the mainstream Reformers

    Never again does it feel the need to bring out “magisterial” to express the same concept.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    dressed like (among others) Batman

    “Always be yourself.

    Unless you can be Batman.

    Then

    Always be Batman.”

  9. the Lutheran-Calvinist-Anglican complex

    That must cover a lot of ground. Free-floating anxiety, immense self-regard masquerading as humility, near-phobic wariness of anything resembling good fortune, etc.

  10. @David L: Hence, “No single term adequately covers….”

  11. If recent, it seems an infelicitously confusion-prone coinage. Especially given the context of the Reformation, why choose a word that sounds like it relates to the Catholic doctrinal magisterium that was also being equally hotly contested then, along with real-world power relations?

    I’m not knowledgeable about the use of “magisterium” in the theological sense during the Reformation era, but I can’t be the only one who would immediately assume it pointed in that direction today.

  12. David Eddyshaw says:

    the Lutheran-Calvinist-Anglican complex

    That must cover a lot of ground. Free-floating anxiety, immense self-regard masquerading as humility, near-phobic wariness of anything resembling good fortune, etc.

    But what about the Lutherans and the Anglicans?

  13. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    (Erastus, of course, was not an Erastian, and taught no such doctrine. That’s just the name of the shop.)

    No more than Lamarck was a Lamarckian. Darwin in his later work was at least as Lamarckian as Lamarck. As that’s a bit embarrassing for Darwin admirers, they usually refer to the 1st edition of The Origin of Species rather than the later ones. Is that a unique example? Are there any other books for which later editions are often passed over in silence?

    ======

    Steven Jay Gould referred to Non-Overlapping Magisteria, by which he appears to have meant that scientists should not get their knickers in a twist over the things that theologians write (and vice versa). More important for the present discussion, however, it’s not obvious to me that Gould’s Magisteria fit clearly into any of the definitions of magisterial above. Personally I think Gould’s view was a cop-out: if you think something is nonsense you shouldn’t just accept it.

  14. Are there any other books for which later editions are often passed over in silence?

    Russians have ignored the third (and by far the best) edition of Dahl’s dictionary ever since the Bolshevik Revolution, because it contained naughty words (Baudouin de Courtenay, the editor and an actual linguist, insisted on including them); the Soviets reprinted only the pre-revolutionary edition, and to this day that’s what Russians think of as “Dahl.” Fortunately, I was able to get a 1998 reprint of the 3rd ed. when I visited the Rockville Victor Kamkin (see this post).

  15. Personally I think Gould’s view was a cop-out: if you think something is nonsense you shouldn’t just accept it.

    The problem is that scientists generally don’t know enough about religion to have an opinion worth sharing.

  16. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Fortunately, I was able to get a 1998 reprint of the 3rd ed. when I visited the Rockville Victor Kamkin (see this post).

    I have just seen that post (I don’t remember seeing it before, but probably I wasn’t a Hatter in 2006), and felt like weeping.

  17. @Athel Cornish-Bowden: My copy of On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection is actually a facsimile of the last edition Darwin worked on in his lifetime. So unlike my behavioral psychology professor (the usually great Alan Hein), who was frequently critical of Darwin’s turn toward Lamarckianism, I have actually read what Darwin had to say about the topic. In fact, in the prefatory material, he is absolutely clear about why he has added a discussion of use and disuse: because someone had published the results of an experiment that purported to show Lamarckian evolution in action. In fact, he is a bit snide about the whole matter (to the extent that Darwin’s writing can ever sound snide), and by the end of the book, I was uncertain whether Darwin merely believed, as he stated, that natural selection was just much more important, or whether he thought the experimental claims were just wrong and would eventually be overturned (as, of course, they were).

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    Personally I think Gould’s view was a cop-out: if you think something is nonsense you shouldn’t just accept it.

    I agree: and in fact Gould’s view implies a view of religion that has no interaction in principle with the world of empirical enquiry: religion as a personal happiness technique, in fact. With friends like that …

    If believers can’t cope with people telling them that their views are nonsense they should probably just stay in bed.
    Moreover, Deorum iniuriae dis curae.

    Hat is also correct, mind …

  19. Richard Hershberger says:

    “Are there any other books for which later editions are often passed over in silence?”

    The Baseball Encyclopedia, a/k/a the Big Mac. The first edition, from 1969, was groundbreaking. Part of this was that they went back and sifted through the records to correct errors. Some of these corrections turned out to be ideologically unacceptable. Certain numbers had been memorized in childhood and were inviolate. So later editions quietly miscorrected these numbers. Of course this only applied to famous players. People had strong opinions on Ty Cobb’s and Babe Ruth’s numbers, but not about the vast swarm of lesser players. My understanding is that Total Baseball, a successor to The Baseball Encyclopedia, had not truck with this nonsense. And nowadays we go to baseball-reference or retrosheet for this kind of stuff.

  20. Richard Hershberger says:

    FWIW, as a Lutheran and a history geek, “magisterial reformers” is a perfectly familiar term.

  21. The Baseball Encyclopedia

    I should have thought of that; I have a prized copy of the first edition sitting on my shelves.

    FWIW, as a Lutheran and a history geek, “magisterial reformers” is a perfectly familiar term.

    Good to know! So would you say it goes back before 2000?

  22. Richard Hershberger says:

    And on the topic of senses absent from the OED, I had a back and forth some years back, I think with Jesse Sheidlower, on an obsolete sense of “wicket” missing from the OED. It is weakly attested, mostly in America, as an early synonym for cricket, and very well attested in the 19th century as a non-standard form of cricket that survived in America, especially the Connecticut River valley, and was played into the early 20th century. Jesse concluded this was too obscure to rate. feh.

  23. Richard Hershberger says:

    “So would you say it goes back before 2000?”

    Without a doubt. Google Books shows it to 1959, just going from snippet views. One of the snippets ascribes the term to George Williams, presumably this guy, who lived 1914-2000: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Huntston_Williams

  24. Thanks! Should definitely be in the OED, then.

  25. Trond Engen says:

    Isn’t this an extension of the OED’s sense 3?

    Of, relating to, or befitting a magistrate or magistrates. Of a person: holding the office of a magistrate. Of an inquiry: conducted by a magistrate or magistrates.

    “Magisterial reformation” is a reformation executed by magistrates or by the power of a magistrate. This is within sense 3. Magistrates or a magistrate promoting reformation are magisterial reformers. This is also within sense 3. Theologers arguing for magisterial reformation are magisterial reformers. This is an extension.

  26. J.W. Brewer says:

    As I noted in a prior comment, it seems a somewhat weird-to-bass-ackwards variant of sense 3. I wonder upon further reflection if Williams originally meant it somewhat pejoratively, as his sympathies may well have been with the other side in the 16th-century division he was seeking to describe. (Cf. the way “Constantinian” is often meant pejoratively by those who think the way in which the relationship between Church and Empire changed in the 4th century to have been a Bad Thing.) Which would make it ironic that the obscurity/opacity of his chosen phrase meant that it was not taken pejoratively by the modern successors of those so described and Lutherans et al. were happy to adopt it as a scholarly description of their own side in the historical conflict, perhaps subconsciously glossing it as meaning more or less “masterful” rather than as “engaging in dubious tactical alliances with sketchy secular rulers.” Of course “radical,” which is the term Williams contrasted it with, can be a term of pejorative condemnation in one fellow’s mouth yet a term of approbation and praise in another’s mouth, even if they are both applying it to the same thing.

  27. John Cowan says:

    As that’s a bit embarrassing for Darwin admirers, they usually refer to the 1st edition of The Origin of Species rather than the later ones.

    One problem with the 1859 edition is Darwin’s idea that sort-of whales might have evoived from bears:

    In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.

    This is not the same as saying that whales-as-we-know-them evolved from bears, but it aroused so much openly expressed mockery that Darwin removed it from the 2e of 1860.

    In addition, the 1e expresses many of Darwin’s ideas, good and bad, more forcibly and less hedged, which is a Good Thing in a work of public polemic, though not so much in a scientific monograph. I myself have copies of both the 1e and the 6e, the one Brett mentioned, and there is an online variorum of all six editions.

    I think of Gould’s NOMA as closely related to the NOMA of history and literature: Gibbon is obsolete as history but remains one of the monuments of the English language (“With a tiny bit of cribbin’ from the works of Edward Gibbon and that Greek Thucydides” –Asimov on how he wrote the Foundation series), whereas most histories are dry as dust.

  28. Stu Clayton says:

    Of course “radical,” which is the term Williams contrasted it with, can be a term of pejorative condemnation in one fellow’s mouth yet a term of approbation and praise in another’s mouth, even if they are both applying it to the same thing.

    Like “You bastard!”

  29. January First-of-May says:

    This is not the same as saying that whales-as-we-know-them evolved from bears, but it aroused so much openly expressed mockery that Darwin removed it from the 2e of 1860.

    Of course now it’s known that seals are closely-ish related to bears, while the closest relatives of whales-as-we-know-them (aside from dolphins and the like) are hippos and cows – a lineage that Darwin would probably never have considered at all, even if he saw it proposed somewhere.
    (…Though now that I think of it, hippos do look a lot like what you’d expect Darwin’s theoretical aquatic bear to look like – in the early stages, anyway.)

    As an entirely unrelated side note: your list of posted-on LH threads had yet again been shortened to five entries. What’s going on (again), and is this going to be a regular occurrence later?

  30. Trond Engen says:

    Ninjaed by 22 hours.

    The Ox’ is slow but the earth is patient.

    I had the pleasure yesterday of being asked by my Afghan colleague to explain the difference between the various Christian congregations he’d observed.

  31. Stu Clayton says:

    DE: Gould’s view implies a view of religion that has no interaction in principle with the world of empirical enquiry: religion as a personal happiness technique, in fact. With friends like that …

    JC: I think of Gould’s NOMA as closely related to the NOMA of history and literature: Gibbon is obsolete as history but remains one of the monuments of the English language

    David, JC’s comparison suggests the idea that religion is merely obsolete. It might once have had interaction with the world of empirical enquiry, but no more. So religious belief is not now available as a personal happiness technique, but only as a batteryless vibrator in a museum display case.

    Weren’t there a number of well-meaning “thinkers” in the early 20C who proposed restoring the batteries ? Harking back to credo quia absurdum, filling the void with bright balloons. Even as a non-believer, I’ve always held that to be a seriously ill-advised line of argument.

  32. David Eddyshaw says:

    Weren’t there a number of well-meaning “thinkers” in the early 20C who proposed restoring the batteries

    Well, yes: and I’d promote them out of inverted commas, too, though I disagree with their position (as stray comments of mine here and there may have led you to hypothesize.) Bultmann and his ilk were not stupid: indeed I find a kind of eldritch beauty in their schemes, as I do in other so-beautiful-it-must-be-true things I disbelieve in, like the Tractatus and De Rerum Natura (though, OK, Lucretius’ poetry is beautiful – sometimes – but you know what I mean. Or not. As the case may be. The Joy of Atoms.)

    [Not in Universal Grammar, though. There are limits.]

  33. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re the well-meaning battery restorationists, some alleged prophet hath given us instruction as (in pertinent part) follows:

    Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
    Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
    Nor with compliance
    Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
    With statisticians nor commit
    A social science.

    Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
    With guys in advertising firms,
    Nor speak with such
    As read the Bible for its prose,

    etc etc.

  34. Stu Clayton says:

    I am reassured. Yes, I suppose I had such as Bultmann in mind. I have read little in these matters, but widely, and understood only a fraction – which is not surprising, now I think about it.

    I put goose feet (not inverted commas!) around “thinkers” not to impugn intelligence, but to signal uncertainty about what thinking is. It might have been clearer to have written “think”ers. I have ventured so far into Advanced Thinking that I’m no longer sure of anything.

    I am in a kind of Buddha state, but with unimpaired volubility. Much like a group of American tourists in a Buddhist shrine.

  35. David Eddyshaw says:

    I should have said “inverted karmas.” Apologies for any confusion.

    @JWB:

    Ah, the Hermetic Decalogue. Yes indeed.

  36. Stu Clayton says:

    I had never read that before. It gave me a late-night laff here in ole Cologne.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    Darwin in his later work was at least as Lamarckian as Lamarck. As that’s a bit embarrassing for Darwin admirers, they usually refer to the 1st edition of The Origin of Species rather than the later ones.

    Huh. I thought he was always Lamarckian. From when is his theory of heredity? (It’s so Lamarckian it would make natural selection impossible.)

    The only reason I’ve encountered for preferring the 1st ed. is that in later ones Darwin caved to public sentiment and inserted “by the Creator” in the poetic last sentence (which mentions the origin of life).

    Are there any other books for which later editions are often passed over in silence?

    Zoological nomenclature starts with the 10 ed. (1758) of Caroli Linnæi [long list of titles and memberships] systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (…except it really starts with Aranei Svecici | Svenska Spindlar [1757], but only spiders are named in that book). Both earlier and later editions (there are 13 by Linnaeus, and at least a 14th by Gmelin) are cited much, much less often. Back in 1843, zoological nomenclature actually began with the 13th. The 10th is the first that is consistently binominal, i.e. has a single-word “trivial name” for every species.

    The problem is that scientists generally don’t know enough about religion to have an opinion worth sharing.

    Let alone vice versa, which may have been Gould’s point: let everyone stick to their own specialties, and justify this by claiming that these specialties can never overlap.

    (Compare Opinion 04: “Noam Chomsky should stick to politics, Roger Penrose should stick to interior decorating, and Andrew Lloyd Webber should stick to the ceiling if hurled aloft with sufficient force.”)

    Gould’s view implies a view of religion that has no interaction in principle with the world of empirical enquiry:

    Exactly.

    religion as a personal happiness technique, in fact.

    Well, the optimistic and probably intended interpretation is that religion might be able to provide answers where science cannot tread, i.e. to Last Questions and stuff. I’m not sure that’s really different, though.

    One problem with the 1859 edition is Darwin’s idea that sort-of whales might have evoived from bears:

    It’s an analogy (and for the time a perfectly reasonable one): “whales might have evolved from land mammals in something like this way”.

    Of course now it’s known that seals are closely-ish related to bears

    Less closely, though, than skunks, red pandas, raccoons and weasels. But more closely than dogs.

  38. @David Marjanović: I don’t understand your first paragraph there (after the block quote) at all.

  39. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm, brett
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangenesis
    First published by Darwin 1868.

  40. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Otters are essentially noncommital seals, innit?

    (The musteloids split from the pinnipeds some ways back (50My), but you see what I mean).

  41. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Huh. I thought he was always Lamarckian. From when is his theory of heredity? (It’s so Lamarckian it would make natural selection impossible.

    When people use “Lamarckian” as a dirty word they’re thinking of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    Otters are essentially noncommital seals, innit?

    Functionally, maybe. But they’re mustelids, like weasels, martens, ferrets and the like.

    When people use “Lamarckian” as a dirty word they’re thinking of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

    Yes, and pangenesis quite explicitly includes that.

    (I’m not sure if I ever knew its name, and I definitely didn’t know it’s 10 years younger than the 1st ed. of the Origin. I thought it had to be older.)

  43. Lars Mathiesen says:

    But … — as I wrote, more or less. Did you look at Puijila? (Inuit word, adjust pronunciation to fit).

  44. @J. W. Brewer: That Auden quotation appeared in the preface of my undergraduate sociology textbook (ca. 1967) as support for the idea that the humanities were the enemy of Progress. The passage was framed in the smug, snide tone that a lot of the sociology I was forced to read in those days was couched in. It gave me a prejudice against the social sciences that I’ve never quite shed.

  45. Lars Mathiesen says:

    essentially — of course I used this in the Cowan sense, so it meant ‘by similevel sim.

  46. David Marjanović says:

    Did you look at Puijila?

    Yes, I read the paper when it came out 🙂

  47. John Cowan says:

    JC’s comparison suggests the idea that religion is merely obsolete.

    If so, quite accidentally because I happened to choose Gibbon. But Harry Turtledove’s alternate-historical novels are in the magisterium of literature, his dissertation is in the magisterium of history, and his historical novel is in the overlap. There are of course some such overlaps between religion and science, though they are hard to find in the mass of tendentious conflict and equally tendentious “reconciliation”. But the Quran does say that iron falls from the sky, and so have astronomers ithese last few centuries.

  48. David Eddyshaw says:

    equally tendentious “reconciliation”

    Preach it, brother!

  49. Allan from Iowa says:

    You call it Constantinian if you think it was a bad thing and you are a magisterial reformer.

    If you think it was a bad thing and you are a radical reformer, you call it The Fall of the Church.

  50. innit

    ‘Innit’ still means ‘isn’t it’ for me.

    Just as dun-ny means ‘doesn’t he’.

  51. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Otters are essentially noncommital seals, innit?

    “Innit?” seems to be on its way to becoming the all-purpose tag question, driving out the 60 or so hitherto in use in standard language, which have to match the preceding assertion in number and tense, with negative after a positive statement, and vice versa: “Otters are essentially noncommittal seals, aren’t they?”

    In South Africa I noticed that Afrikaners speaking English already use “Isn’t it?” as an all-purpose tag question.

    The French “n’est-ce pas ?” and Spanish “¿no?” (or “¿no es cierto?”) work like that.

    I thought “dunny” was Australian for an outside toilet, but maybe the hyphen makes all the difference.

  52. AJP Crown says:

    “Innit?” seems to be on its way to becoming the all-purpose tag question

    The point of the current usage (at least in England) is that it’s a tag question that isn’t phrased as a question, and that it’s slightly off grammatically. Something like:

    “Where did you find those books?”
    “I borrowed them from the library, innit.”

    or Lars’s Otters are essentially noncommital seals, innit? although I’m not sure about the question mark.

    There’s a paradox here too. The people who have an ear for it (always use it correctly in this way) are often uneducated and or from nonwhite ethnic groups i.e. exactly the ones who usually get beaten up for making grammatical errors, while the pedants who normally do the beating up – “Dear Sir, I was shocked to see two split infinitives…” – don’t seem to be able to get the usage right, only the jokey spelling (something like: “It’s by the door, innit?”)

  53. Stu Clayton says:

    Harsh but on the nose.

  54. David Marjanović says:

    ‘Innit’ still means ‘isn’t it’ for me.

    I think that’s still the case, but it has been reinterpreted as “isn’t it so”, “isn’t that the case”.

    “I borrowed them from the library, innit.”

    I’ve already told the ever-so-slightly dubious story about the young woman who got a cabinet delivered to Heathrow because she phoned a taxi company and kept saying “I want a cab, innit.”

  55. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Innit” seems to have some similarities with West African pidgin/creole o, which is clausal focus particle (among other things):

    Na di pikin dat o.
    “Mind you, this is the child.”

    (Stolen from Kofi Yakpo’s Pichi grammar, p460)

  56. Discussion of “innit” here in 2004 and 2007.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Like Mandarin a, then.

  58. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I see that in 2007 Michael Prytz said that “is it?” was the universal tag question in South Africa, not “isn’t it?” as I said. I think he was right.

  59. The late René Wellek always used “Isn’t it?” as an all-purpose translation of Nicht wahr?, at least in his lectures at Indiana University ca. 1972. I never thought before about his possibly having a model in any form of English, though I’m familiar with “innit” from much later.

  60. The universal tag question in Yiddish is famously, “nu?” and, like some other examples, it does not really need to indicate a question (or even a rhetorical one).

    We used to have “Judaism Jeopardy” nights at my synagogue. I once quipped that to give your answer I the form of a question, all one needed to do was add “nu?” at the end.

  61. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I was using it wrong, innit.

    I did think of it as a question tag allowing contradictions, but not inviting them (like aren’t they? would have). Now I think of it as equivalent to the tag surely — “you could disagree, but it would be very disagreeable of you.”

  62. David Eddyshaw says:

    Many West African languages (including local Englishes) often make yes/no questions just by adding a word for “or” after a statement.

    Ka ji ko? (Hausa)
    Fʋ wʋm ya koo? (Kusaal)
    You understand or?

  63. David Marjanović says:

    Czy rozumiesz?

  64. AJP Crown says:

    So Martin Amis had that Innit in 1989 in London Fields. I knew a girl in 1970 who had grown up in Cardiff who used to say “, inni?” in a jokey way for “, isn’t it?”.

    yes/no questions just by adding a word for “or” after a statement
    As you could in German too, David M, oder? Or in Scandinavia, eller?
    I see there’s a berlinisch: “Schönes Wetter heute, wa?” “Draußen, wa?” (as in “nicht wahr?”, I suppose.) And bairisch: “ge?”

  65. OED (Draft additions July 2009):

    British and Welsh English. As a tag question following declarative statements, inviting agreement, approval, etc. (equivalent to ‘aren’t you’, ‘isn’t he’, ‘wasn’t I’, etc.). Also in weakened use, as a filler. Cf. be v. Phrases 2f(b).
    Frequently associated with the speech of young British Asians.

    1973 J. G. Wolff Lang., Brain & Hearing iii. 39 Many Welsh people..say and accept as correct, such expressions as..‘Shall we go out, is it?’, or even: ‘Like you know innit see, me mother, see, do always like tell me to do the washing up, innit see?’
    1986 R. Hewitt White Talk Black Talk ii. 76 That was years ago, innit, when Black Power was out an’ everybody was standin’ up for their rights.
    1991 H. Kureishi London kills Me 8 I like fresh air, innit.
    1992 R. Graef Living Dangerously iv. 117 I’ve just got to get off my arse one day innit?
    2001 B. Rai (Un)arranged Marriage xxix. 231 ‘Chill out, bredren, innit,’ he said in a high-pitched voice.
    2003 Smash Hits! 12 Nov. 48/1 I definitely wouldn’t snog her—she’s a mum, innit?

  66. Berlinerisch wa is more likely from wat (Standard German was) “what”, which can also be used as tag in German (mostly when expecting agreement or confirmation). The clipped form for nicht wahr in Berlinerisch is nicha – or at least was acoding to Tucholsky, a century ago, so who knows whether that’s still the case.

  67. David Marjanović says:

    As you could in German too, David M, oder?

    This differs strongly from English question tags in that it’s only used if you actually want an answer (however rhetorical).

    bairisch: “ge?”

    Well, there’s the one that is canonically written gell, but not pronounced accordingly (it’s /gɒɪ̯/ as if spelled *gal(l), sometimes /gɒɪ̯t͡s/ when several people are addressed; in Vienna /gɶ/ as if spelled *geu(l)… or perhaps geil, which is something else), and it means “right?” – it asks for an affirmative answer. (Oder? does not come with expectations which way the answer will go.)

    There is a particle /gɛ/, but it’s a dismissive reaction to a question or to an obviously false assertion. It’s short for a longer form that sometimes occurs, geh weiter “keep walking”, implying “go away and take this nonsense with you”.

  68. David Marjanović says:

    nicha

    Never encountered it so far, but no guarantees.

  69. It occurs to me that “what?” is a tag traditionally associated with very posh British speech. I don’t know if it is still current, or how it functioned pragmatically, since I’ve encountered it mostly in parodies.

  70. David Marjanović says:

    I was once told Happy travels, wot! in writing.

    …by a Lebanese, so I wondered if he was actually translating the tag use of quoi.

  71. I was using it wrong, innit.

    I don’t think I would dare use it after reading what AJP wrote above. I’m sure I’d get it wrong 90% of the time.

  72. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I am happy to knowingly commit solecisms against the English language at any time. It feels like it deserves it for intruding so rabidly on the native vocabulary of other languages.

  73. Stu Clayton says:

    That’s the spirit ! However, it’s not the language that intrudes, but the non-English-speaking foreigners who extrude. They should be punished to the full extent of the yet-to-be-promulgated law. As in 18C England (I recall reading once) not pirates were subject to punishment, but those who bought goods off them. At least not subject to punishment by the same laws.

    If the example of the Académie Francaise is any indication, that won’t be very effective. But a lot of people will find employment as enforcement officers, thus reducing the pressure on welfare budgets.

  74. Lars Mathiesen says:

    It’s the running dog of the prevailing linguistic hegemony, never mind who the hegemonic acts are perpetrated by, and as such deserves what’s coming to it.

    Innit.

    Exit, brandishing cane and muttering “first … wall … comes”

  75. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Also: receiving stolen goods is still a felony most places, I think.

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