Persian Language Education in Colonial India.

I’ve posted about the spread of Persian as a lingua franca before (2013, 2018), and Amanda Lanzillo has a very interesting essay at Ajam Media Collective about an aspect of its history in India I wasn’t aware of:

In the standard narrative of the decline of Persian in India, as the Mughal Empire and its successor states waned and the British East India Company consolidated power on the subcontinent, Persian was displaced as a literary, intellectual, and administrative language. In this narrative, a loss of patronage, the slowing of migration from Iran and Central Asia, and elite use of “vernacular” Indian languages like Urdu all sped the downfall of Indian Persian. This narrative captures several processes by which Indian Persian declined between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. However, it also obscures the dynamic language politics of colonial India, in which users of Persian negotiated the place of the language with the colonial state. The narrative of a linear displacement of Persian by Indian vernacular languages and English was a colonial ideal concealing a messier reality.

Persian was a major language of literary and intellectual production among North Indian Muslim elites from the twelfth century. By the sixteenth century, through Mughal patronage, it crystallized as the language of empire and the most prominent language of North Indian written discourse. Written Indo-Persian provided a shared idiom for the polyglot empire. Strong knowledge of Persian became a requisite for employment in many professional positions, including those traditionally held by Hindus; both Hindus and Muslims also sought Mughal literary patronage through mastery of Persian. Deccani dynasties likewise patronized Persian, and in both North Indian and Deccani contexts Iranian and Central Asians migrants contributed to the language’s prestige.

The British East India Company initially maintained Persian’s official position, relying on it to communicate with local power-brokers. However, following the administrative switch to English in the 1830s, Persian was increasingly marginalized in Indian society, to the degree that it largely disappeared from the public sphere by Indian independence. […] For colonial administrators, Persian had little claim to “Indianness” because it lacked inherent religious relevance or a vernacular constituency. By the mid-nineteenth century the regime encouraged vernacular education in languages like Urdu. Due to both Indian patronage and colonial encouragement, Urdu — a Persianized register of Hindustani — emerged as both a language for popular Islamic discourse and a shared secular idiom for discussing law, politics, and literature. […]

In mid nineteenth-century North India, many students were educated not by the colonial government, but in schools organized by neighborhood or religious leaders. Among these, Persian-medium schools were often the most prestigious, because Persian had previously been linked to the prospect of government work. Colonial reports admitted that even after the removal of Persian as a language of administration, Persian schools were attended by students of diverse religious and caste backgrounds “who can afford… this luxury,”because they were seen as imparting economically viable skills. […]

The desire of colonial education officers to draw the sons of prestigious Indians to government schools meant that they were willing to consider some Indian perspectives on what constituted a well-rounded education. In what one colonial administrator termed “a concession to popular opinion,” in the Northwestern Provinces the administration began to reintroduce Persian courses to government-run schools by the mid-1860s. As they did so they developed an educational style markedly different from the Persian education that dominated local schools.

In locally-run schools Persian was taught through exposure to classical texts. Poetry used in Persian education included ʿAbdul Rahmān Jami’s Yūsuf o Zulaykhā, the Būstān of Saʿadī Shīrāzī, and Qaṣāʼid of Urfī Shīrāzī. Prose texts included the Bahār-i dānish of ʿInāyat Allāh Kambūh or Mīnā Bāzār, an eighteenth-century work by an unknown author. To learn writing style, Indian students studied epistolary collections known as inshā’. These texts connected Indian Persian learners to a trans-regional literary sphere, while also offering access to localized intellectual heritage. Works like Mīnā Bāzār and Bahār-i dānish and many of the inshā’ texts, were specifically Indo-Persian, referencing local geographies and practices. […]

The importance of Persian education to families living in late-nineteenth century North India is often overlooked, perhaps because colonial rhetoric in the period treated Persian as irrelevant and emphasized the English-vernacular debate in education. Nonetheless, for many Indian elites, Persian remained a vital part of a well-rounded education. Persian literacy offered access to an extra-colonial identity marker and extra-colonial forms of employment and patronage.

I love this kind of excavation of forgotten elements of history, and I’m very fond of the Persian language, which I studied for a while a couple of decades ago — it’s easy to learn, fun to speak, and has one of the world’s great poetic corpuses. (Thanks, Trevor!)

Comments

  1. There is something a little odd about a piece on Persian in India that uses phrases like “colonial language” in a sense that very definitely excludes Persian, a language that was only spoken in India at all because it was the language of the ruling class of a colonial empire. A curious mental blind spot. “Before 1800, Persian was widely spoken in north India as the language of government and literature. Why? Who knows. Coincidence, probably. Let’s talk about something else.”

  2. SFReader says:

    the ruling class of a colonial empire

    It is politically correct to call them “Iranian and Central Asian migrants” now…

  3. There is something a little odd about a piece on Persian in India that uses phrases like “colonial language” in a sense that very definitely excludes Persian, a language that was only spoken in India at all because it was the language of the ruling class of a colonial empire.

    Come now, it’s perfectly clear from context (and is perfectly normal usage) that “colonial” is here used to refer to colonies of the British Empire. You might as well object to “the battlefield” in a book about Gettysburg by saying that there are lots of other battlefields.

  4. I didn’t say it was unclear; I said it was odd. Like President Trump referring to Americans as “native-born, naturalised or Jews”. Yes, that does cover all Americans. But it’s still an odd distinction to make and it gets you wondering about the thought process behind it.

  5. Doesn’t seem odd to me, but I guess we have different reading backgrounds.

  6. J.W. Brewer says:

    Doesn’t seem odd to me in the sense of unexpected, although it does reflect a (common) perspective that some, perhaps including ajay, might find skewed or double-standardish. That the world history textbook currently used in the 9th grade honors class in our town’s high school is not so insensitive to include some sort of oppressive imperialistic European conqueror on the cover and probably self-consciously omitted doing so is not unexpected — that the diverse and non-Western historical personage they instead chose to put on the cover is none other than the first Mughal emperor Babur – admittedly an important historical figure, but one whose importance is based on conquest and the imperial subjugation of a hapless subject population with (in most cases) darker skin than his and a different religion than his — is just a bonus.

    Although as to the word choice I do wonder if the empires of the Mughals and similar non-European invaders/conquerors of South Asia are really “colonial.” I feel like in the standard usage that word has a certain sense of “overseas” that doesn’t apply to purely land-based expansionist empires, e.g. I don’t think of Roman-conquered Gaul as a “colony” of Rome and ditto for Russian-conquered Siberia.

  7. Good point.

  8. SFReader says:

    “Hindustan is a country of few charms. Its people have no good looks; of social intercourse, paying and receiving visits there is none; of genius and capacity none; of manners none; in handicraft and work there is no form or symmetry, method or quality; there are no good horses, no good dogs, no grapes, muskmelons or first-rate fruits, no ice or cold water, no good bread or cooked food in the bazaars, no hot-baths, no colleges, no candles, torches or candlesticks” (c) colonizer and imperialist Babur

  9. Middle Asian acquisitions of Russian Empire were referred in the West as colonies, I beleive. And I don’t see anything wrong in referring to colonial empire as something of a European thing stemming from the Age of Discovery and not adding any similar happenings from other times and places.

  10. Perhaps not all of Gaul but wasn’t Cologne a colony?

  11. Dmitry Pruss says:

    The hair-splitting point is probably not the expanse of the seawater separating the colonial overlord from the colonies, but the fact that the strings of control all lead to the conquering country, while the controlled territory is subjugated rather than annexed as a province like all other provinces.

    The conquerors of India were based in India so it doesn’t pass on the first of the two conditions.

    The conquerors of Siberia made it yet another kingdom under the Czar’s crown, but also took hostages from the local chiefs’ families to ensure payment of tribute for centuries (the amanat – yasak system which to my knowledge didn’t exist anywhere else in Russia), so you are free to pick your answer of colonizing vs. annexing there.

  12. SFReader says:

    Expansion of white settlers in North America before 1776 was colonial, but after 1776 it was not.

    OK.

  13. I thought about the general definition of colony given by Dmitry Prussia (outside rule + different treatment), but history, lacking a clear logic or unifying principles, is nor suitable for crisp definitions allowing direct comparisons across times and spaces.

    England under Norman and Angevine kings looked a lot like a colony, so what?

  14. There is no point trying to make the use of a word conform to some logical principle. “Colony,” like every other word, is used in some contexts and not in others. Siberia is not talked about as a Russian colony, and the West is not talked about as an American colony.

  15. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’ve never (I think) confused anyone by referring to the “Colonial Period” in Nigeria, despite the fact that, happily for Nigeria, there were never any, like, colonists. The death rate from disease among Europeans in West Africa was phenomenal before modern times: it was a proper War of the Worlds scenario. There are a lot more Europeans in West Africa now than there ever were in “colonial” times.

  16. I think I just vaguely remembered what we were taught about colonialism as a part of the historical materialism curriculum LOL. Which, like many parts of the Marxist history, often had some backward-looking validity, and only failed really spectacularly when it attempted to predict the path forward. But I forgot that they defined colonialism more specifically as one of the ills of capitalism. Which also makes reasonably good sense, in part because equal treatment of large population groups across wide swaths of territory is also a hallmark of capitalism, too?

  17. I don’t think of Roman-conquered Gaul as a “colony” of Rome and ditto for Russian-conquered Siberia.

    There’s an important sense in which Roman Gaul and Russian Siberia (and Mughal India and the US) were colonies in a way that British India wasn’t; Gaul and Siberia both involved actual colonisation!

    Romans from Rome went and lived in Gaul as a ruling class (retired soldiers, most famously) and settled down there. Russians from European Russia colonised Siberia. The British didn’t colonise India in the same way; there were never very many Brits actually living there, and even fewer stayed there permanently. Retired ICS men or Indian Army soldiers and their families generally went home to Britain.

    Compare, for example, Canada and Australia, which actually were colonised; people went there from Britain and lived there for the rest of their lives.

  18. “Colony,” like every other word, is used in some contexts and not in others. Siberia is not talked about as a Russian colony, and the West is not talked about as an American colony.

    Yes, and that is a political decision that reflects political aims, and one which we are therefore entitled to discuss.

  19. SFReader says:

    It is funny, but Alaska was indeed regarded as a Russian colony.

    Perhaps 50 miles of Bering Strait made all the difference…

  20. Yes, and that is a political decision that reflects political aims, and one which we are therefore entitled to discuss.

    Language use is not a political decision, it’s a linguistic one. Like other such decisions, it’s informed by politics as well as every other force that has an impact on human life. And of course we’re entitled to discuss it — that’s what LH is for.

  21. J.W. Brewer says:

    The senses in which e.g. Maryland used to be an English/British colony (settled by colonists from the home country with the prior indigenous population displaced) and in which e.g. Gambia used to be a British colony (no significant number of colonists – just subjugation of the indigenes) are quite different but we’ve ended up using colony/colonial for both but apparently without extending it to all arguably analogous situations. The point made above that Mughal rule ended up being centered in India rather than remaining based in some Central Asian “metropole” playing the role that London subsequently did maybe fairly makes it some third thing.

  22. J.W. Brewer says:

    A further complication may be that emphasizing a historical interpretation in which the Mughals et al. were just another bunch of foreign occupiers not really any different from or better than the Brits is almost certainly more congenial for the needs of certain factions in 21st-century Indian politics and less congenial for the needs of other factions. Outsiders should ideally be a little sensitive to that dynamic, although believing that narrative X is truer than rival narrative Y should obviously not be taken as that outsider’s endorsement of whatever faction wants it to be that way.

  23. Language use is not a political decision, it’s a linguistic one

    It is sometimes a political decision as well. It’s always a linguistic one (tautology alert).

  24. they defined colonialism more specifically as one of the ills of capitalism.

    This is the argument that capitalism creates huge inequality, and so the rich, without good domestic investment opportunities (because everyone else is immiserated) seek to find foreign investment opportunities, and colonialism is basically a process of opening up foreign markets for investment.
    It’s partly right.

  25. It is sometimes a political decision as well.

    Sure, as I said. I’m just hyper-alert (and allergic) to the idea, popular in certain circles, that everything is politics and politics explains everything (the parallel idea about sex being everything has, thankfully, become obsolete), so I tend to push back against it when I even catch a whiff of it. Obviously you weren’t peddling it, I’m just explaining my reaction.

  26. SFReader says:

    It’s partly right.

    Russian colonial expansion in Central Asia was guided not by desire of Moscow capitalists to reach new markets, but simply by career ambitions of frontier colonels.

    Several times lines were drawn in St.Petersburg with strict orders that no further expansion is allowed (because foreign ministry was afraid of complications with the British) and every time somehow officers on the ground managed to manufacture a new crisis, win some more wars against totally outmatched enemy and annex yet more land to the empire.

    I suspect same dynamic was behind much of British colonial expansion as well – I can’t believe any sane capitalist cared much about untapped markets of highland Burma or Swat valley

  27. Several times lines were drawn in St.Petersburg with strict orders that no further expansion is allowed (because foreign ministry was afraid of complications with the British) and every time somehow officers on the ground managed to manufacture a new crisis, win some more wars against totally outmatched enemy and annex yet more land to the empire.

    I suspect same dynamic was behind much of British colonial expansion as well

    It was certainly behind Japan’s expansion; that’s exactly how they got so involved in China. The government would say “don’t go any farther” and the army would ignore it.

  28. SFReader says:

    As the Russian stats-secretary Alexander Polovtsov wrote in his diary:

    “Today it was reported that General Chernyaev took Tashkent. No one knows for what reason and why. There is something erotic in what is happening on the borders of our empire”

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    everything is politics and politics explains everything

    I’d say that the first half is true and the second half is false.

    It reminds me of a discussion I had with a somewhat weird (and annoyingly smug) German anthropologist, whom I was trying to get to explain what anthropologists actually study. He happily included within their remit every single branch of human knowledge and behaviour that I suggested; I felt that one of us might be missing the point somewhere.

  30. I’d say that the first half is true

    I really don’t know how anyone can believe that. If a baby is lying on its back gurgling and enjoying being alive, how is that politics? And don’t give me any guff about how the baby’s health care depends on politics or something of that nature, because all that means is that if you’re determined enough, you can view anything through the lens of politics, which is an entirely different matter (and exactly what I’m complaining about).

    And how is a supernova politics?

  31. Bathrobe says:

    And how is a supernova politics?

    That seems to me a wilful misinterpretation of the phrase.

    The word “colonial” at one time was not perceived to have pejorative connotations. That’s why Britain didn’t feel anything wrong with having a “Colonial Office”.

    Meanings change. There is a traditional Australian-Irish ballad called The Wild Colonial Boy. That might have had some meaning in the old days, but when I was growing up I had difficulty understanding why Jack Doolan might be called “colonial”. Perhaps British people still think that way but Australians of my generation or later would scarcely think of themselves as “colonial”, even if that is the historical reality.

    ‘TIS of a wild Colonial boy, Jack Doolan was his name,
    Of poor but honest parents he was born in Castlemaine.
    He was his father’s only hope, his mother’s only joy,
    And dearly did his parents love the wild Colonial boy.

    Come, all my hearties, we’ll roam the mountains high,
    Together we will plunder, together we will die.
    We’ll wander over valleys, and gallop over plains,
    And we’ll scorn to live in slavery, bound down with iron chains.

    But “colonialism” has now become a politically-charged pejorative term for the European imperialist enterprise, used to castigate what is regarded as a uniquely evil institution. Deliberately excluding other forms of “colonialism” from that label is a political, not a linguistic exercise.

  32. That seems to me a wilful misinterpretation of the phrase.

    No, it’s an attempt to show how absurd it is.

    Deliberately excluding other forms of “colonialism” from that label is a political, not a linguistic issue.

    But to claim that ordinary linguistic usage is “deliberately excluding other forms of ‘colonialism’ from that label” would be nonsense. People do not go around monitoring everything they say for political impact; they use language as seems natural to them. You can, of course, talk about the political currents that flow into that usage, but that’s another matter. One can use language with colonialist origins without being a colonialist, just as one can like Ezra Pound without being a fascist.

  33. AJP Crown says:

    He happily included within their remit every single branch of human knowledge and behaviour
    I can buy that. They study aspects of behaviour. An entomologist can study insects without actually becoming one. Similarly an anthropologist or sociologist isn’t trying to become a doctor if she studies medicine and its practitioners, she has different goals.

    a baby is lying on its back gurgling > guff about how the baby’s health care depends on politics
    Seriously, guff? I’m shocked, Language! Is this an American anti-socialist thing? I’m pretty sure that most Norwegians and well over half the British public see a direct link between public health & state funding and they link it to the sight of gurgling babies. I know I do. They’d ALSO think about nursery rhymes and baby clothes and genetic whatever; it’s not either – or.

  34. Bathrobe says:

    I would suggest that in this day and age your “ordinary linguistic usage” isn’t quite as ordinary as you think.

  35. Anyone who looks at gurgling babies and automatically thinks of politics has been poisoned by too much immersion in news (and probably online media) and needs to go out for a walk in the woods. Seriously, not everything is politics, and if you object to that statement you are drowning in the zeitgeist. In the ’50s plugged-in people would have been saying “when I look at gurgling babies I can’t help but think of Oedipus.” That’s not the babies’ fault!

  36. Stu Clayton says:

    Crown: I’m pretty sure that most Norwegians and well over half the British public see a direct link between public health & state funding and they link it to the sight of gurgling babies.

    Most Germans too. Americans are still in the stage of angry partisan gurgling at each other over the pros and cons of “socialism” – with respect to public health, of all things !

    “Socialized” medical care here (no state funding!) is even so selbstverständlich that people think their dogs are automatically insured. I found this out when Sparky was so sick recently. I called an emergency 24-hour vet at 5 in the morning, and got the run-around – “if he’s not coughing blood, you can come in at 9”. Well, I called another one, got the same routine and laid into them. I said “why the fuck do you advertise a 24-hour service and then try delaying tactics?” So they grudgingly allowed as how I could come immediately, so in a taxi with Sparky I was there in 20 minutes.

    There I found out why the delaying tactics. It’s because pet owners come in at all hours, and expect everything to be free. The pet is treated, then they say “oh, so expensive ? I thought it was in the package. I only have 50 euros on me” for a bill of 150. It’s all about money, and thank God I have enough for Sparks.

    I suggested to the very nice and capable young vet lady that they add something to their recorded message, for people like me: “If you would sell your castle in the Black Forest for your dog, please press 2”.

  37. Americans are still in the stage of angry partisan gurgling at each other over the pros and cons of “socialism”

    And you don’t think that’s the case in Britain? You should read the news more.

  38. Stu Clayton says:

    over the pros and cons of “socialism” – with respect to public health, of all things !

    GB has the National Health Service at least. Germany has no such thing: just laws, insurance companies and insurees. A closely regulated capitalist system. The gummint neither owns nor runs any of the companies, and does not subsidize them. I would never leave this country, for that reason alone.

  39. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think there’s maybe an asymmetry here. Someone who thinks that universal government-funded healthcare is a good thing may well be naturally inclined, if already thinking of health-care policy, to free-associate to the image of a seemingly healthy and happy baby as an emotionally-positive illustration of that point. It’s free-associating in the other direction (stimulus: sight of baby; response: thinking about health-care policy) that hat is suggesting is either uncommon or unhealthy.

    To bathrobe’s point, I can’t speak for the Australian POV, but in the US “colonial” as a description of the pre-1776 time period or of something more recent that’s vaguely associated therewith (like a style of architecture or furniture) is generally non-pejorative. That the story ended happily with independence and that that was all rather a long time ago means the colonial era can be viewed as an early preparatory stage in a positive narrative without necessarily needing to focus on the unsatisfying aspects of it that eventually led to revolution.

  40. Quite right, with respect to both free-associating in the other direction and US “colonial” as non-pejorative.

  41. J.W. Brewer says:

    For an opposing viewpoint, here’s a striking passage from Baudrillard’s Tocqueville-on-acid book about America, which does suggest (I certainly don’t know how accurately) that French people on vacation are self-conscious of enjoying a benefit bestowed upon them by the omnicompetent welfare state:

    “The American moving around in the deserts or the national parks does not give the impression of being on holiday. Moving around is his natural occupation; nature is a frontier and a place for action. There is none of the flabby Romanticism and gallo-roman quietude that clutter up our free time. Nothing of the ‘holiday’ label, as it was invented in France by the Popular Front: the demoralizing atmosphere of free time snatched from the State, to be consumed in a plebeian spirit, with theatrical regard for one’s hard-earned leisure. Freedom here has no static or negative definition. Its definition is spatial and mobile.”

  42. PlasticPaddy says:

    I would add that European colonialism in Africa (and possibly Asia) after about 1800 was different to earlier regimes in that it generally combined (a) effective means of harsh political and economic subjugation and (b) employment of divide and rule strategies and techniques of psychological conditioning to prevent effective resistance to (a). I would recommend reading of Albert Memmi “Portrait du colonisateur/ Portrait du colonisé”.

  43. Bathrobe says:

    In an era when some people are making radical proposals like “he” and “she” should be replaced by “they”, I find it quaint that Hat is standing so firm on the meaning and usage of “colonial”. I find it perfectly understandable that ajay finds it strange. Perhaps for period furniture in the U.S. (and Australia) it’s fine to use “Colonial” (with a capital C) in the context of that era, but for India, using “colonial” without explanation as synonymous with “British colonial” sounds almost antiquated.

  44. Stu Clayton says:

    That’s a reasonable take on Americans “moving around in the deserts or the national parks”. However, I know from conversations with my sister on the phone that many American employees have to wrest even a week of vacation from their employers. In Germany a full-time employee *must* be given the legal minimum of 24 working days of vacation. The minimum has gone up over the decades, I think. Everybody – employers, employees – just adjusts to it, no big deal.

  45. In an era when some people are making radical proposals like “he” and “she” should be replaced by “they”, I find it quaint that Hat is standing so firm on the meaning and usage of “colonial”.

    That makes no sense whatever. Singular “they” is not a “radical proposal,” it’s been part of the English language for centuries. Some people don’t like it, but that’s a fact about them, not about the language. And I don’t know what you mean about “standing so firm on the meaning and usage of ‘colonial’”; all I’m saying is that it is not used pejoratively in the US and it has historically been used in certain (allegedly illogical or inconsistent) ways about other parts of the world. If people want to use it differently, that’s fine with me.

  46. J.W. Brewer says:

    I should maybe add more broadly that (although maybe contrary Australian perspectives would be interesting?) that the historical non-pejorativeness of “colonial” in a US setting makes perfect sense for the sort of colony that was focused on settlers from the mother country entering new territory rather than a conquered pre-existing population staying in the same territory but being subject to new rulers. In the first sort of colony, being “colonial” for a while is sort of a necessary developmental stage in the process of eventually becoming a grown-up independent society on an equal footing with the mother country – in the second, one may more plausibly consider an alternative timeline where the “colonial” rule never happened in the first place as what would have been preferable if history had been less unjust.

  47. Exactly.

  48. J.W. Brewer says:

    To Stu’s point, I had thought it went without saying that Baudrillard’s perceptions of American life as actually experienced by Americans were no more likely to be empirically accurate than his perceptions of French life … There’s obviously some romanticizing-the-noble-savages going on in his head while he’s hanging out in California.

  49. Stu Clayton says:

    J.W.: As a petit récit, it sounds amusing. Does B. blow it up into a grand récit over the course of the book, as the acid wears off ?

  50. Bathrobe says:

    In fact, the impression I got from the article is that English was possibly so easily accepted in India is because it slipped comfortably into the niche that had already been created by Persian. One was “colonial” and the other one, er, wasn’t.

  51. As a petit récit, it sounds amusing.

    Amusing ≠ accurate. This is a problem with French writing in general.

  52. Bathrobe says:

    Singular “they” is not a “radical proposal,”

    Still fighting old battles. Singular “they” is a radical proposal if it involves doing away with “he” and “she” altogether.

  53. J.W. Brewer says:

    As to petit v. grand, most if not all the book can be read (I offer no opinion as to whether copyright laws have been complied with …) here. https://monoskop.org/images/a/ac/Baudrillard_Jean_America_1989.pdf The relevant passage begins “You only have to see a French family settling in on a Californian beach to feel
    the abominable weight of our [i.e. French] culture.” Somewhere in my house I probably still have the original Verso hard-copy of the book that I believe (memory admittedly a teensy bit hazy) I was given when it first came out as a present by my then-girlfriend (or maybe she was at the point of that specific gift an ex- but we were both trying to stay on good terms?). Take whatever insight you want from that as to the sort of young lady I tended to get mixed up with romantically back in the ’80’s.

  54. Singular “they” is a radical proposal if it involves doing away with “he” and “she” altogether.

    Nobody’s proposing that, for god’s sake. It’s hard to carry on a rational discussion when one is met with caricatures.

  55. AJP Crown says:

    JW Brewer, well explained about the gurgling babies.

    Stu, I do wish we had a national-health for animals.

    Americans are still in the stage of angry partisan gurgling at each other over the pros and cons of “socialism”

    And you don’t think that’s the case in Britain?
    The difference is that most Britons are solidly in favour of – and so don’t include – the NHS with “socialism”. “Socialized medicine” is an expression that isn’t used in Britain.

    I’ve been following what Bathrobe has been saying about colonialism and I couldn’t agree more.

    Lang: ‘colonial’”; all I’m saying is that it is not used pejoratively in the US
    Sure it’s used to describe cute old wooden buildings, but ‘British colonialism’ was the US’s justification for kicking Britain in the balls at Bretton Woods and at Suez, and for not joining in WW1 until 1917 and, and, and. This policy conveniently led to the US becoming top nation for the rest of the 20C. Whichever pres said the business of America is business wasn’t far wrong. Forget girls’ football, business is what America is best at and that’s why Brexit is a disaster for Britain [grumble, grumble.]

    (Yes, Calvin Coolidge. I know.)

  56. Stu Clayton says:

    J.W.: thanks for the linked pdf. I read two pages and deleted it. That wigged-out sententious (and sentential) posturing and preening by certain classy modern French writers is too much to bear, even in English.

    I like the cheeses, though.

  57. J.W. Brewer says:

    Stu, I’m certainly not a big proponent of that genre of French writers in general – I may have an irrational soft spot for that particular work by that particular member of a dubious crowd largely because of positive emotional associations with the circumstances under which I first encountered it. (I think somewhere else in the book he makes the point about how Las Vegas and Salt Lake City are sort of doubles of each other – both created in the middle of the desert in pursuit of some radical utopian vision albeit rather ones – but I’ve seen others make the same point and I don’t know who originated it and it may well have been an independent observation made by multiple people w/o necessarily all borrowing from each other.)

  58. AJP Crown says:

    About ideas of colonialism, during the 17C – 18Cs and until 1776-1788, when the first convicts were shipped to Australia, Britain sent them all (c.150,000) to the American colonies. If the colonies were so cozy for Americans why is this still airbrushed? It’s always the religious dissidents and second sons who are seen as founders of the USA never the bulk of the population, the slaves & convicts. Australians realised long ago that there’s nothing shameful about being from the urban poor. And as Bathroom says, none of this happened in India.
    https://www.jstor.org/stable/1833611?origin=crossref&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
    (See also Thos Keneally’s book The Commonwealth of Thieves.)

    Incidentally, whoever it was who said Brits had no tradition of staying on in India: during the 18-19C, three or four generations of my mother’s family lived in northern India working first as non-conformist missionaries (Methodists or Baptists, not C. of E.) and then as doctors.

  59. three or four generations of my mother’s family lived in northern India working first as non-conformist missionaries

    For a comparable perspective on Russian-American Company’s contracted colonists in Alaska: the company guaranteed relocation costs back to Russia after the term of contract were over, but one could choose a compensation package in lieu of relocation to stay in Alaska. The village of Ninilchik, with its clamming beach making for an easy food supply, was used a designated place for the retired employees, and the Company paid for their settlement there and for life-time supply of certain necessities. Of course it was by and large the Russians who married the locals who stayed there.

    Anyway the point is that contractually-guaranteed return to the home country doesn’t contradict with the emergence of a settler group.

  60. Stu Clayton says:

    during the 17C – 18Cs and until 1776-1788, when the first convicts were shipped to Australia, Britain sent them all (c.150,000) to the American colonies. If the colonies were so cozy for Americans why is this still airbrushed?

    What about the Puritans, the Vanderbilts and the cherry trees ??? I’m devastated.

    When I was 10 or so I chopped down a tree in Grand Teton Naional Park. Looking for my roots, I guess. I might have found them if one of my brothers and sisters hadn’t ratted on me.

  61. If the colonies were so cozy for Americans why is this still airbrushed?

    Again, nobody’s saying that (for Pete’s sake). The fact that the word “colonial” does not tend to have negative connotations in American usage (and in the context of American history) has nothing to do with a purported idea that “the colonies were so cozy for Americans” or with any historical analysis whatever. It is simply a fact of language. If it doesn’t jibe with someone’s notions about history or politics or whatever, too bad. Life can be like that.

  62. Stu Clayton says:

    I knew nothing about America being on the receiving end of British convicts. That’s all I thought Crown was referring to with “cosy for Americans” (it wouldn’t be cosy with criminals lurking behind every cherry tree). The discussion about “colonial” fails to get my goat. I agree with you.

  63. I am generally with LH in this discussion (let language be about language, not reverse Sapir-Whorf aka Orwell), but there are definitely people out there who like to get rid of the gendered personal pronouns. Recent LL discussion. I assume though that there are people out there who would like to do any stupid thing anyone can think about.

  64. J.W. Brewer says:

    Numerical estimates of how many European settlers of all varieties and conditions came to the future U.S. before 1776 vary pretty widely and claims about how many of them were sent involuntarily by His Majesty’s Gov’t as a sanction for crime likewise vary widely (150,000 is probably at the high end of a range whose low end is closer to 50,000) — meaning estimates of the resultant percentage of the whole varies even more widely. Also, timing of arrival is crucial – because of rapid rates of natural increase 1,000 people arriving in 1650 had a lot more impact on the composition of the subsequent US population than 10,000 arriving in 1750. Most accounts I’ve read suggest that a disproportionate number of the transported-felon arrivals were sent to the more southerly colonies, and a northern bias in American historiography may have thus made it even easier to keep them off to the side of the main narrative. And when you get to the southern colonies the gap between the wealthy white planter gentry and the slaves is so vast that the white folks in more modest or stigmatized circumstances in between are maybe easily lost in the cracks. [EDITED TO ADD: and of course the existence of slavery in the northern colonies, that continued post-independence into the early 19th century many places, is often left out of the narrative as, um, marginal and distracting or something like that.]

    Obviously like any historical period the colonial era in what became the U.S. had good points and bad points — my point is just that it makes perfect sense given subsequent circumstances for the conventional narrative to have ended up as one that does not emphasize the bad points, although that is obviously always up for grabs as contemporary politics shift and thus what sort of past is a useful to a given contemporary faction in power shifts as well. The traditional standard narrative does occasionally point out instances of factions of free white settlers behaving badly toward other free white settlers, e.g. the Salem Witch Trials and the early persecution of Quakers.

  65. Mounting my beloved hobby-horse “context is everything”, it is quite possible that in general American usage “colonial” is not equal to bad, but in some more specialized anthropological/ethnological/historical/general outrage studies it is.

  66. Georgia was founded (quite late, in 1733—the last of the thirteen colonies) as an alternative to debtors’ prison.

  67. AJP Crown says:

    OK, I’m with you on American ‘colonial’ now. Assuming it’s only the American colonies that are being discussed, I agree that the term is used only positively by white Americans.

    (150,000 is probably at the high end of a range whose low end is closer to 50,000)
    I know that’s what Wiki says, but no one really knows, and your other point about the proportion of the whole is a good one. However, what I would like to know is why this is still a little-known, little discussed subject. The early convicts is practically the only thing many people know about Australia, that and the kangaroos and aboriginals. I didn’t know they were sent to America until I read the Keneally book where there are 3 chapters on it. Even Stu didn’t know. You’ve got the Pilgrims monument in Provincetown, Plymouth Rock, the tired & poor of Statue of Liberty fame, the Washington monument. Where’s the monument to the poor old convicts?

  68. David Eddyshaw says:

    there are definitely people out there who like to get rid of the gendered personal pronouns

    Here, as in so much else, Ghana leads the way.
    None of the Ghanaian languages (including the local vehicular version of Hausa) makes male/female distinctions in pronouns, and this spills over into the English of even quite fluent speakers (at least in the north), who use he/she pretty much in free variation.

    What discombobulated me was not so much “he” for “she” but the also very frequent use of “she” for “he”; tells you something about gender markedness in my English and quite probably in my conceptual world too, I guess.

  69. L.Yu. Slyozkin, who was my young years’ source on the early American history and great difference in the social and legal make-up of the early colonies, cites “Narratives of Early Virginia” pp. 423-424 re: a case of a British convict offered a choice between shipment to Virginia and the gallows in 1618. The convict opted for the gallows.

  70. I assume though that there are people out there who would like to do any stupid thing anyone can think about.

    True, and I shouldn’t have said “nobody,” but I assume we can all ignore the nutters.

    it is quite possible that in general American usage “colonial” is not equal to bad, but in some more specialized anthropological/ethnological/historical/general outrage studies it is.

    Also true, and perhaps it would not come amiss to mention that the average American knows virtually nothing about the colonial period except that it was what our Founding Fathers ended. I’m quite sure very few Yanks (who have not been subjected to overeducation, unlike thee and me) have any clue about transported felons, or indeed any other features of colonial life between the Puritans and George Washington. This is not a knock on them — there are more pressing issues in most people’s lives than centuries-old history — just something that should be borne in mind.

  71. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s just occurred to me that two of the topics in this thread cohere: the whole problem with gendered pronouns in English would be solved if only everybody would agree to speak Persian.

    It’s so simple!

  72. !حق با شماست

  73. J.W. Brewer says:

    AJPC: Shortest answer to your query is probably that at present there is no political constituency for it. The prior age that celebrated the white-Anglo-Protestant roots of American society was motivated to talk as if all those early settlers were posh or at least respectable and play down those who weren’t, and a more recent age that wants to focus instead on the deficiencies of white-Anglo-Protestant hegemony over the course of American history has no incentive to play up how some of those folks were in rather straitened or stigmatized circumstances themselves.

    But I’d be happy to see such a monument. Perhaps related and perhaps not is that the tendency in American culture to treat outlaws/criminals as folk heroes is not a constant throughout history, but really only runs from the post-Civil-War “Wild West” era (Jesse James, Billy the Kid, etc.) through the Depression (Bonnie & Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, etc.).

    I think in the case of Australia it was so much larger a part of the initial wave of white settlement that there was just no way to talk around it so eventually people had to find a national narrative that dealt with it head on and made it a source of pride rather than shame.

  74. Lars (the original one) says:

    vehicular version of Hausa — the mottos on the buses? I think there was a thread about them once.

  75. David Eddyshaw says:

    My favourite motto, seen on the back of many an extremely slow-moving, ever-stopping Ghanaian tro-tro which one had usually been trying in vain to overtake for quarter of an hour in heavy city traffic, was

    LIFE IS NOT A RACE

  76. Bathrobe says:
  77. That’s the very piece that caused D.O. to remark (and me to agree): “I assume though that there are people out there who would like to do any stupid thing anyone can think about.”

  78. In other words, Farhad Manjoo is entitled to his opinion, but he is not representative of anyone but himself, and certainly not of linguists trying to eliminate the absurd prejudice against singular “they.”

  79. David Marjanović says:

    and a more recent age that wants to focus instead on the deficiencies of white-Anglo-Protestant hegemony over the course of American history has no incentive to play up how some of those folks were in rather straitened or stigmatized circumstances themselves.

    But I’d be happy to see such a monument.

    It already exists: racists who make the “argument” that white people (Irish in particular) were slaves, too, so it can’t have been that bad. (They’re talking about indentured servitude… which was time-limited and not heritable, as far as I understand, among other things.)

  80. Bathrobe says:

    everything is politics implicitly refers to human affairs. Does it need to be spelt out? Bringing in supernovas is just being ridiculous.

    If a baby is lying on its back gurgling and enjoying being alive, how is that politics?

    I can think of many situations in which a gurgling baby is not just a gurgling baby. It depends whose gurgling baby it is. The health-care issue is a red herring.

    A gurgling baby could be something to carry on the family line, the progeny of a dangerous rival, a future source of slave labour, a contribution to the growing strength of the nation, the shameful fruit of miscegenation, another mouth to feed, another burden on poor women…. You are only seeing it from your own benign, affluent, modern American point of view.

  81. ktschwarz says:

    Some other people that Farhad Manjoo is representative of: on Scientific American blog, followed by pushback and counter-pushback, with some discussion of how other languages use ungendered pronouns. It is true that, as far as I know, getting rid of gendered pronouns is not advocated by linguists, but by sociologists and philosophers.

  82. everything is politics implicitly refers to human affairs. Does it need to be spelt out? Bringing in supernovas is just being ridiculous.

    But I think it’s ridiculous when applied to human affairs, so I’m just upping the ante. You can talk all you want about “a future source of slave labour, a contribution to the growing strength of the nation, the shameful fruit of miscegenation,” etc. etc., but those have nothing to do with the baby, it’s just various ways of looking at the baby through the lens of politics. Sure, if you insist on seeing everything as politics everything will look like politics, just as if you look at everything through the lens of economics or Freudianism it will take on those colors. I think those habits are unhealthy and lead to misperceptions of the infinitely complex world around us. You are, of course, free to disagree.

  83. Bathrobe says:

    Sure. And if you see language solely through the lens of “usage”, that is how you will see the world.

  84. Bathrobe says:

    What I found interesting about Farhad Manjoo is how he attempts to validate his point with completely spurious arguments.

    There are, after all, few obvious linguistic advantages to the requirement. When I refer to myself, I don’t have to announce my gender and all the baggage it carries. Instead I use the gender-nonspecific “I.” Nor do I have to bother with gender when I’m speaking directly to someone or when I’m talking about a group of people. I just say “you” or “they.”

    Lumping together first, second, and third person as though they are the same is linguistically ridiculous. There are subtleties in all uses of pronouns (inclusiveness or exclusiveness, intimacy, etc.), but referring to third persons involves greater issues of reference — making clear who you are talking about. Languages possess lots of ways of clarifying who is being spoken about. Some of them (like honorifics) might be regarded as “bad” by people like Manjoo. But gender, as well as the declensional ending on the third-person singular pronoun, play a role in how speakers follow what is happening. It’s fine to advocate linguistic change, but claiming that there are “few linguistic advantages to the requirement” is patently false. The guy is talking through his hat.

    why do I usually have to choose either “he” or “she” or, in the clunkiest phrase ever cooked up by small-minded grammarians, “he or she”?.

    This is not a clunky phrase cooked up by small-minded grammarians. It is an attempt to break away from the older linguistic convention that a person unmarked for gender should be called “he”.

    Other than plainly intolerant people, there’s only one group that harbors doubts about the singular “they”: grammarians. If you’re one of those people David Foster Wallace called a “snoot,

    No, it’s due to linguistic conservatism. Sure, it’s fine to advocate a reform of the grammatical system of a language if that’s what you want, but you don’t have to be a “snoot” to resist other people’s attempts to dictate the direction of linguistic change.

  85. Bathrobe says:

    That should have been “conjugational ending”. Duh!

  86. Rodger C says:

    No, you meant “declensional.”

  87. Bathrobe says:

    I meant the verbal ending. “He says”, “she says”, “they say”. Which means my error was even worse than I thought.

  88. David Eddyshaw says:

    The whole notion that you can fix real-world problems by fixing language, though a philosophical hardy perennial, and espoused by people as much cleverer than I as Bertrand Russell and Confucius, is just magical thinking (or, to put it another way, dreadful bollocks.)

    Language does not determine our way of thinking or our human relationships (except in the essentially trivial ways that lovers of homeopathic Sapir-Whorfism love to obsess about. Colour-stimulus reaction times? Meh.)

    It reflects them. My daughter who scrupulously refers to her friend as “they” because said friend does not identify as male or female is doing so because she’s being considerate of her friend’s feelings, even when her friend is not present. People who are ideologically opposed to her friend’s feelings will not start doing the same unless they are coerced into doing so: not a way to bring them onside. The way to do that is by persuasion and example, not by starting with language.

    Cases where changes in language have supposedly changed society are invariably no such thing. They always reflect changes in society, not vice versa – sometimes the change being that the authorities will shoot you if you decline to use their preferred locution. I would hope that the Farhad Manjoos would find this particular dynamic distasteful.

    [Also, the appearance of the words “virtue signalling” in a text is an infallible sign that the writer is talking bollocks; usually right-wing bollocks, but as seen here, not invariably.]
    [[This obviously does not apply when the offending words are safely detoxified by quotes. Or not. As you may think.]]

  89. SFReader says:

    On virtue signalling: Matthew 6:1

  90. David Eddyshaw says:

    The term has been hijacked by the sort of people who like to imply that an actual virtue that they themselves conspicuously lack is in reality no virtue but mere hypocrisy or self-aggrandisement.

    In other words, the virtue-signalling-accusers are in the business of falsely implying that people they disapprove of are guilty of what is condemned in Mt 6:1, so as to reassure themselves and their like-minded readers that there is no real need to practice the virtue in question at all.

    The virtues in question are generally compassion and tolerance. Courage they attribute to themselves, so accusations of virtue-signalling are unlikely to imply that the virtue involved is courage.

  91. John Cowan says:

    And yet one David Eddyshaw has been known to accuse himself of virtue-signaling.

  92. Jonathan D says:

    David, I’m more used to thinking about this in the context of symbols such as flags than in terms of language as such. There also, I think that in general changes reflect changes rather than cause it, and yet I’m hesitant to see calls to change things as pointless. If nothing else, choices to use symbols and language differently, and talking about this in provocative ways, makes people think about the issue – sometimes this produces a defensive reactions, but it doesn’t mean there is no success.

    As for ‘colonial’ in Australia v USA, it probably matters that the relevant periods is different (and more recent) in Australia. The fact that the population is mainly settler-based, unlike Asian or African colonies does indeed make a big difference to the connotations. It’s not surprising that the indigenous population are the ones who are most likely to use it with negative connotations, and see it relating more to real issues than academic outrage.

  93. I read the Manjoo article. I don’t understand what y’all’s fuss is about. What he’s advocating (advocating, not insisting on) is something like that everyone ditch Mrs. and Miss for Ms.

    Which worked out fine. These days, if I need to refer to a woman by her last name (without a title), I’d use Ms. Some women still prefer Miss and Mrs., and I’ll address them as such if they prefer it, but the marital-status-neutral Ms. has become a default. And while this practice didn’t automatically make marital status obsolete, it made it respectable to ignore. I can see the same thing can happening with a gender-neutral pronoun like they.

  94. SFReader says:

    Word “tolerance” appears to mean something else now.

    I always thought it meant “live and let live”, I don’t care what you do, so please mind your own business yourself kind of attitude.

    Caring for someone’s “feelings”, being afraid to offend them all the time and such stuff was never part of tolerance in my book.

  95. AJP Crown says:

    Cases where changes in language have supposedly changed society are invariably no such thing. They always reflect changes in society, not vice versa

    The aim with ‘they’ is to not mess with the person’s experiment by predicting its outcome (using ‘he’ when they haven’t yet decided to be male). It’s not so much about trying to change society.

  96. David Marjanović says:

    Caring for someone’s “feelings”, being afraid to offend them all the time and such stuff was never part of tolerance in my book.

    Here the aim is to make society livable for people with PTSD – which is more common than you probably think – and to stop “punching down” on people who already have it worse.

  97. David Eddyshaw says:

    David Eddyshaw has been known to accuse himself of virtue-signaling.

    I had not forgotten. But I promise not to do it again.

    Word “tolerance” appears to mean something else now.

    Not at all. I meant it in the proper full-blooded sense of respecting other people despite their unequivocally erroneous opinions and upsetting habits.
    You seem to have mistaken me for a liberal. I’m a Calvinistic Socialist. (With added Tolerance.)

  98. Stu Clayton says:

    Definitely not Calvin & Hobbes, then. Does Tolerance really have to be explicitly listed on the label ? Descartes, Bayle, Grotius et al. fared well in the Netherlands, admittedly a long time ago. I sorta thought Tolerance was an unavoidable part of Calvinism, like a small percentage of bug wings in flour.

  99. David Eddyshaw says:

    Nasty, brutish and short … now that would be an interesting crossover.

    We’ve always been in favour of tolerance whenever we are likely to experience intolerance …

    Not sure that Calvin’s régime in Geneva was a spectacular example of tolerance, but in principle I agree that Tolerance is in fact entailed by the principles of Calvinistic Socialism, when correctly interpreted (i.e. by me.)

    Bug wings, only, in flour? Ah, if you’d seen the things I’ve seen …

  100. Stu Clayton says:

    I should have written “Calvinism as rezipiert by the Dutch shortly post-Calvin”. How do you express rezipieren in English ? The basic meaning is in the expressions “understood as”, “interpreted as” … Various dictionaries try to fool you with “adopt”, but that’s wrong. What it means as a verb (applied to a book, a bunch of ideas and so forth, coming from somewhere else) is “look at, think and talk about, and maybe work a bit of it into the existing system”.

    It doesn’t necessarily mean “suck it up” or “adopt”. It depends on what occurs in each individual case.

    The noun “reception” works fine, I was hoping for a verb (with participle!) so as to avoid circumlocution and bathos. “The Dutch received Calvinism” sounds to me as if it arrived by mail. Maybe it did, but that doesn’t help me in the general case.

  101. SFReader says:

    I wonder what was meant by tolerance in 17th century.

    Perhaps something else entirely judging by expression “maison de tolérance”

  102. David Eddyshaw says:

    Macte virtute esto!

  103. David Eddyshaw says:
  104. John Cowan says:

    As far as the OED2 knows, the oldest (16C) sense of tolerance is ‘endurance of pain’, from which we get the specialized medical and the biological senses, as in “tolerance to morphine” and “tolerance to shade”. But by the end of the 18C if not earlier the sense ‘action or practice of tolerating; toleration; the disposition to be patient with or indulgent to the opinions or practices of others; freedom from bigotry or undue severity in judging the conduct of others; forbearance; catholicity of spirit’ is already current.

    There is an obsolete sense ‘license, permission’, which may have something to do with maison de tolérance, though I don’t know if it’s about the authorities tolerating the bordello, or the bordello tolerating the whims of its customers.

    You seem to have mistaken me for a liberal.

    Few indeed are they who have the courage, or the temerity, to apply that name to themselves.

    rezepiert

    Received is used like this in technical senses in English: 15C Scots law received Roman law, not in the sense that they displaced their pre-existing common law altogether, but they definitely did “work a bit of it into the existing system”.

  105. J.W. Brewer says:

    Most (not all) of the Mughal rulers followed reasonably tolerant policies toward the religions of their many non-Muslim subjects, but of course when they took over that chunk of South Asia there was no material population of Calvinists there so who knows how that interaction would have worked out.

  106. AJP Crown says:

    I thought it was rat hairs.

    My wife suspected there might be small beetles in the laptop she was using (long story) and was trying to find out how to get them out, but if you ask about ‘bugs’ in a computer you can’t get a straight answer. The computer industry is built on metaphors and is therefore a house of cards (oops).

  107. John Cowan says:

    no material population of Calvinists

    Except for Wŋ Calvinists, of course.

  108. @AJP Crown: The original computer “bug” was a non-metaphorical moth. The bank of switches involved is still preserved at Harvard (although the dead moth is not).

  109. Stu Clayton says:

    The Harvard heterocerataph.

  110. Some Lars dude (he/him/his) says:

    @SFReader, the point of using “they” and so on is not really tolerance as much as courtesy — if somebody tells you that they feel bad if you call them “he” or “she,” you shouldn’t try to tell them that they are wrong, because you aren’t them. Maybe you need the same courtesy another time. “Do unto others…” and all that.

  111. AJP Crown says:

    Thanks, Brett! I’ll tell my wife.

  112. David Eddyshaw says:

    Lars is absolutely right and I agree with them.

  113. David Eddyshaw says:

    Few indeed are they who have the courage, or the temerity, to apply that name [liberal] to themselves.

    “Anyone can run to excesses,
    It is easy to shoot past the mark,
    It is hard to stand firm in the middle.”

    Pound’s idea of where the middle was was perhaps somewhat eccentric, but the sentiment is a fine one. I suppose the credit should go to Confucius.

    I’d be proud to claim to be a liberal if I actually were one; as it is, I content myself with making common cause with them a lot.

  114. I have recently encountered a new phenomenon related to the use of singular they and non-binary personal pronoun choice. My role-playing game group now includes several members who play remotely. (We use roll20.net, which has all the capabilities we need, although it is still significantly slower than playing with everyone physically present. And don’t confuse it with the .org site, which is a malware distributor!) One of the other participants is someone who most of us have never met in person, and this individual goes by the generic pronoun they. I don’t know why that was their choice of pronoun, but neither do I or any of the other players care. What is interesting, however, is that this player tries (although they sometimes forget) to use the same they pronoun for their in-game character, who is unambiguously female (albeit not human) and usually referred to as she by the rest of the players.

  115. John Cowan says:

    I’d be proud to claim to be a liberal if I actually were one

    Well would it be for England if Conservatives voted consistently for every thing conservative, and Liberals for every thing liberal. We should not then have to wait long for things which, like the present and many other great measures, are eminently both the one and the other. The Conservatives, as being by the law of their existence the stupidest party, have much the greatest sins of this description to answer for; and it is a melancholy truth, that if any measure were proposed on any subject truly, largely, and far-sightedly conservative, even if Liberals were willing to vote for it, the great bulk of the Conservative party would rush blindly in and prevent it from being carried.

    —John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government (1861).

    Later on, when elected to Parliament, he was asked to account for his use of “the stupidest party” and replied thus:

    I never meant to say that Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it. Suppose any party, in addition to whatever share it may possess of the ability of the community, has nearly the whole of its stupidity, that party must, by the law of its constitution, be the stupidest party; and I do not see why honorable gentlemen should see that position at all offensive to them, for it ensures their being always an extremely powerful party.

    I know that I am liable to a retort, and an obvious one enough; and as I do not wish to allow any honorable gentleman the credit of making it, I make it myself. It may be said that if stupidity has a tendency to Conservatism, sciolism, or half-knowledge, has a tendency to Liberalism. Something might be said for that, but it is not at all so clear as the other. There is an uncertainty about sciolists; we cannot count upon them; and therefore they are a less dangerous class. But there is so much dense, solid force in sheer stupidity, that any body of able men with that force pressing behind them may ensure victory in many a struggle, and many a victory the Conservative party has gained through that power.

  116. David Eddyshaw says:

    I never meant to say that Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative.

    Seems admirably even-handed …

  117. J.W. Brewer says:

    It seems that since Mill’s day the use of “sciolism” as a pejorative in political (and other) discourse has been in steep decline. The google n-gram viewer puts its peak in 1870, three year’s before Mill’s death. But the phenomenon the word describes has certainly not abated — it seems curious that there’s not a specific one-word synonym I can immediately think of that we conventionally use instead to condemn alleged instances of that phenomenon but rather a bunch of different, often ad hoc phrasings.

  118. JSM got it wrong. Conservatives are the evil party (or in British case “nasty”), it’s the other party that is stupid. Or maybe things has (ex)changed since his time. Also of note is that as late as 1861 it was felt somehow worthy of surprise that the members of a party vote almost exclusively for partisan reasons.

  119. In Russian, Solzhenitsyn tried to popularize (an maybe invented?) the word образованцы (obrazovantsy) something like “educateds”, I guess.

  120. David Marjanović says:

    Few indeed are they who have the courage, or the temerity, to apply that name to themselves.

    The American aversion to the word, which is now receding, has not spread. But elsewhere, the word is not used much because it either applies to pretty much everyone, or because it refers to almost nobody (parties that would be considered libertarian-lite in the US and get at most 10% of the vote, often much less, except under very special circumstances).

  121. Bathrobe says:

    the point of using “they” and so on is not really tolerance as much as courtesy — if somebody tells you that they feel bad if you call them “he” or “she,” you shouldn’t try to tell them that they are wrong, because you aren’t them

    This seems reasonable enough and seems to have become a new orthodoxy, at least within the context of gender. I just wonder how it would play out in reality if this were applied consistently across the board in every sphere of life, without exception. Pushed to its limits it could become farcical.

    ………….

    Manjoo’s Wikipedia article is written in accordance with his wishes concerning the use of “they”. The first thing you notice is that it is harder to figure out quickly who is being referred to. This is not just a matter of what you are used to. It is a product of the collapse of three pronouns into one: ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘they’ into ‘they’. The only distinction left would appear to be between animacy and inanimacy, but even that could conceivably be contested.

    …………

    I note that “sciolism” is pronounced as “siolism” (“sc” pronounced as in “science” or “sciatica”). Stands to reason.

  122. J.W. Brewer says:

    To Bathrobe’s point, since languages without gender-inflected third-person-singular pronouns do exist, it is obviously possible to manage that way, just as, for example, English (mostly, in the standard/normative varieties) manages these days to do without explicit singular/plural distinctions for second-person pronouns. But pretty much all languages permit or mandate distinctions in their morphosyntax that at least some other languages do not, and it often sort of evens out. I don’t think there is some perfectly minimalist language (okay let’s not talk about Piraha now …) that eschews all such features that are non-universal and thus in some sense optional. So simply noting that a potential change in a language is, on the evidence of other languages, survivable is hardly an argument that it’s either desirable or inevitable.

    Of course, the shift in English second-person pronouns was not universally embraced, and for several centuries we had a subculture with strongly and sincerely held minority preferences about second-person-pronoun usage. By which I mean of course the Quakers, which is sort of interesting because much of the early political/social history of tolerance/toleration in the U.S. is basically the history of the Quakers and the extent to which the rest of society was willing to accommodate their peculiarities. They were, after some early bumps in the road, the gold-standard tolerable weirdos. If you were weirder than them you might not be tolerated (as e.g. the early Mormons learned), but if you could spin yourselves as no weirder than them you were comparatively safe. I think (subject to correction by others who may know more) the equilibrium reached on pronoun usage for conversations between Quakers and non-Quakers ended up being more or less “use the pronouns you prefer when you’re addressing me, and I’ll put up with it, and I’ll use the pronouns I prefer when I’m addressing you, and you’ll put up with it.” Which is sort of the opposite of “use the pronouns preferred by the person to whom the pronouns refer.” Which I’m not saying is a precisely parallel situation or a governing precedent, but it would be interesting to understand why, if my understanding is correct, it ended up that way rather than me being under a social obligation to address a Quaker as “thee” and the Quaker being under a symmetric obligation NOT to address me as “thee.”

  123. ktschwarz says:

    Bathrobe @ July 23, 2019 at 6:04 pm and David Eddyshaw @ July 23, 2019 at 7:26 pm: Those are the most linguistically-informed comments I’ve ever seen on this topic. Thank you for putting in the effort. Comments won’t close on the Language Log post until Friday; I think these excellent comments would be valuable there.

    A quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that Bengali doesn’t mark pronouns for gender but does put a lot of case marking on them, as well as proximity marking. What do the Ghanaian languages do?

  124. Bathrobe says:

    @ J.W. Brewer

    Thanks for putting my inchoate thoughts into intelligible words. These are precisely the kinds of point that I feel have been lost sight of in the debate.

    @ ktschwartz

    Thank you for the kind words. I have already posted parts of the Wikipedia article on Manjoo at LL. I doubt, however, that the post will attract further comments since people usually stop going back after the thread has petered out.

    I’m afraid that my LH comment on 23 July was actually kind of muddled, but you got the gist of it. By focusing on the “sociolinguistic” aspects of the issue in a largely monolinguistic environment, people seem to lose sight of the more straightforwardly linguistic (i.e., grammatical and discourse) implications.

  125. SFReader says:

    Russian has neuter pronoun ‘ono’ which is sometimes used to refer to the gender confused people.

    But I had an impression it was rather impolite and rude thing to do.

  126. Bathrobe says:

    In a rational world, ‘it’ would be a better solution than ‘they’ because it would get rid of gender without losing number. The distinction between animacy and inanimacy would be lost, but this could be partly derived from context. But Manjoo presumably feels that it would be demeaning to be referred to as ‘it’, which may be one of the reasons (the other being the existing tendency to use ‘they’ as a neutral pronoun) he would rather do away with number and gender at the same time.

  127. John Cowan says:

    but it would be interesting to understand why, if my understanding is correct, it ended up that way

    Using thee is part of the testimony of simplicity, like not removing your hat or calling people Friend Firstname (Lastname) instead of Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms. Lastname. It is a sign that you refuse to offer tokens of worldly respect to your equals before God. Friends don’t care what pronouns the world’s people use to address them, or whether they do or don’t wear hats, so the situation is not symmetrical. Here’s a well-known anecdote about it:

    Summoned into the presence of King Charles II, William Penn refused to remove his hat. When the King asked why, Penn replied, “Friend Charles, we do not uncover for any man, but only for the Lord.” Upon hearing this, Charles removed his own hat. “Friend Charles,” Penn asked, “why dost thou uncover thyself?” “Friend Penn,” Charles II replied, “in this place it is the custom for only one man at a time to keep his hat on.”

    The reason most Friends have abandoned plain speech and plain dress for the most part is that rather than making them blend in, it now makes them stand out, thus violating the spirit of plainness.

    TIL that while francophone Friends once addressed everyone as tu, their version of plainness is now to address everyone as vous regardless of role or circumstances.

  128. SFReader says:

    “Freendaa, come buy cheap clothes for laadyy” (c) heard at the Beijing Friendship market

    Never suspected they were Quakers

  129. Lars (the original one) says:

    Some Lars dude (he/him/his): […]

    DE: Lars is absolutely right and I agree with them.

    Another part of courtesy that is starting to appear is for people like me who are OK with, or even prefer, their default gendered pronouns to state them, even if people would use them anyway based on other evidence. The idea is that it makes people who want other pronouns less of a special case; I’m not sure if that attempt at social engineering will have a big effect, but at least it shows solidarity and costs nothing.

    (That Lars dude (he/him/his) was me, an experiment on my part to get around a dislike that WordPress has towards me — if I try to change my tag line or include links, even a naked host name, my comments always go into moderation. So I’m staying with the old one until I have time for more experiments).

  130. Stu Clayton says:

    Lars: that happened to me yesterday, when I posted by “Mabel (Assistant Head Waitress)” – a silly old gambit from 2009-2010 here. The only explanation I can think of at the moment is that WordPress has associated “Stu Clayton” with the email address I always use. When I try to use a different moniker, it strikes.

    There were no links in the post.

  131. Lars (the original one) says:

    I have even tried using another email, and clearing cookies, and stuff. I suspect an evil AI.

  132. David Eddyshaw says:

    What do the Ghanaian languages do?

    I don’t know of any with cases marked by morphology in nouns. All have just sg versus pl in number, and I don’t know any that make inclusive/exclusive distinctions, though I think the one or two Mande languages might. As far as personal pronouns go, Kusaal is probably fairly representative, with a system a bit like French, with a distinction between potentially stand-alone contrastive pronouns which don’t do morphological case at all, and clitic non-contrastive pronouns with distinct forms for verb objects.

    It’s also typical in distinguishing animate/inanimate but not male/female. All the languages (including Pidgin English) distinguish number in the second person.

    Some languages have grammatical gender, with separate sets of 3rd person pronouns, but (as usual in Niger-Congo) male vs female doesn’t interact with this; there is just one “human” gender.

    Mooré (not Ghanaian, but a close relative of Kusaal) uses pl for sg honorifically in both second and third persons.

  133. Lars (he/him/his) says:

    Experimental post, different OS, different IP, not logging in to Google…

  134. Lars (he/him/his) says:

    Experimental post, different OS, different IP, different email, not logging in to Google…

  135. David Marjanović says:

    some perfectly minimalist language (okay let’s not talk about Piraha now …)

    Indeed not, because as simple as the pronouns are, the verbs are pretty heavily polysynthetic, with a heap of aspects and evidentials.

  136. Lars (the original one - he/him/his) says:

    Now let’s see — the site seems to have an ‘equivalence’ token that it assigns to name, email and website strings that are seen together, and if even one of them is repeated, all the new ones get the same value too. Plus it’s stored in cookies. So I need to change both name and email at the same time and clear cookies… *crosses fingers*

  137. Lars (the original one; use he/him/his) says:

    Now let’s see — the site seems to have an ‘equivalence’ token that it assigns to name, email and website strings that are seen together, and if even one of them is repeated, all the new ones get the same value too. Plus it’s stored in cookies and probably checks the IP as well. So I need to change IP, name and email at the same time and clear cookies… *crosses fingers*

  138. AJP Crown says:

    Lars is absolutely right and I agree with them.

    Surely it’s Lars are absolutely right.

  139. Stu Clayton says:

    Lars pour L’ars. It’s the artist’s choice.

  140. SFReader says:

    Our resident forum spirit – Lar Forumalis

  141. David Marjanović says:

    Surely it’s Lars are absolutely right.

    Interestingly, nobody seems [sic] to do that.

  142. Stu Clayton says:

    So I need to change IP, name and email at the same time and clear cookies… *crosses fingers*

    A pretty effective measure against a particular kind of “spoofing” – someone posting inflammatory opinions while pretending to be “Lars (the original one)”.

  143. Lars (the original one) says:

    Yeah, but I messed up somewhere, I have not been able to dissociate myself from that person either.

  144. Stu Clayton says:

    Haha, autospoof fail ! I read the novel Cards Of Identity decades ago, and remember it with great wholesale amusement (the details escape me now).

  145. AJP Crown says:

    Let’s see, I hope this is the right thread…
    From a US report in today’s Independent:

    “We are currently working with TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and airport officials to ensure all protocol was followed. We wish the child the best in their recovery.”

    Now, I would have followed German & Norwegian and used “it” for the child. If animals can be its, so can children.

  146. Lars (the original one) says:

    The Taoiseach, today:

    […] I hope that the new UK prime minister has not chosen no deal, but that will be up to them.

    Nobody is really left in doubt of that (horrible little) man’s preferred gender by now, I should think. So maybe something else is going on, I’m just not sure what.

  147. Stu Clayton says:

    Perhaps it’s a reference to B and his (extra)terrestrial masters. No PM, no President can do much by hisself.

  148. So maybe something else is going on, I’m just not sure what.

    What’s going on is the increasing normalization of singular “they.” Huzza!

  149. J.W. Brewer says:

    AJP: in AmEng newborn human babies can be “it” but they move up the animacy hierarchy pretty rapidly once out of the womb, so two years old is probably too old for that. But I doubt very much that this particular two-year-old has a subjective preference for “they” over “he”; rather, this is the much more traditional use of using singular “they” to refer to an individual human of unknown or at least unspecified (because the speaker may happen to know but not think it salient in context) sex. Although the omniscient third-person narrator in the news story is confident it was a boy, the corporate spokesperson may not have been sure of that when under time pressure to issue a bland statement of concern and blame-deflection. Separately, because “child” is one notch more abstract than “boy” or “girl” there could have been a deliberate choice to use “child” rather than “boy” in the press statement to make the incident seem slightly more abstract and thus slightly less alarming, with the pronoun choice following from that choice.

  150. J.W. Brewer says:

    For the BoJo reference, it would be odd in AmEng to say “up to them” when the President himself was the antecedent, but quite normal to say “up to them” when the antecedent was “the White House” or “the new Administration” or some other such way of saying the-President-plus-some-relevant-set-of-advisers. One can thus easily imagine a situation in which you had actually said “the new President” but had been thinking “the new Administration” and accordingly went with “them” rather than “him” a few words later, having forgotten which of the near-synonyms you had actually uttered.

    That certainly doesn’t establish that it’s not, in the instance quoted, evidence of extending singular they to an identified individual of known sex/gender, just that it seems to me an equally plausible alternative explanation (mutatis mutandis as to how you would refer collectively to the PM-and-team, where I suspect the local variety of English offers several options) to me.

  151. Stu Clayton says:

    Such delicate sensibilities, such pressure to conform to new norms that aren’t ! I’m sticking with he/she, others will do as they please and criticize me at the risk of getting their nose bit off. I don’t imagine anyone cares much about what I do or think, actually. The pressure is applied primarily to those burdened with a willingness to be sucked into transgressive discussion.

    Jes’ sayin’.

  152. Such delicate sensibilities, such pressure to conform to new norms that aren’t ! I’m sticking with he/she, others will do as they please and criticize me at the risk of getting their nose bit off.

    What the hell are you on about? Nobody’s pressuring anybody to conform to anything, and nobody cares whether you use he/she or not. The wicked flee when no man pursueth.

  153. AJP Crown says:

    two years old is probably too old for [it]

    You’re right, of course, JW. I’ve been out of the English-speaking world too long to make sensible decisions.

    The Taoiseach, today:

    […] I hope that the new UK prime minister has not chosen no deal, but that will be up to them.

    Nobody is really left in doubt of that (horrible little) man’s preferred gender by now, I should think. So maybe something else is going on, I’m just not sure what.

    He probably just meant ‘they the British’ [voters, possibly].

    (horrible little) man
    People who know him from university etc. seem to dislike him quite a lot as a person. However, I thought he was a MUCH better speaker in the House of Commons today than anyone I’ve heard there for ages (another Tory, Geoffrey Cox is ok). I enjoy his sense of the ridiculous and he made J. Corbyn look like the whiny (little) boring negative whiner he undoubtedly is. The policies Johnson mentioned (immigration: let them all in, being one) seemed ok. I suspect he’s no worse on Brexit than anyone else is (certainly Corbyn).

  154. J.W. Brewer says:

    The Rt. Hon. BoJo certainly scores very well in entertainment value, which is admittedly perhaps a greater desideratum for politicians in nations in which you do not personally reside. Here’s one rather left-handed compliment delivered to him I quite like: “Most politicians, as far as I can work out, are pretty incompetent, and then have a veneer of competence, you do seem to do it the other way around.” Although a somewhat different perspective on the same appearance can be found in “people always ask me the same question, they say, ‘Is Boris a very very clever man pretending to be an idiot?’ And I always say, ‘No.'”

  155. AJP Crown says:

    Grumbly is no wicked flea, and I, for one, care what he thinks.

    scores very well in entertainment value, which is admittedly perhaps a greater desideratum for politicians in nations in which you do not personally reside

    Too true, but also good if they’re to appear live on my computer.

  156. I care what he thinks too, but I’m not about to let insulting remarks about “delicate sensibilities” and “pressure to conform to new norms” slide. Speak as you would be spoken to, my mother always used to say.

  157. Mind you, it’s hot and I’m irritable.

  158. SFReader says:
  159. Sure, it’s a confusing topic.

  160. AJP Crown says:

    It’s jolly hot in Germany too at the moment, 101 F in Köln at 7pm. Probably worse than Texas. (Here it’s a mild 75 F.)

  161. SFReader says:

    Personally, I don’t care much about trans issues. If people want to change their gender, let them. I am even willing to call them by the pronoun they prefer (surely calling a man wearing makeup and high heels “she” seems more natural than referring to them as “he”.)

    However, I am very much against parents castrating their children under pretext of “sex realignment surgery” or whatever.

    This is surely child abuse and should be against law in any civilized country.

  162. Is it a thing, though? Gender dysphoria OTOH is definitely a thing.

    It is pleasant 20C where I am now and I feel content and benevolent toward humanity, Mr. Clayton and Rt.Hon. PM included. As usual, I stand ready to kill Fahrenheit next time I see them.

  163. Stu Clayton says:

    I can’t imagine how our host got the unlikely idea that I would ascribe “delicate sensibilities” to him.

    Every day in this IT business, doing code reviews, I fight delicate programmers trying to establish as the norm their favorite ignorant practices. To this day I have not lost one battle. I do not convince the programmers, of course, stubborn as they are, but their technical and disciplinary superiors. The programmers retreat moping and mowing, and do as they are told (but not by me).

    The situation with he/she does not confuse me at all. Toujours gai, I’ve seen all sorts since consorting at the age of 13 with bar queens, transvestites and lesbian lefties. It’s all old hat. I accommodate people I know, but I’ll be damned before I will allow myself to be caught up in the current mandating media whirlwind of old hats.

    It’s a sensitivity scam. I have often encountered men and women who express verbal “uncertainty” about their sexual “orientation” and/or practices. I never took anything for granted and commiserated, but just talked. People can talk themselves into a frazzle, and with a little help talk themselves out of it.

  164. All is well then. The heat will pass, as will the gas.

  165. Stu Clayton says:

    … yea, even the pigeons on the grass. They should be done by now, it was 39☼ here at 5 this afternoon. No A/C.

  166. AJP Crown says:

    Stu, These here hetrosexual young people want to experiment with being gay and sex changes and whatnot, meeting each other on the internet. Now they’ve got condoms and it’s their idea of the cutting edge or the outside of the envelope. It’s no fun for them to have old farts like us saying been there, done that (not that I was or did, much).

  167. Stu Clayton says:

    Oh, I don’t care what *they* get up to. It’s the middle-aged op-ed bien-pensant propriety experts who chap my ass – the talkers, not the doers. You know, the ones who write “it’s high time we [do this, stop doing that]” with regard to “identity”, “gender”, toilet signs and pronouns.

  168. Or with regard to anything else. “We must [blah blah blah]…” I’m starting to want to excise the verb “must” from the language.

  169. Stu Clayton says:

    I see you, like Dr. Strangelove, fighting down the hand that wants to write “We must excise the verb ‘must’ from the language”.

  170. Yes, as I often say, I have my feelings about language same as anyone else. The difference is that had I the power to eliminate the words and usages I dislike, I would not use it. I’m a cranky anarchist.

  171. Stu Clayton says:

    That would be a waste of power. What the country needs is pigs that can fly, and a good five cent cigar.

  172. I treat is as a genre thing. Not that columnists really think that we “must”, but it is a tradition to write the opinion columns in a forceful style.

  173. Lars (the original one) says:

    He probably just meant ‘they the British’ [voters, possibly].

    Full quote:

    The position of the European Union and the position of Ireland has not changed.

    The backstop is an integral part of the withdrawal agreement; without the backstop there is no withdrawal agreement, there is no transition phase, there is no implementation phase and there will be no free trade agreement until all those matters are resolved.

    So I hope that the new UK prime minister has not chosen no deal, but that will be up to them.

    He may have meant “the government” or “the voters” or “the PM’s team,” but none of those are mentioned in the text and the issue yesterday was the Rt. Hon. PM’s own statements and intentions so that would be a surprising leap. At least I was surprised by the them.

  174. Lars (the original one) says:

    This is surely child abuse and should be against law in any civilized country.

    The civilized countries that I know of do not in fact allow this — though they do allow hormonal treatments that can postpone puberty until the individual reaches the age of majority, and like any medical procedure there is a risk of adverse effects but not higher than other things that are done with parental consent.

  175. SFReader says:

    Well, I’ve read about that scandal in a British newspaper.

    A woman went with her son to Thailand where they castrated him as part of the “sex realignment surgery”. The procedure is not available in Britain, so I suppose they are still marginally civilized.

    When she came back, some journalist accused her of child abuse, but made a mistake and “misgendered” the victim, so the woman complained to police and they investigated the journalist for possible hate crime (apparently “misgendering” someone on Twitter can be illegal in Britain).

    Castration of a 16 year old child was not investigated.

  176. David Eddyshaw says:

    I would not believe an account of such matters in any British daily newspaper, if I were you. The Daily Mail, in particular, routinely lies without shame, especially regarding matters like these.

  177. Lars (the original one) says:

    I know from discussions in Denmark that just because there’s a law against performing a procedure on a minor in a country, it’s not automatically a crime for a parent to take their child to another country and have the procedure done. Denmark had to pass laws mandating jail time for parents who send their daughters to the home country for circumcision, before that it was not a crime.

    That law probably doesn’t cover sex reassignment surgery so the same thing could happen here as in the UK, but if it does I’m pretty sure there will be a law soon after.

  178. Lars (the original one) says:

    any British daily — I get my daily Brexit fix from the Guardian, and I don’t remember them slanting any item so hard that facts suffered. But then I sympathize with their slant.

  179. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Guardian is indeed mostly reliable. A good heuristic for the dailies is that the more right-wing the editorial stance, the less compunction about culpable carelessness with the facts or indeed outright fabrication. This is by no means confined to political coverage: it applies to articles about science and medicine too, for example. The Daily Mail is notorious among UK doctors for its peddling of stories about miracle cures.

    To prove that this is a pathology of British politics rather than some kind of cosmic law, that hotbed of radicalism the Economist is a bright light in a naughty world when it comes to factual accuracy.

  180. SFReader says:

    I can’t remember which newspaper it was, probably the Times, but the facts are not much in dispute.

    Susie Green went to Thailand and had “penile inversion surgery” performed on her barely 16 year old son Jack Green who now goes by Jackie Green. Caroline Farrow called the procedure a castration, mutilation and child abuse, but got in trouble with the police because of “misgendering” the victim (perhaps by using the forbidden “him” pronoun, she says she can’t remember. because the tweets in question were deleted by Twitter).

    Susie Green dropped the charges and Farrow stopped calling her a “child abuser”.

    End of the story.

  181. David Eddyshaw says:

    16 is old enough to get married in the UK. I think it may be old enough to join the army, too. It is likely soon to be old enough to vote in several regional elections.

    I would say that to describe the behaviour of a mother evidently trying to help her child (however misguided you may feel this to be) as “castration, mutilation and child abuse” was objectively fairly vile trolling. It was, as I suspected, the usual right-wing tabloids who confected a spurious story that this was all about criminalising free speech or “misgendering.” That was just a flat lie.

  182. David Eddyshaw says:
  183. David Marjanović says:

    16 is old enough to drink beer and wine in much of Europe (possibly all), and old enough to vote in Austria (even in EU elections).

  184. SFReader says:

    I don’t know, the whole “penile inversion” thing sounds worse than female circumcision.

    Are there any actual medical reasons for such barbaric surgery? For anyone, let alone minor children

  185. AJP Crown says:

    I think you have to be 18 to drink legally in Norway, but it’s a while since I was interested enough to check on it.

    I trust both the NY Times and the Guardian not to lie outright, but I was really shocked during Labour’s election of Jeremy Corbyn at the tendentious approach the Guardian used to present facts in its news articles about the contest. The paper is & was against Corbyn, and I was for him at that stage, so I probably noticed it more than I would have when I agree with them (which is most of the time and esp. the very wonderful George Monbiot). I’m guessing the worst for blatant lying, esp. now that the Mail had a new editor, is Murdoch’s The Sun. Not many Hatters read The Sun, I’m guessing although you never kno.

  186. SFReader says:

    I have a little vice – I like reading true crime stories and weirder the better.

    For some reason, “British right-wing tabloids” love to print them and they are often the first search result on the Internet, so I read British newspapers quite more often than I would otherwise.

  187. Lars (the original one) says:

    As I read the Danish guidelines, minors (under 18) or their guardians can consent to hormone replacement therapy (HRT, with potentially irreversible effect), but not ‘bottom’ sex reassignment surgery (SRS) or castration. From 15 they can potentially consent on their own behalf, though there is a general precaution about their psychosocial situation that will probably mean that teens who have a conflict with their parents have to show better cause than those whose parents agree.

    Penile inversion is a type of SRS, specifically vaginoplasty where skin from the penis is used, it’s not as barbaric as it sounds. It’s an elective surgical procedure that has been shown to improve mental health in the recipient, so all civilized countries offer it as part of public healthcare. But it’s irreversible so it should not be performed on minors.

    Drinking ages, on the other hand, are weird. In Denmark you can buy beer and wine for home consumption from 16, but you have to be 18 to be served in a bar or restaurant. In Sweden, you can be served beer and wine in a bar from 18, but you have to be 21 to buy it from the monopoly stores. (Beer up to 3.5% abv can be bought in supermarkets, from 18).

  188. David Marjanović says:

    Beer up to 3.5% abv

    Ah, so such a thing exists outside the US.

    (Other than beer sold as “alcohol-free”, which contains up to 0.5%.)

  189. John Cowan says:

    the more right-wing the editorial stance, the less compunction about culpable carelessness with the facts or indeed outright fabrication

    See Mill above on the stupidest party.

    fighting down the hand that wants to write

    “Must … excise … the verb must … from the language!”

    The verb must has a technical meaning in specifications: an absolute requirement, which if violated renders an implementation of the specification non-conformant. Correspondingly must not is an absolute prohibition. Weaker modal verbs are should (not), which allows deviations but says an explanation must be provided, and may, which is a true choice by the implementer. (There are also corresponding adjectives required and recommended.) In ISO-speak, however, shall is substituted for must on the grounds that non-native speakers are more likely to misunderstand must and particularly must not.

  190. David Marjanović says:

    No idea why shall would be clearer than must. But yes, plenty of languages (like German) negate “must” to form “need not”, not “must not”.

  191. Stu Clayton says:

    Das muß nicht sein! = “no need for that!”, “that’s taking it a bit far!”.

  192. Must is also useful for me, to indicate proven mathematical consequences: “In field theory, a spin-independent change in the maximum achievable velocity for electrons must be the same for positrons.”

  193. per incuriam says:

    The Taoiseach, today:

    […] I hope that the new UK prime minister has not chosen no deal, but that will be up to them.

    Nobody is really left in doubt of that (horrible little) man’s preferred gender by now, I should think. So maybe something else is going on, I’m just not sure what

    On this subject an Irish PM has to tread a very fine line so some disfluency is almost inevitable in unscripted utterances. Varadkar does not normally use “them” in this way.

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