VIOLENCE.

My brother is on his way back to California after a week spent letting us show him the delights of autumn in New England, and one of our field trips was to Historic Deerfield, which was an enlightening experience (although it would have been more enjoyable if we hadn’t been getting increasingly hungry for lunch and the last docent hadn’t been quite so long-winded and repetitive). Eager to read Francis Parkman‘s classic account (Chapter 4 of his 1892 A Half Century of Conflict) of the Deerfield Raid of 1704, I pulled my Parkman Reader off the shelf and plunged in. After raising my eyebrows at the description of the native allies of the French as “these savages” in the first paragraph, I was soon immersed in a lively description of the winter attack and its aftermath. About halfway into it, however, I ran into a word usage of such euphemistic dissonance that it not only jolted me out of the narrative but made me laugh and run to my wife’s study to read it to her.
Here’s a selection of snippets from the chapter, for context (warning—snippets contain much violence): “Nevertheless, in the first fury of their attack they dragged to the door and murdered two of the children and a negro woman called Parthena, who was probably their nurse…. Meanwhile the Indians and their allies burst into most of the houses, killed such of the men as resisted, butchered some of the women and children, and seized and bound the rest…. After a time, however, they hacked a hole in it, through which they fired and killed Mrs. Sheldon as she sat on the edge of a bed in a lower room…. She had fallen from weakness in fording the stream, but gained her feet again, and, drenched in the icy current, struggled to the farther bank, when the savage who owned her, finding that she could not climb the hill, killed her with one stroke of his hatchet…. on the day following, Friday, they tomahawked a woman, and on Saturday four others…. More women fainted by the way and died under the hatchet….” Now comes the dissonance:
“During the entire march, no woman seems to have been subjected to violence; and this holds true, with rare exceptions, in all the Indian wars of New England.”
For those not familiar with Victorian squeamishness as reflected in language, Parkman is here referring to rape, a subject so beyond the pale, so unspeakable, that he cloaks it with a word so general as to be incomprehensible if you don’t know the code. What’s amazing to me is that neither he nor, I presume, his readers of the day were bothered by, or even (I suppose) noticed, the blatant inappropriateness of the literal meaning of the word to the terrible events he has been describing.
Addendum. I forgot to mention that at the visitors’ center I picked up a brochure in Russian, titled Исторический Диирфилд [Istoricheski Diirfild], with an absurd transliteration of the town’s name (which should be Дирфилд [Dirfild]). Why don’t people get their foreign-language material checked by people who know the language?


Those wanting a less biased account of the raid should visit Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704, a very well done site that tries “to tell the story of the Raid on Deerfield from the perspectives of the five groups who were actually present at the event: Wendat (Huron), Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), Wobanakiak (Abenaki), French, English.” I particularly recommend the maps.

Comments

  1. It might not be Victorian squeamishness, but similar language sometimes strikes me as strange when watching Law and Order SVU: rape is often described as “assault” without the adjective “sexual”, rapists are often referred to as “violent offenders” and indeed sexually motivated offenses are described as “violence against women”.

  2. My most famous (collateral) ancestor, my eight-times-great aunt Hannah Dustin, is commemorated by a statue in Haverhill because of the 10 Indians she killed. She also got a sermon by Cotton Mather and something by Thoreau.
    Her sister Elizabeth Emerson also got a sermon by Cotton Mather, immediately before she was hanged for infanticide. Mather described her ahs the most recalcitrant counselee he ever had.
    Life was more interesting in those days, but I don’t really miss it.

  3. Tangentially, here — have you read Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War? I thought it was one of the dozen most illuminating books I’ve read ever about the formation of America. A brilliant history of the Seven Years’ War.
    Yes, it’s curious that he would use “violence” for that without realizing he was saying something on the face of it absurd. I think perhaps the word’s kinship with “violation” was more present in readers’ minds then than now, and murder, then and now, doesn’t exactly count as “violation.” (Now why exactly *that* is so, I think it would be interesting to pursue.)

  4. On the subject of violence and violation: In Emma Jane Austen writes
    [...] she was immediately preparing to speak with exquisite calmness and gravity of the weather and the night; but scarcely had she begun [...] than she found her subject cut up – her hand seized – her attention demanded, and Mr. Elton actually making violent love to her: [...] declaring sentiments which must be already well known, hoping [...].
    For me, even after ridding myself as best I can of the modern meaning of “make love”, the world “violent” is jarring. It looks as if in Austen’s world a man declaring his tender feelings, his sincere attachment, his honorable intentions, could be said to be “making violent love”.

  5. mollymooly says:

    Gower’s Fowler’s Usage decries “assault” as a euphemism for “rape” with this example:
    Pathological tests suggest that she had two blows on the head, was strangled and probably assaulted.

  6. Bill Walderman says:

    I think you have to be careful when you read Parkman. He’s a wonderful writer, but you have to remember that he supported the suppression of Native Americans in the American west to make way for “civilization.” I’m suspicious that his portrait of Native Americans as brutal savages is greatly exaggerated, and that he doesn’t do adequate justice to the brutal savagery of white people towards Native Americans.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    Why don’t people get their foreign-language material checked by people who know the language?
    Because many people think they know a language when they only have a smattering of it, or a distant recollection from their schooldays.
    I find the lack of checking quite intolerable for French in English and English in French, especially in books on linguistics: not because I expect everyone to have a good knowledge of French, but because the errors would be so easy to avoid. There are lots of French speakers among the English-speaking population (especially in Canada), and if there are none within the writer’s circle or close vicinity, it is easy to find grammars and dictionaries to turn to for help, especially when a linguist writer is just looking for examples illustrating particular points. The same thing and worse is happening in English examples in French works: just a few weeks ago I ordered a linguistics textbook from France containing examples from many languages, including English, and on closer inspection I was appalled by the number of elementary mistakes in the English examples, either in the French translation or even in the examples themselves. In any work which cites many languages, finding the occasional typo might be forgivable even in a well-known language, but the errors I mean go far beyond simple typos. If there are so many errors in examples from languages which are so well-known and for which it is so easy to find written material, how can I trust examples from more obscure languages?

  8. Actually I would suggest Дирфильд with the soft sign is the best transliteration, otherwise you’re encouraging Russians to pronounce the name with a Russian accent (that stereotypical dark “l”). Russian usage seems to waver on this point, although I did find this quote in a Russian article on Mesoamerica: “Целью самого известного набега (предположительно 29 февраля 1704 г.) стал Дирфильд в Массачусетсе: индейцы убили 56 человек, 109 увели в плен, а половину домов сожгли.”

  9. Funny, but I immediately understood “violence” against women in that context, after an infinitesimal gap as I adjusted for the semantics of the phrase. You are right to point out the incongruity of it, but it just seemed to me a slightly old-fashioned usage. The meaning is plain.

  10. re: Jane Austen.
    It does indeed sound strange, but ‘making love’ meant expressing love, and ‘violent’ in this context presumably means forceful, fervent, etc. I imagine that Emma found Mr Elton’s onslaught jarring, hence ‘violent’.

  11. “Why don’t people get their foreign-language material checked by people who know the language?”
    Because it costs too much. I’ve worked in English correction, charging from 1.5€ per standard page (Romania, Czech Republic) to 3€ a page. I ain’t going to do it for anything less, and many firms just don’t see such a need for impeccable language that they are going to pay much for it.

  12. The word “rape” is itself a euphemism originally, is it not? It originally just meant seizing something or someone by force, e.g. “Rape of the Sabines”, as it still does in Romance languages with no sexual meaning implied. When did it acquire it’s modern meaning? In Italian rape is “violentare”, in Spanish rape is a “violacion”. Perhaps educated readers in the 19th century with a greater familiarity with Latin would have seen the connection of “violence” with “rape” as less odd than we do today.

  13. Euphemisms are interesting. Even when we know what is being referred to, we don’t respond or think about it in the same way when a euphemism is used. So, we nevertheless protect ourselves from the full horror of a crime, and thereby we do a disservice to its victims, no? Euphemisms have the same reference but not the same meaning.

  14. dale: Yes, it’s one of my favorite history books as well; I wrote about it here.
    Bill: Such warnings were necessary a half-century ago, but I’m pretty sure we’re all aware by now of the basic facts of colonial violence towards Native Americans. (In fact, I’d say now caveats are needed in the other direction: Native Americans were not in fact peaceful, politically and ecologically correct ideal people in touch with themselves and the earth and the spirits, but were just as violent and rapacious as any other human beings—they simply didn’t have the numbers and technology to oppress and exterminate with the efficiency of their conquerors.)
    Christopher: That makes sense, thanks.

  15. Oh, and I wanted to add that as bad as the Диирфилд transliteration is, they mangled it still further with a typo in the very first line of the brochure: Диифгилд [Diifgild]!

  16. Bill Walderman says:

    Russian hard “l” comes closer to the “l” in “Deerfield” that the soft “l.” My native speaker Russian teachers at Monterey forty years ago wanted to transcribe my surname–which has the same consonant cluster as Deerfield (although preceded by a back vowel, which might make a slight difference), without a m’agkiy znak but I insisted that my great-uncle, who was born in Odessa, taught me to spell it that way in Russian (and to start with a v and not a u).
    “Native Americans were not in fact peaceful, politically and ecologically correct ideal people in touch with themselves and the earth and the spirits, but were just as violent and rapacious as any other human beings—they simply didn’t have the numbers and technology to oppress and exterminate with the efficiency of their conquerors.”
    At least in the first two centuries of European colonization, and even into the third, the Europeans were busy slaughtering one another on a much larger scale than anything in North America, ostensibly over religion. And the European triumph in North America was probably due to smallpox more than anything.

  17. Parkman seems clear to me too – after the preceding passages it’s clear he can’t be talking about violence in general.
    French “sauvage” was the usual and apparently neutral designation for native Americans.

  18. Our hometown newspaper used the word “molest”. For reading material that goes into homes and may be seen by children, you don’t want to introduce material that’s too adult and may scare children. Not to mention there are people who like to read accounts of such crimes out of prurient interest.

  19. “French “sauvage” was the usual and apparently neutral designation for native Americans.” You can buy French jam made from “framboises sauvages”.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    sauvage: the basic meaning is “wild” as in les baies sauvages “wild berries” and les animaux sauvages “wild animals”. “Wildcat strike” has been adopted as “la grève sauvage”. The word can meaning “savage” as well, but it still has its primary meaning. So les sauvages to refer to people living in the woods rather than in towns and cities was not originally derogatory.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    “Why don’t people get their foreign-language material checked by people who know the language?” – Because it costs too much.
    It would cost much to have a qualified translator check a whole volume, but I am talking about short snippets of language. In the kind of academic book I was referring to, an author could enlist the help of colleagues (who would do the job for free as part of “collegial service”), and at the very least look or check for examples in grammars and dictionaries. There is no excuse for an academic book on languages translating “It is” into French as “C’était” (it was), among numerous other errors.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    Because many people think they know a language when they only have a smattering of it, or a distant recollection from their schooldays.

    Or people who know full well their knowledge is inadequate are simply hired because they’re therefore cheap, and they can’t refuse, because all their base are belong to someone else.

    my great-uncle, who was born in Odessa, taught me to spell it that way in Russian (and to start with a v and not a u)

    All that would result in a German/Yiddish, as opposed to English, pronunciation. Was that the intent?

    In Italian rape is “violentare”, in Spanish rape is a “violacion”.

    Like everything else, this got calqued into German: vergewaltigen/VergewaltigungGewalt = violence.

  23. The subject of euphemisms for violence sent me to the King James Bible last night. I was checking up on my memory that in the Book of Ruth the rich and magnanimous Boaz not only allows Ruth to glean in his field but even issues some special instructions about it, including that the farm hands are not to “touch” her. Reading between the lines I gathered that in the absence of such special instructions a female gleaner would have to expect a certain amount of sexual molestation as a price to be paid for a bit of food. Do Biblical scholars think “touch” was a euphemism for rape?

  24. Do Biblical scholars think “touch” was a euphemism for rape?
    Apparently it was one possible meaning of the word נגע .
    Ruth 2:9 “I have told the men not to touch you.” (NIV)

  25. Reid Ripley says:

    Deerfield might have been better transliterated by the use of an I and a “short-I” (i-kratkoe/Ivan-kratkii) to convey the longer sound of the double vowel. In _my_ 32-years-ago Monterey DLI-FLC Russian course, I adopted “R-I-i-D¨ as the transliteration of my given name to hint at a bit more English-style length in the vowel phoneme than a simpler one-letter Russian transliteration would have given. The instructor recommended I do the opposite, and content myself with a simple I, for the final vowel sound of my last name in order not to entangle any Russians into trying to decline it in the adjectival manner it would then suggest.
    The “-TC” transliteration of the final consonants in “Massachusetts” was well advised. There is a Russian consonant Ts, which stands for that exact sound — but using a Ts there would imply to the Russian speaker not the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but an inhabitant or a native thereof. Can’t say as I seriously think they’d use such a locution to talk about a person from Massachusetts, but I might be flat wrong.

  26. In Croatian the word for rape is “silovati” (verb) & “silovanje” (noun). Both come from “sila” = force.
    Interestingly, the oldest Croatian law-code, from the 1200′s (http://www.nsk.hr/HeritageDetails.aspx?id=367 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_codex_of_Vinodol) uses the now-rude word “jebati”.

  27. an inhabitant or a native thereof:
    массачусетцы и массачусетки – massachusettsy and massachusetki. Sounds great, I love this!
    There are several other, equally entertaining ways of forming names of inhabitants thereof: try adding -ahne/-ahnki or -ichi/ichki. Two forms – masculine and feminine.
    Like Vanya, I am also curious to see how ‘rape’ as kidnapping becomes ‘rape’ as ‘violation’, non-consensual, force sex. Another example: the famous Serov painting is called ‘The Rape of Europe’ in English and “Похищение Европы” (kidnapping of Europe) in Russian. How come?

  28. “At least in the first two centuries of European colonization, and even into the third, the Europeans were busy slaughtering one another on a much larger scale than anything in North America, ostensibly over religion. ”
    Religion had very little to do with it, even during the so-called religious wars. And that accounts for only the first century of contact. The 18th century was hardly a time of religious wars. People would have just laughed.
    And there wasn’t a lot of slaughter. More soldiers by far died of noncombat causes – and considering the pathetically ineffectual modes of combat it didn’t take a lot of sickness to exceed combat deaths – and the peasantry and townspeople were left as “unmolested” as possible, because they were counted as the primary form of spoils and source of wealth. This is the real origin of our high-minded revulsion at harming civilians, by the way. So lots of small-scale, interminable wars, not a lot of death.
    In fact Europeans have never gone in for total war the way Americans, both Euro and native, have. White Americans learned total war from Native Americans, because that is how they fought each other and then us. To this day Europeans and Americans often talk past each other on the subject of war because of this.

  29. Parts of Germany were almost depopulated by the religious wars. Jim’s view is too benign.
    Methinks this is not a proper LH topic.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    I am also curious to see how ‘rape’ as kidnapping becomes ‘rape’ as ‘violation’, non-consensual, force sex.
    Because kidnapping a woman or girl was (and often still is) usually for sexual purposes. In French the “Rape of the Sabines” is L’enlèvement des Sabines, where enlèvement (taking away) of a woman could be consensual or not – for instance, in the case of a girl whose parents disapproved of her boyfriend and shut her up in her room who arranged for the boyfriend to come and rescue her in the night – like Romeo and Juliet. But she could also be kidnapped by a man she did not like (or his underlings) and who would force himself on her.
    In Greek mythology there are many instances of kidnapping of mortal girls or women by assorted gods, especially Zeus, some with the consent of the girl, some not (several girls are described as killing themselves in order to avoid being raped by the god).

  31. Let’s not stereotype or leap to conclusions. I frequently kidnap girls (or women) for a variety of non-sexual reasons (for example housekeeping, editing, flower arranging, or software troubleshooting) and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

  32. I studied Latin all through high school and at one point got a book on early Roman history out of the library for extra background reading, just for fun. I have no idea who wrote that book or when, but I was utterly baffled when I came to the part where it was told how the monarchy was overthrown and the Roman Republic established due to events precipitated by Sextus Tarquinius, the son of Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome. Sextus Tarquinius, the book said, “insulted” the Roman matron Lucretia, and she committed suicide because of it.
    I don’t think that I figured this one out on my own. I don’t think I could have at that age, unless, perhaps, I kept looking for the story in another source. I think I must have asked my Latin teacher and she explained it to me.
    Pathological tests suggest that she had two blows on the head, was strangled and probably assaulted.
    I simply cannot read that sentence without laughing — violently.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    I frequently kidnap girls (or women) for a variety of non-sexual reasons (for example housekeeping, editing, flower arranging, or software troubleshooting) and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
    Perhaps your notion of “kidnapping” is idiocentric.

  34. In German, the false-friend but now accepted loanword “Kindesmissbrauch” (from “child abuse”, literally “child misuse”) means only sexual abuse. The lexical equivalent of “child abuse”, the older word “Kindesmisshandlung”, means only non-sexual physical abuse.

  35. I suppose you tell them you’re an assorted god.

  36. I suppose you tell them you’re an assorted god.

  37. No one has mentioned Mark Twain’s unfinished story “Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer among the Indians”, which had a scene with foreshadowing of a rape. There was some speculation back in the 60′s when the story was published in a magazine that Twain didn’t finish the story because he was a proper gentleman and would never be able to bring himself to speak of such things.

  38. oh no, he would. I have a tome of ‘Letters from the Earth’ (in Russian) which contains horribly graphic descriptions of rape and pillage committed by the Indians against white settlers. The wikipedia article about the essays is here.

  39. oh no, he would.
    Letter XI? Less dispassionate than that, I think. The premise was an Indian attack in which a woman is kidnapped and the protagonists are tracking them.
    “Letters from the Earth” was published posthumously.

  40. Mr. Eliot Limns a Meaning-in-Context
    rapio, to carry off by force, seize, rob, ravish, plunder, ravage, lay waste, take by assault, carry by storm.To drive, impel, carry away, precipitate, transport, ravish, captivate, overwhelm, draw irresistibly.
    The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
    The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
    Endeavours to engage her in caresses
    Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
    Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
    Exploring hands encounter no defence;
    His vanity requires no response,
    And makes a welcome of indifference.
    [. . .]
    Bestows one final patronising kiss,
    And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

  41. Oh, don’t forget the beginning of that passage:

    The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
    Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
    Out of the window perilously spread
    Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,
    On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
    Stockings, slippers, camisoles and stays.
    I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
    Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest -
    I too awaited the expected guest.
    He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
    A small house agent’s clerk, with a bold stare,
    One of the low on whom assurance sits
    As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.

    I don’t suppose Eliot ever read Arnold Bennett or Diary Of A Nobody. What a little snob he was. To think we swapped Auden for him.

  42. @ A.J.P. ‘Permanent’ Crown
    Yes, I wonder what it was about Britain that attracted him :)

  43. Snobbery (takes one to know one).

  44. Snobbery (takes one to know one).

  45. Ah, that was your point. Sorry.

  46. Ah, that was your point. Sorry.

  47. … I was going to say something about Virginia Woolf also being a huge snob, and cite her remarks about Joyce as an example, but since that’s not big news I’ll direct you instead to Sir Leslie Stephen’s photograph album.

  48. … I was going to say something about Virginia Woolf also being a huge snob, and cite her remarks about Joyce as an example, but since that’s not big news I’ll direct you instead to Sir Leslie Stephen’s photograph album.

  49. [-] Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
    The worlds revolve like ancient women
    Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

  50. Nijma: yes, I’ve just checked, Letter XI.
    Deadgood: thanks for the word sequence, I now see the light.

  51. Elsewhere I recently opined, per Virginia Woolf, that the Pre-WWII European high bourgeoisie was wound up too tight. I think that applies to a lot of people, Why couldn’t those guys just kick back and chill?

  52. On errors in French, the most irritating is the misuse of the definite article, le for a feminine or la for a masculine word. Another thing are the authors who think knowing French. For example S.M. Stirling, the SF author, had in his book Conquistador, his heroes encountering in an alternate world a french refugee from Algeria, a pied-noir and he is named Marcelle!!!

  53. In the addendum Hat points out the weird transliteration of Deerfield. I agree, it should be with one “и” in Russian.
    What I wanted to ask is, is whether the soft mark before ‘l’ here – “фильд”- would make the transliteration better. In the old Russian tradition of transliterating softer Anglo-Saxon sounds are often ‘germanised’. So, -field would be transcribed more like German Feld or Dutch veld, with soft ‘l’ (Chesterfield – Честерфильд). The more modern tradition uses phonetically closer -филд. But is it? I say Дирфилд, and I hear Deerfeed, almost. I say Дирфильд, and I can definitely hear the ‘l’, though not quite how anlophones pronounce it. Which do you think is better?
    John Emerson mentioning Virginia Woolf made me think of this. There are too competing ways of transliterating her surname: Вулф and Вульф (with or without the soft mark). I have just published an item about A Room of One’s Own on my blog and suddenly discovered that I can’t bring myself to write the name without the soft mark. But maybe it’s just because Pushkin had a friend called Вульф?

  54. That’s a good question, and I’m not sure there’s an answer that will satisfy everyone. But transliterations are to a large extent arbitrary anyway; Russian transliterations of Chinese will always look weird to me, but as long as you know the conventions you can interpret them correctly.

  55. dtrenq: Screwing up gender is an English tradition of very long standing, as in Le Mort D’Arthur. As for Marcelle, that’s either a joke or a publisher’s error: Sterling was actually born in France (in Metz, then the site of a Royal Canadian Air Force base) and would be unlikely to make such a mistake himself.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Sterling was actually born in France (in Metz, then the site of a Royal Canadian Air Force base)
    I don’t know anything about S.M. Stirling except what I saw on Wikipedia, which has nothing to say about his personal life. Even if he was born in France, how long did he live there, and under what conditions? assuming that he spent his childhood there, If his father was in the Canadian military, and the family lived on the base, he probably went to a school on the base, where anglophone children would be taught in English, rather than to a French school.

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