The Offspring of fascia.

The other day I heard a news story about the garment called in Spanish faja (more or less ‘corset’), and of course I wondered about the etymology. It turned out to be from Latin fascia ‘band, bandage, swathe, strip, ribbon,’ but not directly — it’s borrowed from Aragonese faxa. The inherited form is haza ‘small field, plot of arable land’; there’s also a scientific term fascia ‘layer of loose tissue’ borrowed directly from Latin, making three doublets. And if you go to the Wiktionary fascia link and scroll down, you’ll see a whole list of descendants, from Aromanian fashi ‘bandage, dressing; swaddling clothes’ to Greek φασκιά ‘swaddling clothes’; a particularly interesting entry is Old French faisse, fece, which gives French fasce (re-Latinized), borrowed into English as fess(e) “An ordinary formed by two horizontal lines drawn across the middle of the field, and usually containing between them one third of the escutcheon” (per the OED). It would have thrilled me as a lad getting interested in language to have instantly available such comprehensive displays of historically related forms, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever be blasé about it.


  1. I never imagined that Greek as old as Koiné had borrowed anything from Latin.

  2. PlasticPaddy says

    It is disturbing to imagine a french fesse or fesses as a heraldic device. I am now going to bed with that thought.

  3. But how fascism is related to fascia?

  4. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    SFReader, apologies if I’m answering a rhetorical question. Fascism is named after the symbol it adopted: the fasces, or in Latin the fascis or in Italian the fascio. For extra clarity or formality, the symbol of the Roman magistrates and then of Fascism can be called a fascio littorio, because a fascio alone is also any old bundle of sticks or stick-shaped objects. I suppose that is also true of a fascis in Latin.

    De Vaan’s (2008) Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages reports that fascia is a derivative of fascis. I wouldn’t have known the direction, but I always thought the connection seemed obvious since the symbolic fasces is specifically a bundle of sticks tied by a ribbon, i.e., by a fascia — perhaps specifically a red one in ancient Rome.

  5. Alan Shaw says
  6. David Marjanović says
  7. Siganus Sutor says

    Oh, I just discovered the other day that this word, fascia, has a different pronunciation whether used in England or in the United States. Funnily enough, I tended to pronounce it the American way, probably because it sounded closer to French. (I think I even posted something on Facebook about it.) In any case, I wouldn’t know how to say “a fascia beam” in French…

  8. AJP Crown says

    Hi Sig!
    If anyone wondered as I did why anyone would need a tied bundle of sticks, here’s fascine. This would work very well with bamboo (a currently popular structural building material).

  9. Compare the gabion.

  10. Lars (the original one) says

    This morning I passed a roadworks where the crew was putting down a faskine for cloudburst protection — it turns out they are now made with modular plastic blocks of extremely open structure. (The Danish word has already been transferred to beds of coarse gravel for rainwater drainage, but I wasn’t aware of this new design).

  11. SFReader says

    imagine a french fesse or fesses as a heraldic device

    French right wing movement would be called fessism.

    Fessistes would have a flag with a red background, a white disk and black fesses in it…

  12. Stu Clayton says
  13. Echoing PlasticPaddy, there’s scope in French for more than a little political punning here since it just so happens that the word for “bum, buttocks” is “les fesses” (from a different Latin source though).

  14. Stu Clayton says

    That which is bound tightly together by 601 jeans. The TLFi gives the other derivation from a combination (d’une part … d’autre part) of Latin words (and misunderstandings of them) for “butthole” and “crack”.

  15. AJP Crown says

    Interesting, so I guess the gabion carries vertical loads and the fascine horizontal ones. The second gabion meaning is tchotchke?

  16. Stu Clayton says

    There are also torsional loads, no ? They are “carried” by the lashing holding the vertical and horizontal components together ?

  17. The second gabion meaning is tchotchke?

    I like it!

  18. AJP Crown says

    Oh, God, you really need Sig or Trond not me for this. But yeah, whatever torsion occurs may or may not be taken care of to some extent by the lashing, a red ribbon according to Wiki.

  19. John Cowan says

    I never imagined that Greek as old as Koiné had borrowed anything from Latin.

    “The Koine” conventionally extends for six centuries, from the death of Alexander to the reign of Constantine. That’s a long time and a lot happened, including a nearly complete modernization of Greek in its phonology and morphology, plus intense interaction with Latin-speakers, particularly on an elite level. It isn’t for another three centuries that Latin ceases to be the official languages of the Eastern Empire.

    It’s not too surprising, then, that WIkt lists 347 such borrowings, from αἰδίλης ‘aedile’ to χαρτουλάριος ‘archivist’ < c(h)artularius ultimately < χᾰ́ρτης ‘sheet of paper’ . Of course most of the entries are proper names.

    When more than one Roman mile from the City, the consular and praetorian lictors added an ax to the bundle of sticks, signifying that the right of appeal to both the popular and the military tribunes was suspended. A dictator (on those occasions when the Senate appointed one) used the ax at all times.]

    The heraldic noun ordinary used above is also interesting: it is one of the basic geometric shapes superimposed on the background of a shield and stretching from one edge to another. After the background itself, they are the most basic part of any shield. In addition to the fess, there are:

    the bar, a narrower version, rarely borne singly

    thepale, a vertical stripe

    the cross, fess plus pale

    the bend, a diagonal stripe running from the bearer’s upper left to the lower right

    the bend sinister, a diagonal stripe in the opposite direction, much rarer but having nothing to do with bastardy (the misnomer bar sinister comes from the fact that bends are called barres in French)

    the saltire, bend plus bend sinister

    the chevron, rughly the bottom halves of the two bends, but intersecting above the center point

    the chief, a horizontal stripe across the top

    The boundaries need not be straight, and when they are not they are named by a large number of wild and wooly adjectives (postposed, as always in heraldry): indented, dancetty, rayonny, wavy/undy, nebuly, engrailed, invected, embattled, raguly, dovetailed, potenty, embowed, nowy, with many variants, rare or unique forms, and modern inventions.

  20. PlasticPaddy says

    I am curious about c (h)artularius. The word cartula does not appear to have replaced carta in Romance, e.g., because Italian has cartolaio for the shopkeeper and carta for the paper. So was cartula a different format from carta (which the shopkeeper bought from a wholesaler)? Actually Italian has cartolina in the sense of “greeting or postcard”. Maybe we should ask Étienne.

  21. Roman folklore attributes the removal of the execution axes from the fasces while in Rome itself to Publius Valerius Publicola. When it was feared that he, as the sole remaining city magistrate, would make himself rex, he demonstrated his loyalty to the Republic by demolishing his partially built palace and, in the forum, had the lictors lower and disarm their fasces before the people, the people being the city’s ultimate sovreign.

    Publicola is, I think, the most interesting character in the early history of the Roman Republic. He has to deal with the actually running the state. Livy states unambiguously that Publius Valerius, not Brutus, was the greatest statesman of his time. This ties into Livy’s preference to see the characters from the early history of Rome as archetypes, rather than rounded individuals. Brutus is a lawgiver archetype; he oversees the founding of the state, establishes harsh penalties for treachery with the execution of his sons, and then dies in battle, leaving the matter of actually running the state to others. Another of Livy’s archetype characters is Attus (Latinized to “Appius”) Claudius, who embodies patrician pridefulness; there are actually several generations of Appii Claudii in the early books of Livy’s history, but Livy makes no effort to distinguish father from son from grandson; they are all essentially the same character, with the same dangerous pride.

  22. J.W. Brewer says

    Having learned the jargon of heraldry as a boy but not having learned French sexual slang at the same time, I am only now learning of the double-entendre possibilities of “fess.” Would those have been obvious to the still hemi-semi-demi-Francophonic English heralds of the Middle Ages who codified the jargon, or was the other sense a more recent development in French? Although the heraldic sense of “bend” has presumably co-existed for a number of decades in my lexicon with various slang senses (including sexual slang) of “bent,” without causing undue dissonance of confusion.

  23. per incuriam says

    French sexual slang

    Fesse is not “sexual slang”, it’s the word used by doctors, physios etc.

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    Ah, well. My ignorance of French is even greater than I had supposed, and I had supposed it was pretty vast. But my question as to how old that sense is, compared to the heraldic sense, remains.

  25. Trond Engen says

    AJP: Oh, God, you really need Sig or Trond not me for this.

    Takk for tilliten, as we say. I have no idea what the question is, though.

  26. AJP Crown says

    Stu wondered if any torsion in the gabions would be taken care of by the binding tying them together. I don’t want to say yes or no and then get sued by a thousand lawyers when some American’s river bank bursts. So I passed it on to you. You can pass it on to Sig. He can refer it back to me, though in truth I’m not certain a red shiny ribbon has much tensile strength.

  27. While on the subject of heraldry, I wonder why so many Swedish surnames have lager ‘bay laurel’ in them: Lagerlöf, Lagerqvist, Lagergren, Lagerström, Lagerfelt, and many more, I believe. At least two of them are Nobel lagreats. Was laurel that popular as a heraldic symbol?

  28. PlasticPaddy says

    With these nature names, I wonder if they were sometimes selected to match the patronymic, which was not permitted for use instead of a fixed surname in Sweden after a certain point. So then you would have Larsson > Lagerkvist and Ericsson > Ekdahl.

  29. AJP Crown says

    There seem to be a lot of dendroidal surnames in Swedish; Rehnqvist (ren kvist, straight twig?) and Hasselblad (hazel leaf) being the two that immediately come to mind.

  30. David Marjanović says


    It continues across the sea, of course: Koivulehto = birch leaf.

  31. Trond Engen says

    Ah. A gabion is essentially just a basket full of stuff. When used as a free-standing wall, there’s no torsion, but outward pressure due to self weight will yield circumferential stress in the wires. Without friction or bending stiffness, the free edges would be rounded, yielding a (circular or elliptic) ball, cylinder or whatever you call a “stadium shape”. The basket will have to be small enough that friction between the rocks will transfer most of these forces down to the bottom grid and.out to the side grids instead of to the back and front grids, and that the minimal bending capacity of the vertical wires is enough to keep the basket roughly in shape. Or there could be internal transversional wires between the nodes in the back and front grids. When used as a retaining wall, there’s added assymetric horizontal force. This will not yield torsion, but a shear force and a moment. The shear force will have to be transfered to the foundation as friction berween the rocks. The moment will have to be countered by self weight, i.e. the gabion must be wide enough that self weight behind the tipping point is enough to stop it from tipping. This is true at every horizontal section of the wall, but the critical section will normally be at the foundation (since the width of the wall can’t be zero at the top).

  32. Koivulehto = birch leaf

    ‘birch GROVE’ (originating in Björklund, I believe)
    “leaf’ is lehti

  33. Lars (the original one) says

    It wasn’t so much that the old -sson names were abolished, but they were frozen so that Olle Hanssons son would be Hasse Hansson instead of Hasse Olsson.

    According to the Swedes I knew, it was a common thing up to after WW2 at least for families to exchange their old frozen patronymic surnames for newly constructed two-part names with some tree/animal/natural feature as the first part and one of a shorter conventional list of second parts, regardless of semantic match. The model for this is probably a type of noble family name built on heraldic designs (like Rosenquist).

    My neighbor went by the name Pelle Liljeqvist, where Pelle was a hypocoristic formed from Pettersson which was his surname when he did his national service (in the 1960’s, probably). I don’t remember if he changed the name himself or followed his parents when they did. His actual legal first name only came out on contracts and the like.

    Rehnqvist (currently 161 bearers in Sweden) is probably built on ren- = ‘reindeer’ and -kvist = ‘twig,’ with elaborated spelling. There is another word ren = ‘ditch’ but I think this is a less likely source. (For another animal twig, cf Björnquist with 11 bearers currently).

  34. Trond Engen says

    Also -blom “flower”, -blad “leaf” and -gre(e)n “branch”. Most common is “Landscape-element-plant-part”: Sjöblad, Strandquist, Engblom, Dahlgren. Even wierder than “Animal-plant-part” is “Cardinal-direction-plant-part” Norrgren, Södergren, Östergren and Westergren.

  35. Lars (the original one) says

    Søblad is the Danish heraldic name for the ‘hearts’ in the arms of Denmark, ‘actually’ they are water lily leaves. (If it looks like a heart, and quacks like a heart…) That is not to say that the Swedish Sjöblad has heraldic roots.

  36. Trond Engen says

    I didn’t know that, but now I think Sjöblad is a likely origin for an analogical extension.

  37. AJP Crown says

    Ah, sorry Trond. I guess we were talking about facine at that point rather than gabion and I can see how those might twist around. But thanks for your great & succinct explanation of the forces. Structural engineering rules!

    I like the Ditch-twig translation for Rehnqvist. There was a horrible, conservative top judge in America called Rehnquist. Horrible, conservative and pompous, Ditch-twig had a special gold-striped outfit made so that he’d look more important than all the other judges.

  38. Trond Engen says

    Oh, right. Fascinating structures. When used as retaining walls, the horizontal bundle of branches/twigs transfer horizontal load as shear force and bending moment to the vertical poles, which are rammed deep enough into the underground to be fixed. There may be a little torsion between the supports because of vertically uneven distribution of stress, but that would simply mean that those strands (branches/twigs) with more stress would bend more and the fascine tilt a little between the supports.

    Also, it struck me that “fascine” might have been the original meaning of the word bank in Germanic.

    Edit: I forgot to say that I first had this thought when i visited Haithabu on Friday. The Heathenings used fascines or a similar construction to retain the banks of the brook running through the town,

  39. Trond Engen says

    For the etymology, let me handwave in the general direction of bunk and binge. No. bunke means “staple, heap”, but the older meaning seems to have been “container or retainer for cargo in a ship”. No. binge means “pen” as in “pigpen” and “playpen”.

  40. Stu Clayton says

    Bunkbeds. Beds stacked up.

  41. Lars (the original one) says

    Da bunke = ‘heap’; Sw bunke = ‘mixing bowl’. I thought this was coincidence since a possible etymological connection was hard to imagine, but the dictionaries take both back to ON bunki = ‘ship’s hold’. The jump from a heap of stuff to a container for stuff is not explicated in the Dictionary of the Swedish Academy, they just sort of pan up to the print on the wall and back down to the baby in the cradle.

  42. Stu Clayton says

    Rosemary’s Baby ?

  43. Lars (the original one) says

    That needs a fade to black too.

  44. David Marjanović says

    birch GROVE

    Oh! Thanks!

  45. John Cowan says

    Ditch-twig had a special gold-striped outfit made so that he’d look more important than all the other judges.

    To be fair even to gold-striped assholes, the Chief Justice is more important than the other justices: not in the sense that his vote counts for more, of course; it doesn’t. On the ceremonial side, he is Chief Justice of the U.S. whereas the others are Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. He presides over presidential impeachment trials and (by custom) administers the presidential oath.

    On the substantive side, the Chief Justice prepares the list of cases to be considered by the Court, though any justice can add to it. (Only about 5% of appeals actually get heard.) He also chooses the justice to actually write the opinion of the Court, provided of course that he was in the majority. He is also the chief administrative judge for all federal courts; in other courts this role typically rotates, but the C.J. holds it for life. The Supreme Court justices refer to each other as brothers; the C.J. is their elder brother.

    (Just one universe away, it’s the members of the North American Parliament who address one another as Brother or Sister + surname, rather than “the honorable member for …” When the addressee happens to be a Native as opposed to a Newcomer, the proper term is “Elder Brother/Sister”.)

  46. As Warren Burger, the previous chief justice, demonstrated, having the seniority to assign all opinions can actually make a significant difference in influencing the results of close cases. When Burger appeared to be on the losing side of a preliminary 5-4 vote, he would sometimes vote against his actual preferred position and assign the opinion to himself. He would then write the opinion in such a way as to alienate at least two other members of the preliminary majority, hoping to change the final vote to 4-5. This (along with the way their political opinions diverged over time) was one of the things that really strained his friendship with Associate Justice Harry Blackmun—who in their early years on the Court together were sometimes known as the “Minnesota twins.”

    Another point about the position of chief justice: The law giving the chief of the Supreme Court oversight over all the federal courts would clearly be unconstitutional under Marbury v. Madison—in which the Supreme Court established its power of judicial review by declaring precisely that a law passing oversight of the lower Article III courts to the Supreme Court was unconstitutional. Of course, the substance of the law at issue was, in the long run, much less important than the Court arrogating responsibility for interpreting the constitution in such a binding fashion. Chief Justice John Marshall also made sure to establish judicial review (entrenching Federalist power via the Supreme Court) in a case that was actually adjudicated as a win for the Democratic-Republican Jefferson Administration.

  47. David Marjanović says

    Of course, the substance of the law at issue was, in the long run, much less important than the Court arrogating responsibility for interpreting the constitution in such a binding fashion.

    You mean it didn’t have that responsibility from the beginning? Younger countries have constitution courts whose practically only responsibility is to determine if a law is constitutional when someone files a suit that says it’s not.

  48. AJP Crown says

    The point here isn’t about the job, it’s that up until Rehnquist and after Rehnquist the chief justice has been content to wear the same uniform as the rest of them.

    It’s enough with the pope, queen, archbishops, university presidents, Superman, bewigged judges and Miss Universe; aggrandising top jobs with phony-historical mystery outfits ought to be discouraged. The next thing you know Trump will insist on wearing a pointed white hat and sheet.

  49. Lars (the original one) says

    Just wait until they publish the tapes.

  50. David Marjanović says

    The next thing you know Trump will insist on wearing a pointed white hat and sheet.

    And we will have a national emergency.

  51. AJP Crown says

    Talking of emergencies, here’s a helecopter in today’s paper lowering bags of gravel to stop a reservoir from bursting. They look to me like they might be called gabions.

  52. I think those are just bags – a gabion has to have a rigid structure. But they’re serving a gabion-like purpose – especially upriver where they’re dumping more into the feeder watercourse to stop the water level rising while they pump the reservoir out.

  53. John Cowan says

    You mean it didn’t have that responsibility from the beginning?

    Nope. Until 1787, written constitutions hardly existed, except in the American colonies that had replaced their royal charters with constitutions (two did not, because they had pretty much written their charters themselves and were satisfied with them until well into the 19C). After that, the concept spread fast: Poland in 1791 (too little and too late), France (four written constitutions in the 1790s alone), all Europe in 1848 (didn’t last, alas). But by the turn of the 20C it was a standard idea that a country needs a written constitution, and when it alters or abolishes its governmental forms, it needs a new one. Decolonization spread those ideas to the whole world.

    So the infant U.S. was winging it, and this was just one of the ways. That said, the experience of mostly-republican government in the colonies, plus independence by revolution, probably made the whole idea possible in the first place. Republic were thin on the ground in 1787, most of them were heavily oligarchical, and even the thirteen states were by far the largest republic that had ever existed.

    But before 1789 everything was completely different. The constitution of a country was like the constitution of a person: a flexible set of norms saying how things ought to be, as it still is in GB, IL, NZ, Saudi Arabia (an absolute monarchy that grants a constitution ceases to be an absolute monarchy), and San Marino (which hardly needs one). A court’s specific expertise in understanding legal documents would have been irrelevant to that, and royal charters could only be interpreted by the monarchs who granted or renewed them.

    (NZ is the most curious case: it neither declared independence nor was formally granted it, but was pretty much just abandoned by GB. It’s independent now, certainly, but the year when that happened can’t be pinned down: claims can be made for 1841, 1856, 1907, 1919, 1926, 1931, 1947, and even 1973.)

    Update: Here’s a bit of Marbury v. Madison, in which Chief Justice Marshall explained his reasoning for turning the Supreme Court into a constitutional court, though its full development as such wasn’t till later. (Many unmarked omissions of whole grafs.)

    The authority given to the Supreme Court by the act establishing the judicial system of the United States to issue writs of mandamus [a court order to a government official to do his duty or to do it correctly] to public officers appears not to be warranted by the Constitution.

    It is emphatically the duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases must, of necessity, expound and interpret the rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Court must decide on the operation of each.

    If courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature, the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.

    So, if a law be in opposition to the Constitution, if both the law and the Constitution apply to a particular case, so that the Court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the Constitution, or conformably to the Constitution, disregarding the law, the Court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty.

    If, then, the Courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the Legislature, the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.

    Those, then, who controvert the principle that the Constitution is to be considered in court as a paramount law are reduced to the necessity of maintaining that courts must close their eyes on the Constitution, and see only the law.

    This doctrine would subvert the very foundation of all written Constitutions. It would declare that an act which, according to the principles and theory of our government, is entirely void, is yet, in practice, completely obligatory. It would declare that, if the Legislature shall do what is expressly forbidden, such act, notwithstanding the express prohibition, is in reality effectual. It would be giving to the Legislature a practical and real omnipotence with the same breath which professes to restrict their powers within narrow limits. It is prescribing limits, and declaring that those limits may be passed at pleasure.

    That it thus reduces to nothing what we have deemed the greatest improvement on political institutions — a written Constitution, would of itself be sufficient, in America where written Constitutions have been viewed with so much reverence, for rejecting the construction. But the peculiar expressions of the Constitution of the United States furnish additional arguments in favour of its rejection.

    The judicial power of the United States is extended to all cases arising under the Constitution.

    Could it be the intention of those who gave this power to say that, in using it, the Constitution should not be looked into? That a case arising under the Constitution should be decided without examining the instrument under which it arises?

    This is too extravagant to be maintained.

    In some cases then, the Constitution must be looked into by the judges. And if they can open it at all, what part of it are they forbidden to read or to obey?

    It is apparent that the framers of the Constitution contemplated that instrument as a rule for the government of courts, as well as of the Legislature.

    Why otherwise does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it? This oath certainly applies in an especial manner to their conduct in their official character. How immoral to impose it on them if they were to be used as the instruments, and the knowing instruments, for violating what they swear to support!

    The oath of office, too, imposed by the Legislature, is completely demonstrative of the legislative opinion on this subject. It is in these words:

    “I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich; and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent on me as according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

    Why does a judge swear to discharge his duties agreeably to the Constitution of the United States if that Constitution forms no rule for his government? if it is closed upon him and cannot be inspected by him?

    If such be the real state of things, this is worse than solemn mockery. To prescribe or to take this oath becomes equally a crime.

    It is also not entirely unworthy of observation that, in declaring what shall be the supreme law of the land, the Constitution itself is first mentioned, and not the laws of the United States generally, but those only which shall be made in pursuance of the Constitution, have that rank.

    Thus, the particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written Constitutions, that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void, and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.

    Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom.

  54. AJP Crown says

    Until 1787, written constitutions hardly existed

    In which the Americans acknowledge the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath as a precedent. (Further down, the American Congress gets into slightly dodgy waters by claiming that Elizabeth Taylor was a Scotsman.)

  55. John Cowan says

    Those waters are already slightly dodgy, per Wikipedia: not all historians accept the DoA as an influence on the U.S. DoI. But in any case, it is a declaration of independence (addressed to the Pope rather than all humanity) and in no sense an “ordained and established” constitution. The only bit that even faintly resembles such an idea is the statement that if Robert the Bruce decides to sell out Scottish independence, they will dispose of him and get themselves another king who will fight for it.

    That’s not a document saying how Scotland shall be run even at the level of principle, and it is at most a very faint adumbration of the American DoI: “Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”, which clearly shows that a constitution was expected as soon as possible.

  56. Ditch-twig had a special gold-striped outfit made so that he’d look more important than all the other judges.

    It is said that C.J. Rehnquist added the golden stripes after watching the Trial by Jury. So it was at least a bit ironic and self-deprecating. A.J. Ginsburg likes to wear a collar, which she believes to be something more than a fashion statement.

  57. American lawyers don’t all wear ties. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was looking for an appropriate way to top out the outfit for a woman Supreme Court justice, a question that only arose in the latter half on the 20C. It seems reasonable. A fashion statement is what Rehnquist was making more than. And it may well be ironic, but he wasn’t making it so. To inflate his own importance with markings is the opposite of self-deprecating.

    JC, you’ve given the impression that America came up with the world’s first constitution out of nowhere; and all the other little countries were very grateful. It’s patriotic nonsense akin to saying Edison invented the lightbulb. You should read the History section in the wiki article on the Magna Carta from 1215 through to the 18C.

  58. Well, the Judge in the TBJ is a buffoon and Rehnquist’s look in that robe was a bit buffoonish. The purported role of the judicial robe is to subsume (visually) personality into the role, RBG in one of her interviews made it clear that she wanted to underscore that she is not some random old justice, but a female justice. I am not sure she is much succeeded. I mean, in this narrow endeavor; she obviously has had much success in more important matters.

  59. AJP Crown says

    D.O. Well, the Judge in the TBJ is a buffoon and Rehnquist’s look in that robe was a bit buffoonish.

    Oh ok, got it. I see your point. I haven’t seen the movie.

  60. John Cowan says

    AJP, it’s obvious that written constitutions grew out of the worldwide institution of royal charters, and specifically the English variety of them. The Great Charter, and even more so the myth of the Great Charter as the bastion of Saxon liberty against the Norman monarchy, was very important to that development.

    I also concede gladly that the Humble Petition and Advice was truly a constitution for the Commonwealth in 1657-59. Although it is in form a mere request to the Lord Protector, it does in fact tell him what he can and cannot do. Perhaps regrettably, Cromwell declined the Crown and pressed for the re-establishment of an Other House as a check on the Commons, so he did make unilateral alterations in it before Commons passed it.

    But that reinforces my point: large republics (and even monarchies that aren’t absolute) need well-defined constitutions with teeth. The Commonwealth was probably the largest republic until then, and yet it collapsed when on the death of one man. The U.S. was large, seemed to have a stable government (especially after the peaceful transfer of power in 1800), and had a constitutional model easy to copy and adjust. Now the U.S. Constitution is archaic and clunky in many details, and I wouldn’t encourage copying it now, especially the pseudo-monarchical presidency.

  61. AJP Crown says

    In the words of Simon Jenkins* on the Peloponnesian wars, that I was reading today:

    Athens allowed history to glimpse the practice of democracy but not the means of sustaining it. That is the true art of politics, and it has eluded much of Europe [Europe is the subject of the book], even to the present day.

    *Newspaper ex-editor, columnist & former spouse of American actress Gayle Hunnicutt (now aka ‘Lady Jenkins’).

  62. David Marjanović says

    1. That your Highness will be pleased by and under the name and style of Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the dominions and territories thereunto belonging, to hold and exercise the office of Chief Magistrate of these nations, and to govern according to this petition and advice in all things therein contained, and in all other things according to the laws of these nations, and not otherwise:

    17. And that your Highness and your successors will be pleased to take an oath, in such form as shall be agreed upon by your Highness and this present Parliament, to govern these nations according to the law.

    A dictature – up to a point.

    the pseudo-monarchical presidency

    Austria’s Ersatzkaiser functions pretty well. The trick is that, in theory, theory and practice are the same, while in practice they’re not. Thus, the president is commander-in-chief of the military*; but in a country that is neutral and an EU member, there isn’t much opportunity to command anything. The president appoints the cabinet, and is well within his rights to appoint the Seven Wisest Men In the Kingdom; right now, Austria has such an “expert cabinet”, made of people** who don’t have official party memberships, for the first time, because of the exceptional circumstance that the previous cabinet exploded in scandal in May – and it is a placeholder cabinet to be replaced by whatever will come out of the coalition negotiations that’ll follow the parliamentary election in September (two years earlier than scheduled, IIRC). After all, a cabinet not tolerated by a majority in parliament is thereby fired. The president retains the ancient privilege of being able to legitimize illegitimate children; this is dead letter as there aren’t any laws left that distinguish wedlock from bastardry. And so on and so forth.

    * Army, air force with fighter planes that were bought as part of a corruption scandal and are largely inoperable, and, uh, Danube flottilla.
    ** Not coincidentally, that’s how Austria got its first woman chancellor.

  63. John Cowan says

    A dictature – up to a point.

    The kings of England have always taken such an oath, as the English monarchy was never absolute: it was always feudal, with reciprocal rights and obligations between the monarch and the subjects (as between lords and tenants generally), and part of the point of the HPA was to restore the traditional and well-understood relationship, with Oliver as the founder of a new dynasty.

    The oldest known English coronation oath, composed and administered by Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, for the crowning of King Edgar in 973, basically has the king swearing he’ll do the Right Thing. But by the time of Edward II’s crowning in 1307, the oath gets much more specific:

    Q. Sire, will you grant and keep and by your oath confirm to the people of England the laws and customs granted to them by the ancient kings of England, your righteous and godly predecessors, and especially the laws, customs and privileges granted to the clergy and people by the glorious King Edward, your predecessor?

    A. I grant and promise.

    In other words, the king is swearing to uphold those same existing rights and obligations, and not to govern as an absolute monarch. Bracton, one of the first writers on English law (fl. 13C), wrote:

    The king ought not to be subject to man, but to God and to the law; for the law makes the king. Let the king therefore render to the law what the law has invested in him with regard to others, dominion and power. For he is not truly king [whose] will and pleasure rules and not the law. […] The king also has a superior, namely God, and also the law, by which he was made a king.

    The traditional oath was revamped after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 because its terms were considered too vague and archaic, and the form given then, with some obvious updates, is what the Queen swore in 1953, beginning:

    Q. Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?

    A. I solemnly promise so to do.

    ObHat: Note the cool garden-path in “That your Highness will be pleased by”: by and under is redundant for just under, and the whole thing from there until belonging is parenthetical, so that the main clause reads “That your Highness will be pleased to hold and exercise …”.

  64. About twenty years ago, there was a major reform bill introduced in the British Parliament, which would have codified about a dozen or so laws as, collectively, constitutional (although the proposed bill did not use that word) in nature. Making changes to them would then have required a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons; this would move Britain toward the kind of partially codified constitution that states like Germany and Israel have. The bill was defeated, with a number of ultimately compelling arguments made against it. The two I remember specifically were: that it would undermine Parliamentary supremacy as a general principle, by having written constitutional laws; and that it could make it difficult to amend the discriminatory provisions of the Act of Settlement, should the need arise (if an heir to the throne wanted to marry a Catholic, for example—British public opinion having decided, over the last generation or so, that restrictions on who the royals may marry are ultimately damaging to, rather than protective of, the institution of the monarchy).

  65. John Cowan says

    Here’s another rights-and-obligations-style oath, though this one is personal and not national

    “Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Peregrin son of Paladin of the Shire of the Halflings.”

    “And this do I hear, Denethor son of Ecthelion, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the high King, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valour with honour, oath-breaking with vengeance.”

  66. Ersatzkaiser
    That basically was also the model for the presidency in the German Weimar constitution. The post-WW II Grundgesetz moved away from that as one of its “lessons learnt”, i.e. an attempt to avoid what was then seen as structural weaknesses of the Weimar constitution that made Hitler’s takeover possible (here: a strong presidency that competed with parliamentary government). So the German president isn’t elected by the people, but by a special assembly, he isn’t the commander-in-chief (that role goes to the Minister of Defence in peacetime and the Chancellor in wartime), and he has a much lower influence on the formation of governments.

  67. David Marjanović says

    the kind of partially codified constitution that states like Germany and Israel have

    Interesting – I have no idea about Israel, but how is Germany’s constitution only partially codified?

    (Or have you been confused by the fact that it’s not called a constitution for historical reasons?)

  68. David Marjanović says

    That basically was also the model for the presidency in the German Weimar constitution.

    It included enormous emergency powers that have rightly been done away with.

    Funnily enough, from 1920 to 1929 the role of the Austrian president was much more similar to that of the German one now (less potential power, no direct election).

  69. I forgot the thread where we expressed our surprise that famous people who we thought were long dead actually turned out to be still living or died just days ago.

    So I’ll post it here.

    Nikolai Kardashev, Soviet astronomer who first proposed Kardashev scale of extraterrestrial civilizations back in 1964, died today.

  70. John Cowan says

    The constitution situation in Israel is a rat’s nest even to talk about, but generally we can say that Ben Gurion didn’t think a constitution was important in 1948 under the stress of war and national emergency (something still in effect), and since then the religious parties, which often hold the balance of power, have exhibited very different notions (to say the least) of “basic rights” than secularized Israelis. An attempt was made to pass “basic laws” (not to be confused with Germany’s Basic Law) that would require a high threshold for repeal and would accrete into a constitution, but only a few have ever been passed.

  71. David Marjanović says

    died today


  72. Both the German and Israeli instances of “basic laws” were attempts to provide a partial constitutional structure, which—at the times work on them commenced in the 1940s—were intended to be preliminary to final written constitutions. However, in detail, the approaches taken were quite different. The German Basic Law provided the bulk of a constitution in one document, although necessarily (because of the Federal Republic’s incomplete sovereignty) some technical but important matters were not dealt with in the Basic Law—to be decided later by legislation, treaties, and precedents. The Israelis, in contrast, tried to pass the basic laws in a piecemeal fashion, but they did not get very far before largely abandoning the project.

  73. @Brett: I can’t really agree that the German Basic Law left out anything needed in a constitution – it just stated that it was temporary, pending a future constitution of a united Germany. What are the missing parts in your opinion?

  74. @Hans: Since the Basic Law anticipated that other regions would join the Federal Republic over time, it mentioned the accession of additional areas of Germany, but it did not provide any rules for how this was to managed in practice. This was perfectly reasonable, since it was correctly understood that accession procedures would need to be hammered out in bilateral negotiations between West Germany and the foreign powers (France in the Saarland, East Germany and/or the Soviet Union for the Zone, and potentially Poland past the Oder–Neisse line) that maintained de jure sovereignty over former German territory.

  75. If that’s what you mean by partial, I understand. But that’s an area which is not handled by most constitutions anyway, because for most countries it’s not an issue.

  76. Koivulehto

    Names in Focus
    An Introduction to Finnish Onomastics

  77. Kardashev

    I had vague impression that surnames Kardashev and Kardashian were related, perhaps from Turkish “qardaş” (sibling).

    It turns out it’s just a coincidence. Kardashev is indeed from Turkic “qardaş” (sibling), but Kardashian is from Armenian քարտաշ (kʿartaš, “stonecutter, stone dresser, stonemason”) +‎ -յան (-yan). May ultimately derive from Proto-Iranian *kart- “to cut,” cf. Av. karət- “to cut” (Skt. kart- “to cut”), karəta- “knife;” Mid.Pers. kârt “knife;” Mod.Pers. kârd “knife”.

  78. Very interesting, thanks for that!

Speak Your Mind