Archive for the ‘Linguistics’ Category

Historically, most anarchafeminists have explicitly rejected marriage as a tool of control by the state and/or church, inherently reinforcing the patriarchy. In the early 20th century, this position was known in the Anglophone West as ‘Free Love’ and didn’t necessarily imply anything about the relationship structures of the people involved, although many did engage in what we would now call polyamorous relationships. ‘Free Love’ as a term underwent a semantic shift as a result of its adoption by 1960s counterculture movements, in which incarnation it has been roundly (and rightly) critiqued by feminists. More recently, the word ‘monogamy’ has also undergone a semantic shift, which I argue is actually detrimental to our political understanding of marriage and relationships.[1]

The word ‘monogamous’, taken literally, does not mean ‘having a romantic relationship with only one other person’. It means ‘being married to only one other person’. Despite the semantic shift towards the former that has happened over the past few decades, I argue that we should return to using the word ‘monogamous’ in its literal sense – not on etymological grounds, but on political ones. That is, we should use ‘monogamous’ only to mean the state of being married to precisely one other person (or seeking or being oriented toward such a state).

Immediately, we see that this has two potentially counter-intuitive effects. First, it means we must start calling some people in exclusive, committed, dyadic relationships ‘non-monogamous’, if they are opposed to the institution of marriage or otherwise intend not to enter it. At the same time, it recasts many polyamorous relationships as ‘monogamous’. Specifically, those which have the sort of relationship structure that is centred around a married couple who are practising a sort of gender-equal concubinage with outside partners, who may or may not also be part of monogamous couples themselves.

Before proceeding, let me specify what I mean by ‘marriage’. Marriage is the socio-political institution whereby the state exerts control over relationships and family structures by certifying some as valid while denying the validity of others. It is, in its secular sense, a legal relation and a property relation. I am not critiquing marriage as a religious institution, which from a purely feminist perspective may be more or less acceptable depending on the particularities involved (i.e. can range from extremely patriarchal to not at all) – and which in any case has often been a point of contention between states and minority religions within their jurisdiction. (This is not to say that there are not criticisms of religious marriage to be made; only that they fall outside the scope of my argument here.) Rather, the problem with marriage is that it entails the allocation of legal standing and material resources based on the people involved having signed a particular kind of contract with each other and the state, and state-sanctioned monogamy is thereby blatantly discriminatory both to single people and to polyamorous people.

In the social realm, married relationships are simply taken more seriously in their communities than unmarried relationships, even in purely secular communities where there is no stigma about unmarried partners living together, and even as marriage has begun to wane in social importance overall. When things are going well, unmarried partners might see little difference between themselves and married partners in the eyes of their communities (if not the state) – but mistreatment, abuse, infidelity, and the breakdown of the relationship are all given significantly more social weight if the people involved are married than if they are not. Now, there is a very limited sense in which that is actually appropriate. Partners have the right to make whatever level of commitment they choose to one another, and communities should support that – which includes things like having more social censure for a partner who abandons a committed relationship than for someone who dumps a casual lover. (Obviously, serious mistreatment such as abuse should be taken very seriously no matter what the relationship of the people involved.) The main problem here is not that publicly committed relationships are taken more seriously by their communities than privately committed or uncommitted relationships. It is that the state-sanctioned institution of marriage is often the only way in which this distinction is made.

The word ‘monogamy’, however, even if narrowly defined to refer specifically to marriage relationships and not merely to all exclusive dyadic relationships, can still have a broader sense, because we live in a normatively monogamous society. Precisely because of all of the social pressures towards marriage, it makes sense to call a relationship ‘monogamous’ if it is taking place in a context where all participants understand that marriage is the desirable outcome for a dating couple, and they have not decided any differently between themselves. Therefore, the vast majority of  unmarried relationships in our society could indeed still be called ‘monogamous’, in that they are participating in a normatively monogamous paradigm without challenging it.

It was this relation – marriage, and its social normativity – against which the original proponents of ‘Free Love’ were arguing. While many of them did practise what we would now call non-monogamy, i.e. non-exclusive relationships or polyamory, the term itself did not initially indicate anything whatsoever about the relationship styles of the people involved. It merely meant that they were opposed to the state and the church dictating the forms of their relationships, as well as their legal and property relations associated therewith.

Moreover, when seeing ‘monogamy’ as specifically descriptive of marriage (or aspirations thereto), it becomes clear that none of the arguments that people might make against marriage can thereby be taken as arguments in favour of polyamory, however much merit that kind of relationship arrangement may have for its practitioners.

Polyamory is neither natural nor political. There is a body of thought – or perhaps it is more accurate to say, a set of inclinations – that I am opposing under the term ‘political polyamory’, but which in some forms might also be called ‘evangelical polyamory’, or in some cases even ‘normative polyamory’. Namely, it is the set of ideas that posit that polyamorous relationship arrangements are “more radical” or in some way better than non-polyamorous ones. There are a few different strands here, which I’ll be treating as different arguments rather than as representative of different groups of polyamory-proponents, as it is quite often the case that proponents of one will also be proponents of one or more of the others, despite their internal contradictions.

First, there is the idea that polyamory (or non-exclusivity) is somehow “more natural” than other forms of relationships. Basically, the story goes, human beings probably practised non-monogamous relationships during most of our evolutionary history – and our closest living relatives, the bonobos, certainly do – therefore this is most likely the most natural form for our relationships to take. Setting aside whether or not that is true or even knowable, it quite simply does not follow from the fact that this-or-that behaviour is “more natural” than another that it is in any way better. For one thing, all human behaviour is a product of our cultures to one degree or another; there is no such thing as a human being without culture. Further, even if it were so, the argument rests on a basic fallacy, known in philosophy as the is-ought problem or naturalistic fallacy. That is: it is absurd to make claims about what ought to be the case, merely on the basis of what is. It is certainly valid to use the evidence often cited in these arguments to show that monogamy is not a natural, inherent behaviour in humans, but that negative claim is the extent of what can be shown; the same evidence cannot be used to make any positive claims about what human behaviour is or ought to be.

Next, there is the claim that polyamory is in some sense “more evolved” or “more enlightened” than traditional monogamy. This argument does not rest on dubious evopsychological claims, but instead takes as its base scenario the traditional monogamy of western Europe and its diaspora. Despite (rather curiously) often being proposed by proponents of the naturalistic polyamory arguments just described, in many ways it makes precisely the opposite sort of mistake: it takes its own base set of cultural values as universal norms, and sees polyamory as an enlightened refutation of these norms.[2] The word ‘evolved’ in this context probably isn’t meant literally, as that would not be possible, but seems instead to be metaphorically referencing a teleologically progressive view of human society, in which ideas or practices that come later are taken to be intrinsically better than those that they replace. “Enlightened”, meanwhile, seems to be deployed as a simplistic contradistinction to the assumed benightedness of the monogamous, as though the only reasons a person might not be polyamorous were because they had either never heard of it, or they are so in thrall to tradition that they would never dare to flout it. In this sense, the argument is similar to naturalistic polyamory in that it shares the assumption that everyone would be polyamorous if they had the option, and is held back only by cultural norms. In both of these cases, the so-called political content of polyamory is in challenging the norms of a monogamous society, and the error is in the assumption that normative monogamy is the only reason that someone might choose to only have exclusive, dyadic relationships.

Finally, there is the idea that polyamory is ‘more radical’ or is more ethical based on radical anarchist principles. In the first formulation, it seems to be just another repetition of what I call the ‘queerer than thou’ fallacy. That is, that because x, y, and z sorts of relationships are proscribed by heteronormative mainstream society, relationships that fall into more than one of those categories are ‘more queer’ than those that fall into only one, with the subtext that ‘queer’ = ‘cool’ and so ‘queerer’ = ‘better’. That is to say that it is making a basic category error, confusing what might be “cool” in certain subcultures with what is politically desirable.

The second – and rather more charitable – formulation also comes down to a category error, although in a much subtler way. It is a basic principle of anarchism, as well as of any other properly egalitarian political philosophy, to be opposed to hierarchy in human relations. There is a naïve sense in which this is sometimes interpreted to mean that every person should have an absolutely equal say in every decision – which, upon examination, is obviously absurd. As well as individuals not having any right to butt in on decisions that don’t affect them, most collective endeavours would not function without some delegation of decision-making powers, even if the people making those decisions are ultimately accountable to their collectives and communities. Furthermore, any society will always have hierarchies of information and therefore differing levels of expertise among individuals. The point of opposing hierarchy is not to deny the specialist knowledge of experts, nor to pretend that someone ignorant of a subject can speak on it with equal merit, but to deny that the holding of any particular expertise, skill, or position in society entitles that person to special treatment in their society as a person. For example: it’s fine for the architect to tell us how to build the building; it’s not okay for her to demand that she therefore gets to live in the very biggest and nicest flat inside of it.

Similarly, we quite naturally form hierarchies of love in our personal relationships. I love my friends more than I love my acquaintances, and I imagine that you do as well – that’s why they’re your friends, after all! I would even say that I love my parents more than I love my aunts and uncles, even though I do love my aunts and uncles very much. And, this is okay. What would not be okay is if I were to claim that my friends and my family are more important per se than other people; but that is not what we do when we acknowledge that they are more important to us. We do not make claims that our loved ones are more valuable than other people based on our love for them; we merely acknowledge that we value them more.

There is a subset of polyamorous people – not all of whom would use the word ‘polyamory’ to describe their relationships – who are explicitly opposed to the sort of traditional-marriage-plus-concubinage style of polyamory referenced up top. However, they see the problem with this not as the marriage at the centre, but as the primacy given to that relationship itself, no matter its legal status. They term this sort of relationship structure ‘hierarchical polyamory’, implying (or sometimes outright stating) that people who have a single primary relationship while maintaining other non-primary (or “secondary”) relationships are mistreating their non-primary partners simply by virtue of those relationships being non-primary. This carries with it the implication that it is impermissible to make different levels of commitment to different partners, as to do so would automatically institute a “hierarchy” among one’s relationships. The error, then, in much of explicitly non-hierarchical polyamory or “relationship anarchy” is to seem to imply that by loving or valuing one partner more than another – or, in some forms, more than hypothetical partners who do not yet actually exist, as in the case of commitments to exclusivity – a person is thereby denigrating the very humanity of the other partners (or hypothetical partners).

Proponents of this view seem to be making the logical leap from the idea that all people have equal worth, to the idea that all of the people they are or might be in relationships with should have equal value to them, and thereby an equal “say” in any conflicts that might arise within or among their relationships. Of course, people seldom do end up valuing all of their loved ones absolutely equally – or in the same sorts of ways – and so in practice attempts to enact this sort of relationship structure often find that established romantic partners feel alienated and devalued, especially when they have high levels of entanglement, while newer partners might feel pressured into a level of seriousness they may not feel. This is not to say that people inspired by these ideas about relationship structures cannot or do not have loving, supportive relationships. However, attempts to impose supposedly non-hierarchical relationship structures where they have not formed organically has, in my observation at least, tended to lead to the person pushing for the “non-hierarchical” structure ending up treating their partners quite badly, and this may be because they are attempting to impose a (confused) political ideal onto a situation where it is not at all warranted.

Of course, much avoidable pain has also come from normative monogamy. This, then, is the point of the matter. If polyamory is not political, it must be stated that non-monogamy – in its narrow-but-expansive definition given at the beginning, i.e. the state of being opposed to the sociopolitical institution of marriage, regardless of one’s actual relationships or the exclusivity or openness thereof – absolutely is political. If there is anything worth saving, worth valuing in marriage, it is that it is the method by which communities support partners in their relationships, helping them to support each other and to uphold their commitments to one another. The problem is that for the most part this is the only way that this happens. How much better might our society become if all relationship configurations were supported in this way? If our communities recognised, respected and supported the relationships not only of those people who were married – or intending or assumed to be married – but also those people in long-term, committed, intentionally unmarried relationships; partially or alternatively committed long-term relationships; short-term relationships of any kind; and indeed all uncommitted relationships, in the ways that those need community support as well; and treated single people as whole people and not as defective, open-ended dyadic halves? That is the politics of Free Love, and it has nothing at all to do with polyamory, except as a term – politically and morally neutral as any other – for a particular subset of the myriad options available to people in a truly romantically liberated society.

[1]    Please note: throughout this essay I am speaking from and largely to a very specific cultural context (or set of contexts). Namely, that of radical left-wing political communities and polyamorous/non-monogamous, queer, and other “alternative” minority-sexuality subculture-communities within the Anglophone West. My experience and observation comes from participation in these communities, both in person and online, over approximately the past decade; unfortunately most of the trends and phenomena I describe are therefore not citeable in any traditional way, as they come from either direct participation or from observation of largely ephemeral forms of communication. My observations are my own, and should not be taken as definitive of any group of people.

[2]    In fairness, proponents of this view are generally aware that there are other cultures where monogamy is not the norm, or at least is not normatively enforced. However, to the extent that they engage with this information at all, their engagement tends to be tokenising. That is, there is a general tendency among (especially white) Westerners to pluck ideas and activities from the rest of the world as though they were whole and undifferentiated consumable objects, rather than culturally embedded practices which may not make sense outside of the context in which they were developed. Furthermore, consumption of these alienated tokens is often itself seen as an “enlightened” activity, presumably by the logic that it is only the ignorant and simple-minded who are aware only of their own cultures, and therefore to visibly consume the practices and artefacts of other cultures is necessarily an “enlightened” activity.

A version of this essay was presented at the 2016 Anarchist Studies Network conference in Loughborough. It has been lightly edited.


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Or: (Incomplete) List of Words and Phrases that Piss Me the Fuck Off

1. “In her own right”

Originally a term denoting an aristocratic woman’s titles as inherited through her parents rather than her husband, this is a phrase you’ll see again and again in biographies and obituaries. Often it will appear as an aside in the biographies of famous men, announcing that their wives (or mothers, sisters, etc.) had also engaged in the activity that made them famous — and this is bad enough. But it also appears with an alarming frequency in the biographies or (especially) obituaries of women who’ve done important things.

That last qualifier is of course a bit redundant, since the only women who usually get biographies or lengthy obituaries written of them in the first place are the ones who’ve done important things, or are famous (or infamous). But this is precisely the point. Many such women were associated in some way, such as marriage, with men who were also famous and/or did important things. Many, because of sexism, were totally overshadowed by said men, or are less well-remembered, and so their biographers and obituarists feel they must assert the importance of the remembered woman’s works.

The problem is that “in her own right”, by its very assertiveness, calls into question the ability (or, indeed, even the right) of the discussed woman to do the things or fill the role that she did. This is surely the opposite of what most biographers mean to be denoting with it, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Consider the origins of the phrase: aristocratic women in Europe usually did not inherit titles, except where they inconveniently lacked brothers or close-enough male cousins to take them instead. For a woman to hold a title in her own right was exceptional, remarkable, very much not the norm. To use this phrase of a woman is therefore to define her in terms of her husband (or potential husband), and not — as is supposedly the point — in her own right.

2. “Vagina”

My objections to this word are remarkably similar to the above. Latin for ‘sheath’, it inherently defines itself in terms of the penis (or, at the very least, phallus). A sheath is, after all, only even meaningful as a thing in its property of covering or being made or intended to cover or surround some other thing.

3. “Cunt”

CUNT. Not for its own sake — ‘cunt’ is a wonderful word — but because of all the bullshit around it. Etymologically, cunt is actually very much the best word for female genitalia, since (as far as I know) it is the only word that originally and always meant just that, with its other senses derived from its sense as ‘genitalia’, rather than the other way around. It is also, as recently pointed out to me by Lucy, one of the only words whose referent both actually is and is commonly understood to be the whole thing, rather than just the vulva, the vagina, or pubic hair. (‘Vagina’, of course, is popularly used, and understood, as a synecdoche for the whole of the female genital system, but that is wrong. Properly speaking, it only refers to the sheathy bit.)

Why, then, are so many people offended by this perfectly cromulent word? My theory is that it is in fact because of its above-mentioned original and continuous referent of ‘female genitalia’. Long before anyone started raising “feminist” objections to its use in reference to ‘a woman’, delicate 18th- and 19th-Century writers and even lexicographers were replacing it with “the monosyllable”, and the long lists of often quite circuitous slang terms for it speak very strongly of our collective cultural discomfort with cunts-qua-body-parts, as much or more than of ‘cunt’-qua-word-for-one.

I do understand the feminist objections to using this word as an insult. I do. Spears’ Dictionary of American Slang reportedly defines ‘cunt’, in its insulting sense, as “women considered as nothing more than a receptacle for the penis”, which is indeed enormously offensive (see: ‘vagina’). But I’m not sure that most or even many people who use ‘cunt’ as an insult mean it in that precise a sense. ‘Cunt’ when one simply means ‘of or like female genitalia’ (or even ‘of or like a woman’), and thus deployed with intent to wound, is also kind of offensive, sure — but it is no more offensive than ‘pussy’ used in the same way. ‘Cunt’ is also an all-purpose insult along the same lines as ‘dick’ or ‘cock’, and while I do wish that our society were not so configured that words for genitalia were considered appropriate swear words, I fully defend our right to use them, and I’m not going to get angry about ‘cunt’ used as a generalized swear word until ‘dick’ and ‘cock’ have also fallen out of use.

In any case, what really frosts my cunt about all the supposedly feminist hoo-ha over ‘cunt’ is that the same people who get so offended on behalf of women’s poor little lady-feelings about our lady-bits seem perfectly okay with the use of words like

4. “Hysterical”

Not in the sense of ‘very, very funny’* but as in ‘mad’, ‘crazy’, ‘characterized by hysteria‘, this is the most offensive word in the English language — or at least the most offensive that isn’t regularly labelled in dictionaries as a ‘slur’.

Although the wikipedia entry on ‘Female Hysteria‘ contains a carefully placed disclaimer that it should not be confused with the undifferentiated ‘Hysteria’, its own section on the history of the term gives the lie to that disclaimer. ‘Hysteria’, from the Greek term of the same usage meaning literally ‘suffering in the womb’, is an inherently gendered word. For most of its history, the term ‘female hysteria’ would have been a redundancy, because ‘hysteria’ was a disease of women. Women and their strange, dangerous, uncontrollable emotions. Even when applied to men, it was (and, let’s be honest, still basically is) a feminizing term; to accuse a man of being hysterical is to accuse him of being ‘like a woman’ — just as to accuse a woman of being hysterical is to accuse her of being ‘like a woman’. The very, very worst thing of all.

* The ‘very, very funny’ sense is of course related — it means ‘so funny as to make a person laugh as though hysterical’, only so truncated that the adjective becomes attached to the object of the emotion rather than its subject, thus making it so tangential that to be offended by its etymology would be a bit much, even for me.

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… for that particular feeling of hesitant trepidation, or trepidatious hesitancy, felt before turning off a hot shower on a really cold day.

It could be generalized, I suppose, for any situation in which one must leave an intensely comfortable but ultimately untenable situation. Your warm, cozy bed. The warm, cozy kettle which you must eventually put down, and stop hugging to your body like a beloved child. An industrial economy based on fossil fuels. Capitalism. Money.

Because, like, this shit can’t go on forever, right?

Stupid fat hobbits


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[Making this an open letter; it’s probably the only way of getting any response.]

Dear Jobcentre Plus,

I am a currently underemployed proofreader and copy-editor. I have been looking for work using your site, and have been dismayed to see that the job postings are rife with typos and other errors. I understand that this is employer-submitted content, but I am writing to ask if there is space on your staff for someone to read through job postings and, at the very least, remove obvious typos and spelling errors — if not also to work with employers to make more substantial corrections to grammar and punctuation. I believe that a process such as this would improve the experience of searching for job seekers, and improve the response rate to postings for prospective employers.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Best regards,


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Checking my email this morning sent me into a bit of a rage. See, I’d opened up the latest in the unending stream of clicktivist emails I get as punishment for signing their petitions elsewhere on the internet. I often get upset when I open them, although to be fair, my rage is usually directed mostly at the content. This one, however, contained good news. It was even subject-lined “Finally, some good news” (though I could swear they’ve used that exact phrasing before, for previous victories on the LGBT front). From AllOut.org, this is the actual opening paragraph — bolding and hyperlink theirs:

“Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered an incredibly powerful speech at the U.N. in Geneva. It’s not every day that a major world figure speaks out forcefully in defense of equality. But most people didn’t even hear about it.

Why? Because a handful of delegates stormed out of the meeting in protest and their story – that gay people should be denied human rights – dominated the day’s news.

But we are about to change that. Our friends at the U.N. just let us REMIX Ban-Ki Moon (complete with a dance beat chosen by the team at All Out). Will you take just 2 minutes to listen to this incredibly inspiring speech and share with your friends and family? When someone like Ban Ki-Moon speaks out, it makes a difference – but only if people hear what he has to say: (youtube screengrab, also a hyperlink)”

Do you see the problem here? This is news I actually appreciate — and even that I might not have gotten through other sources. Ban Ki-moon made a pro-LGBT speech on the floor of the UN. That’s pretty great (even if the actual speech turned out to be cursory and talking-pointy). BUT, the email makes such a point of trying to make me feel all ~*~*active*~*~ and ~*~*virtuous*~*~ for the mere act of watching a video on the internet that I feel disinclined to even watch it at all.

Granted, All Out’s whole platform is awareness-raising. But I recently found myself [finally getting around to] unsubscribing from Amnesty International’s similar clicktivist emails because they were all written in that same content-thin, patronizing register. AMNESTY FUCKING INTERNATIONAL, whose work I respect, whose projects I support, and whose news I would actually like to hear about, if only they would write to me like a literate, thinking adult. Friend @[redacted] over on Twitter used to work for clicktivist petition generator 38 Degrees, and writes “I helped draft/proof 38 Degrees emails… I was crap at it. Just couldn’t let myself write like that. They’re always so thin on information and full of supposedly emotive blah. They run emails through a sentence complexity checker.” I do not even know if that last sentence is a joke or not. And they ALL FUCKING DO THIS. It’s like every organization that gets big enough has the same marketing hacks come ’round to tell them how.

Finally, once I’d finished bashing my half-formed rage onto Twitter, I decided I might as well go ahead and watch the video. Only I was so distracted by the distracting bolding in their email that I’d missed the fact that this wasn’t just a link to the speech, it was a “REMIX … complete with a dance beat[!]” This would have been a terrible thing to do to Ban Ki-moon, if it actually were what it implied. Instead it was taste-offensive in another way: an over-slick intersplicing of Ban’s speech with emotive images of homophobic violence and soundbite-capture text quotations (complete with powerpoint word-swoosh sound effects), overlaid with music I guess you might dance to if you went to clubs that played documentary soundtracks.

No wonder God hates fags.

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Having listened to Maddy Prior & June Tabor’s album ‘Silly Sisters’ several times at work the other day, I found myself with their version of Geordie stuck in my head — only, annoyingly, I couldn’t remember all the words, so had just snippets. Thinking to exorcise it through fuller knowledge, I opened up a songbook, Rise Up Singing, that I knew to have a version of it, to scan the lyrics.

Now, I am no stranger to folk music; I’m well aware that there are about a bajillion versions of every song, especially older ones, and that they vary considerably in both words and music. This, however, was a broader divergence than I ever would have expected. The very story changes dramatically! The basic story of a man called Geordie being condemned, and then his wife coming to beg for his life is the same, but they diverge in almost evey other aspect. And I know they are supposedly the same song, as well, since the songbook lists the ‘Silly Sisters’ album as an example recording!

In Prior & Tabor’s (which turned out to be this version, originally transcribed by Robert Burns), Geordie was a nobleman framed for the murder of another. His lady rides to court and is told his life will be spared if she collects a ginormous ransom, which she does, and so buys his freedom. In the Rise Up Singing version — as in most other, especially English versions, it turns out — Geordie is a poacher, and when his wife comes to beg for his freedom, she is turned away, and he dies. Talk about alternate endings!

A musician, identified only as ‘Ian’ in this Mudcat thread describes his own recording of the song as “an English song about a disproportionate punishment for a crime which evolved from a Scottish song about a frame-up”. The Scottish versions do seem to generally pre-date the English ones (though they also seem to have become less common), and I guess changing the condemned man to reflect a common-ish crime in your area, for which the punishment is widely seen as vastly unjust, does make a sort of sense. As, given the former, does having him actually die rather than get ransomed at the last minute. But at this point, is it even still the same song? Could there have been some other English song (or several) that got morphed into this one because the tune was catchy and the story was distilled and familiar?

Oddly, this recording by Ewan MacColl seems to combine elements of several versions, but seems mostly drawn from this one, known as Gight’s Ladye. Geordie’s wife is still a noblewoman of some sort, but Geordie’s crime is poaching. She isn’t turned away out of hand, though, and goes through with the begging for ransom money as in the other Scottish versions. However, it seems to me that her success in this is left ambiguous while the narrator is distracted by telling the tale of her verbal harrassment by a bawdy lord. Though, granted, my impression of ambiguity could merely be from an inferior understanding of Scots; it’s certainly not ambiguous in the ‘Gight’s Ladye’ version given on Mudcat. But why this “Bog o’ Gight” stuff? Well, a little googling proved illuminating: ‘Bog-Of-Gight’ is an old name for Gordon Castle, and the earliest historical event to be associated with this song/set of songs was the story of a George Gordon, who would have been lord of said castle at the time — although the actual events of his life, at least as given on Wikipedia, don’t quite line up with the song, and they CERTAINLY don’t line up with the ‘Gight’s Ladye’ version, though at a stretch they could be described by Burns’ ‘Geordie’.

So what is going on here? It seems unlikely that an earl — who’d have his own hunting preserves, after all — would be brought up for poaching. Yet the ‘Gight’s Ladye’ version preserves an awful lot of specific names and places, far more than Burns’ ‘Geordie’. Could the crime have been changed to make the song more populist in one area, while in another the events were recorded more faithfully even as the names all dropped away? It’s nearly impossible to tell. Though for those who feel like making minute comparisons between versions (woefully void of any information about where or when or how they were collected), it turns out Wiki has transcriptions of all of Child’s collections.

Meanwhile, a few thoughts on the Burns/Child A version. In it, Geordie is framed (or blamed for the death, anyway, regardless of guilt), and his lady, upon receiving the news of his captivity, rushes to Edinburgh with all of her men. Later on, after she’s made her tearful case to the king, but before the aged lord suggests a fine instead of death, we get this verse, which on first listen seems to break the pattern of the story considerably:

The Gordons cam and the Gordons ran,
And they were stark and steady;
And ay the word amang them a’
Was, Gordons keep you ready.

Then we see the king’s advisor suggesting that a fine might be the wiser course of action. Because this lady brought a freaking army with her to “beg” for her dearie’s life. Conclusion: the ‘fairest flower o’ woman-kind’ is a lot more badass than you might expect.

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Words to live with

Spam knows what we really want. I mean, not me personally, but we as a society. Mine’s finally given up on bank scams, and now mostly tries to sell me a degree or an “elevated bed experience”. It seems to come in waves, and changes like the tides — and is apparently now responding to the news. A day after the swine flu paranoia started, I started to get the subject line “Absolutely effective respiratory pathogens treatment”.

Advertising of all sorts does this, really. It appeals to the desires we don’t want to admit we have: the shameful, base, lazy and cowardly and shy. There’s an instant food company here called ‘Batchelors’. I thought it was a little blatant, but never gave it much thought until a box of powdered “soup” packets appeared in our cupboard. How they got there is a mystery in itself, since my housemates are vegan and they are not. In any case, they were named ‘Slim a Soup’, to indicate their capacity to effect self-improvement. The powder they contained promised to materialise into “chicken noodle & vegetable”, a stereotypical comfort food. The more interesting promise was in what appeared to be their slogan: “a great big hug in a mug” — thus replacing not just the cookery of the prototypical wife, but the wife herself.

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