Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let's Wordjam again like we did last spring

It's easy this time.
Women is plural. Woman is singular. The part that's spelled differently is the second syllable while the part that's pronounced differently is the first syllable. It's OK; it doesn't make sense. It's something we just commit to memory.
Man is singular. Men is plural.
Woman means female person. It used to be Wifman. I am Wifman.
Man means person.
The old Proto-Germanic word for male is Wer. Werman sounds a lot like Wifman. It might have sounded too close and annoyed people who were trying to talk while washing clothes in a stream or steering a ship or sawing wood, so they started to say other things to be clearer.
Man therefore means person, humanity, and adult male human being. It seems unfair, but would you prefer to go around saying, "Not a werman, a wifman. He was talking to a strange wifman. I said...."?
Lord is short for Laefgeard. It means bread guardian. Lady means Laefdaeg. That is, bread kneader. Long ago, it wasn't the poor who made and guarded food and the rich who flew to the islands to watch the sunrise. It was the rich who made and guarded lots of food and the poor who rafted to the islands to search for food there.
Soon, Lord and Lady meant landowner. Owning food wasn't enough anymore. Most of the poor had that.
Master and Mistress mean major person and major female person. They also meant owner, boss. Mistress became Mrs. and Miss, which were interchangeable in the 18th Century. Master became Mr. Originally, when a man referred to the woman he admired as his mistress, he meant he would never touch her. She was his faroff ideal. He did things to impress her. And she was married -- he was a single man. Bachelorhood was a low rank of knighthood. A bachelor admired a mistress, the owner of his heart, and proved himself. When he graduated he married someone else. He was expected to be chaste during all that bachelor adventuring. Over the years and centuries the meaning nearly reversed.
Hussy is short for Huswif -- housewife. Husband comes from Husbond -- owner of the house. A man had to have a stable living situation to get married. And that might very well be more literal than anyone liked, if the stable was the only solid roof on the croft.
Knave just means boy. Girl means growing, and used to mean anyone, male or female, between around eight and fifteen. Maid was once unisex too -- long, long ago. It meant someone old enough to marry but usually not yet married. It comes from the word for marriage, the root of match, mate, meet, and many more words that sound like them. Maiden meant a small girl, and somewhere along the way the two words switched. Maiden became the term for a virgin, a woman never married, and maid meant a little girl. Since children served in homes before looking for spouses (the people who never served also didn't choose their own spouses), maid came to mean a servant woman, knave a servant man. Page means child and now means a messenger or office assistant, for the same reason.
What has happened to way back when? What has happened to then? What has happened, if I may clarify, to than?
Then is not the same word as than. In some places they aren't even pronounced the same way. Than rhymes with man. Then rhymes with ten, which means that if you are west of the Great Divide or south of the Mason-Dixon Line it also rhymes with thin and tin -- it just does. We like it that way.
If you had been here then you would know there is nothing more annoying than people from back east telling you to say then their way.
Suddenly the Internet has filled up with the use of than by itself. "I walked into a party and saw nothing than gossip." "He is nothing than a friend." "I don't know what to say than it's over between he and I". Stop saying that. Please.
It should be, "nothing other than gossip", or, "nothing but gossip" or, "nothing more than gossip". "He is nothing more than a friend." "He is nothing but a friend." "He is but a friend." "I don't know what to say other than that it's over between him and me."
I guess that's all, man. I have nothing more to add to that tonight.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Matriarchy, patriarchy, patronization, matronization and the matrix

I hear a lot of complaints about patriarchy. Since I willingly belong to an arguably patriarchal organization of some repute, I respond with a few years' thinking.
Patriarchy is leadership by fathers. Matriarchy is leadership by mothers. We must make some important distinctions. Matriarchy isn't feminism, egalitarianism, equality, equity or misandry, or even sisterhood.
Patriarchy isn't masculism, complementarianism, elitism, inequality, inequity, iniquity, misogyny or even brotherhood.
I knew you were going to say I was making it too complicated, but the reason one must at times make things complicated is to find all the knots at once so as to undo them and straighten the whole thread together, to make things plainer.
Feminism is the belief that women are good and smart and should have rights under law. Masculism is the belief that men are good and smart and should have rights under law. The two are not contradictory, only complementary, and in reasonable quantities both make a lot of sense. In unreasonable quantities both can be absolute insanity and can lead to cruelty and loss for the most helpless people.
Egalitarianism is the rule of leveling everyone, giving boys and girls the same opportunities, letting the children of the poor study with the children of the rich, taxing the wealthy to support the needy, and trying to make people's lives pretty much as equal as possible. Complementarianism is the belief that equity can be achieved by treating different things differently, as author Tom Robbins put it. A complementarian would give boys and girls different classrooms designed for their different traits to blossom, feeling that a mixed-sex schoolroom would favor one or the other depending on its design. Complementarians see males and females as having necessarily different lives because they are different, but would want to find ways to give them equal fulfillment and respect, through different, complementary, jobs and rewards. Elitism is the belief that some people are inherently more capable of good and smart actions and should be given the best of everything accordingly, to ensure that decisions are in the hands of the smartest, most virtuous persons at all times, and to prevent a seizure of power by others. These three value systems are in conflict with one another necessarily. Our American foundation of egalitarianism decides this conflict for us in most areas. However, elitism turns up here and there even now.
Equality means having equal value, but it is used as a substitute-word for equity. Equity is equal treatment and reward for work etc. The demand for equality is actually a demand for equity. Inequality is the lack of equality and inequity is the lack of equity. Iniquity is unconnected. It is a word for wrongdoing. Iniquity can be equitable or inequitable. It depends on the iniquity.
Misogyny is the opposite of philogyny. Misogyny is hatred of females. Philogyny is love of females. Misandry is hatred of males. Philandry is love of males. Philanthropy is love of people. Misanthropy is hatred of people. Arthropods are crawling little cold-blooded critters. They have nothing to do with this. Anthropology is the study of how people live everywhere else, and the habit of going to live among different people and ask them about their private business all the time and then leave. It's got nothing to do with apologetics, which in turn have nothing to do with being apologetic. We're talking about anthropology, matriarchy and patriarchy today. At least I am. Join me awhile.
A myth among the modern Western feminist activist or student is that the earliest societies were thousands-of-years-old idealistic, peaceable, prosperous, nature-nurturing identical matriarchies, crushed by advancing male armies imposing cruel, militarily-established patriarchies that stand to this day keeping women from being happy or free anywhere, but that women slowly become conscious and open their eyes and overthrow the patriarchalist oppressors and rebuild those perfect matriarchal communities and live happily ever after. Usually all a girl needs to get her started believing this silliness is a grainy shot of a goddess figurine from Sumer, and she's scowling at everything and wearing iron-on patches of red crossed fists all the rest of the way through college. Unless she takes anthropology.
Yes, primitive matriarchy exists. No, it isn't and never has been prevalent on any continent at any time at all. And, no, it has nothing to do with egalitarianism or equity or peaceful cooperation or nature-loving religions.
Some societies begin their lives in nooks of dense, close woodlands where the main nutritious foods available are nuts, berries, wild carrot-like roots, edible flowers, fungi, creek and riverbank fish and shellfish, eggs, snared critters such as rabbits and songbirds, and grubs of all kinds. What these foods have in common is that, A, they require good senses to tell the edible from the inedible or the snared from the loose, B, they require good place-memory and incident-memory to remind the gatherers not to return to a bush that poisoned someone e.g., C, they require a light footfall or light weight on a branch to get to them, and D, they require nimble hand-eye coordination to collect safely or to make snares by hand. Women have more of all those qualities.
As well as a stable woman-friendly economy, some also have good shelter from hostile tribes and don't get attacked often.
With no need for soldiers and plenty of need for gatherers, men in those societies need women, to survive, every day. Women don't need men more than a few times in their lives, to get pregnant. Therefore a man is willing to do whatever he has to to get a wife. Men braid flowers into their hair, promise obedience, dance and sing for attention, cry if women aren't interested in them, and wander off alone in hopelessness if no women will take care of them. Women relax in the sun and drink while contemplating the decisions of the tribe's future.
One day they are attacked. The trees crash and birds' nests fall. Berries and little food plants are trampled. The new growth in the next year doesn't feed the survivors enough. The birds stay away a few years. The enemy drags women away as slaves, men as conscripted soldiers, also slaves, and kills the children. The few who remain to rebuild the tribe's life know they need three new things: warriors, who are mostly going to have to be men, hunters, also mostly men, and bodyguards for the kids, same deal. Every home now needs a man. A woman will have to get pregnant at least twice as often to replace the dead and abducted, and she will have to watch the children carefully for their safety until they can fight. It's a little bit equitable for a few centuries. The attack didn't impose patriarchy, exactly. The matriarchy didn't last eons either. The attackers might have been anyone, from any of the majority of ancient primitive cultures, which were complementarian or patriarchal from the start due to different economies in their homes. Anyway, the matriarchy wasn't utopia. It was in many ways cruel, authoritarian and even often somewhat elitist. In any case, it started dying out when the need to be able to withstand competition occurred to them.
The need for hunters meant the power rested with the best hunter. The need for soldiers meant the supervisor and trainer of the best soldiers had power, too, and was logically the same man. That man, the war chief, was in a place to write his own ticket. He demanded several wives. Why wouldn't he? That made the leftover men dispensable. He disposed of them by sending them out to war. Women agreed to marry the war chief because to do so meant long lives for themselves and their children. Agriculture and pastoral living developed gradually from seed-saving of the best and rarest foods, herd-following and a semi-nomadic way of returning to land after being gone long enough to let everything regrow. With early agriculture and herd-keeping, wealth piled up for some families. A woman did her best to bear children for the best defender and builder of wealth she could find. To do so would give her and her sons and daughters a long, dignified, comfortable existence, while the women who married the cute boys who had nothing often died young and alone, their babies already dead before them. It made more sense to women to leave their families and join a wealthier family when they were ready to be mothers, and that was a year to seven years after menarche. Longer waits for motherhood were too risky. Earlier marriages could shorten the mother's life and thereby reduce her offspring. A woman was normally around 17 at the time she discovered she was first pregnant. That became the definition of womanhood: married motherhood. But a man had to prove himself qualified to marry before he could even be considered as a groom. Achievement became the definition of manhood, at around 19.
Women took their husbands' estate names to lay claim to their husbands' estates in case they were widowed. Parents sometimes resented rearing girls only to lose them to another family when they married. They demanded money in payment for their daughters. The concept of women as men's property came from parents' wanting to be compensated for giving their children up in marriage. It started seeming right to some parents that boys would get more of everything and girls would do more of everything; the boys would stay and fight for their parents all their lives, while the girls ran off with men who could never repay the parents enough to make it profitable to bring them up. Parents now and then even abandoned girls at birth. Women began to be sad at having girls, felt sorry for them and killed them in pity. Some women decried these cruelties to girls. They asked why it should be. But it came out of economic factors in combination with selfishness and materialism on the adults' parts. Greed and intolerance of needy persons cause atrocities.
Sometimes, matriarchy returned. Enemies wiped out almost all the fighting-age men and boys. Some women went to the enemy as slaves to survive. Others, especially those of warrior upbringing, stayed and fought using their brothers' weapons. These women war chiefs enabled their peoples to live through devastating losses and rebound. They earned respect for themselves, their people, their families, and women in general. When generations of surviving boys grew up in these rebound-defensive matriarchies, they were fine with being ruled by women. But soon enough most war chiefs were again males, and the legacy of the women heroes had to be instilled in each child or be lost.
In the industrial stages, upper-class people developed the assumption that they ought to be able to create the perfect life and solve all problems. Utopianism took root. Little utopian communes formed around the larger society. In a short while all dissolved, not because some were matriarchal, but because they were utopian communes. Something about needing people too much and knowing too little about people meant it all fell apart quickly. Sometimes a charismatic visionary figure could unite the commune and keep it going. The result was often a long way from the original vision. And then the visionary died of old age and there was nothing to keep the normal unfolding of utopianism from collapsing the whole community.
And sometimes at the very end of a society's existence, when its members become too emotionally shattered and mentally scattered to think about reality, and begin making idols of old ways and faroff countries and indulging themselves more and enjoying it less if at all, there is a kind of hidden decadent matriarchy. In decadent matriarchies women vie with men for the excess of the abundant world they live in, insisting on the chivalric benefits of the formerly-kept-down along with the full opportunuities of equity, and refuse to take responsibility for ordinary and obvious facts of cause-and-effect. Most wealth is in female hands. Men compete for female approval and women don't care what males say about them in the least. Women in official positions of power use their authority how they choose, the public being appalled if their husbands dare to suggest a modification, but men in power still take their wives' ideas into consideration when they decide anything. That kind of matriarchy is probably a consequence of the older generations' excesses of patriarchy. There is still misogyny in this system, but it is covert or communicated with an attitude of rebellion rather than of masculine authority.
Pagan Rome seems to have gone out somewhat like that. It's even more unsustainable than other forms of matriarchy.
I believe the USA hasn't been a real patriarchy since 1923, when decisions began to affect America that were made by men elected to national office by women. We have been a combination of uncomfortably cobbled-together patriarchy, decadent matriarchy, chivalric post-matriarchy, egalitarianism and complementarianism, made more bewildering by the number of pseudofeminists who are in fact elitists trying to frame their agendas as philogynistic in purely strategic ways, who don't actually care about women at all.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pour these wordjams over your consciousness and see whether anything is altered.

It's about time for another wordjam.
You may or may not go to church. If you are Catholic, the correct rendering of that sentence is, "You must go to Mass." If not, the correct recasting is, "You should enroll in RCIA ASAP."
But we're going to be easy on you and just wordjam for now. You are in your church. There may be an altar. If someone has Dissociative Identity Disorder, there may also be some alters, and if someone has bought clothes that didn't fit, there may be alterations as well. But there is probably an altar.
Altar comes from the Latin altare, meaning a place for burning sacrificial offerings. Alter comes from Latin as well, from alter, meaning "other".
It's hard to learn words by sight without poring over them, but pouring over them won't help, because they'll just get soggy from whatever you're pouring. Pore is a noun and verb. Pore (n.) means a tiny opening or orifice, and one obvious example is where you sweat. That makes a nice memory trick: To pore over something is to look steadily at it or read it carefully. You could sweat over your studies if you really pore over them.
To pour something is to cause it to flow down, as the sky pours rain, but don't get confused by the idea of sweat pouring out of your brow during Dead Week. Imagine the U in pour as the raincatcher at the end of the roof drain line. It spills over the top and pours rain to the ground.
If this is taxing your consciousness, don't go unconscious, but don't be excessively conscientious about it either; it's a matter of grammar, not of conscience.
Conscious, conscientious and conscience are pronounced similarly and spelled similarly and come from the same place. It's tricky, but worthwhile, to remember the difference.
Conscious means aware, having sensory impressions, thinking, noticing and perceiving things. The opposite is unconscious. Consciousness is the opposite of unconsciousness.
Conscience is the moral sensibility, the sense of right and wrong, that which hurts after one does wrong; it is what psychopaths lack and the rest of us struggle with all day and night.
Conscientiousness is the quality of paying a great attention to detail, to every issue, and worrying endlessly about what is right. Someone with too little conscientiousness is a burden on others, annoying, careless, and mean, while someone with too much conscientiousness is slow to get things done, obsessive, fretful, as likely as not to annoy people with unnecessary apologies and efforts to smooth what isn't ruffled -- too much worry. The key is to develop the right amount of conscientiousness.
Some draftees are conscientious objectors, whose consciences will not allow them to kill. A draftee who tries to get out of combat as a conscious objector will make little headway.
Whether or not this serves as a wether for you, it won't help you predict the weather.
Whether is from Old English hwether and means either, in either case, and is used to introduce a clause about unknown facts: "She is a good singer, whether because she practices or because she inherited it." "Whether it rains or not I'm going now." "Go find out whether the show is on." "I wasn't sure whether he was here." "I don't care whether he's here or not, I'm going."
Weather is from the Old English weder and means the meteorological conditions anywhere or everywhere, to wait out a rough period, to wear down as by wind, rain, sun and sleet, and a kind of slope.
Wether is from weder, also Old English, and means what it meant many a century ago: a gelded male sheep. Flocks of sheep are often guided by bellwethers, wethers with bells on their collars.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Oh, the Irony of It All.

Sarcasm is America's first language.
Sitcom writers have studied sarcasm and irony so closely that if you don't understand every detail of the life experiences of fictional characters, you can't keep track of what the live studio audience is laughing about.
Phoebe says, "Don't get all testosteroney", and Chandler looks perplexed and a little didactic as he often does, and says, "The real San Francisco treat, by the way." What does that mean? It's not just a play on words. To get it requires sharing the writers' ideas of the intended main viewership's attitudes toward everything they are expected to associate with testosterone, San Francisco, 1970's TV commercials for convenience foods, convenience foods themselves, spacey semi-alternative people such as we are to think Phoebe represents, the attempt to invent words, and fairly straight but perfectly open-minded people such as Chandler is supposed to represent, and possibly other culture mileposts. And most viewers do. But it depends on sarcasm. Chandler is saying, "It would be ridiculous to use the word testosteroney, it would be ridiculous to be very serious and professorial about TV commercials or convenience foods, especially from our childhoods, and it would be ridiculous to try to understand Phoebe."
All sarcasm and irony can express are infinite grades of , "it would be ridiculous...." In the wash of absurdity we choke under daily, that is an indispensable statement.
But it states the problem. We know there is a problem with absurdity. We seek solutions, as people with a problem always do.
Sarcasm can never offer a solution.
So don't abandon irony.
But never depend on it. Every time someone says, "It would be ridiculous," ask what would be true. Help the sarcasts (real word) finish their sentences.
Until next time, think clearly.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Why you need a foreign language or twelve

Is it going to be English? Not if the English-speaking countries don't start remembering what words mean long enough to communicate. Will it be Spanish? Maybe. Arabic? Could be. Mandarin Chinese? Perhaps, but Westerners would have a hard time learning it. Or will some dark horse run out and take the blue ribbon? Everyone wants to know what the last language alive will be.
But why should we let any of them die? Four hundred languages lived side-by-side in the Americas five hundred years ago. A thousand years ago, Europe and Western Asia were equally polyglot. Africa, too, has many tongues, each unique, irreplaceable. Eastern Asia and the Pacific have their hundreds and the Southern Sea has its own indigenous languages as well. Listen to one next time you watch a travel show. Listen beyond the voice-over, to the beat, the thrums and trills of another way of making sense, and tell me if you're hooked. I dance to language. I slip it through my fingers like a harp string when I go to sleep and feel it vibrate against my hand like a drum skin when I wake. Never throw away a language. If you don't have room for the whole thing, cut a piece and stitch it into a quilt with your old one; use it as a patch. Take at least a hundred words. Take a way of ordering words, it doesn't take up any room. Learn the African language Shona or Xosa, Luganda or that big crazy-quilt, Swahili. Learn the European tongues: Magyar, Euskari, Italian, Finnish, Polish, Irish, Welsh, Catalan. Pick up something from Asia: Why not Vietnamese or Thai, Hmong or Tibetan or any bit of the patchwork that is India. How about some Hindi? Keep a bit of real early America alive in your head -- study Hopi, Apache, Inuit, Cherokee, which has an alphabet of its own, or Creek. Maybe you'll fall in love with something else: Maori or Tagalog, Incan or Samoan or Hawaiian....There are three thousand languages officially living, but they die for lack of a home.
Learning new ways of doing things and remembering words are two of the ways neuroscientists say you can prevent Alzheimer's before it starts, and slow it or even reverse it once it sets in. Learning a language fills both those needs.
Additionally, a language is a way of perceiving the world. In French, there are two ways of saying, "I love you." One means something like "I like you." The other means "I adore you." Neither would mean the same thing with the formal/plural "you".
If you want to say you like someone and want it to be clear you aren't in love, you say, "I like you plenty." Spanish is similar. The meaning of liking and loving people thus has specific degrees and kinds, each with a name. In Spanish, animals' legs aren't legs. The parts of animals have animal words to describe them, unlike human appendages. In English, we accept animals as part of the family, with the same names and the same limbs; they are almost our relatives. But in Spanish, animals are little like us. One doesn't even use the same hand position to indicate the height of a human, of an animal and of an inanimate object. The language reflects, affects and maintains the unique cultural attitude to other creatures.
In Hmong, there are no plurals nor verb tenses. Context tells the hearer whether the speaker sees a house now, saw one at another time, expects to see one under other conditions, sees the house, rather than a house, or a few houses. In that language, to leave the context out is to leave the hearer out of the picture. When a language dies, a way of thinking dies, and with it, a whole world.
Pick one up today. Keep it alive. It just might do the same for your brain -- and your heart.