June 08, 2002
More More On Jokes

Two days, and two entries, ago, I quoted a Mr. Schwink of Iowa, who wrote:

The names of most other serious crimes, such as murder and rape, are not racial epithets. Non-racial names can certainly be coined to replace vandals and vandalism.

It's a good thing he said "most other serious crimes" and not "all other crimes", since sodomy is still a crime in many states. Calling a prosecutable offense 'sodomy' certainly tends to damage the good name of the people of Sodom. They can't even defend themselves, since they are even more thoroughly extinct than the Vandals. Who will defend the good name of (capital-S) Sodomites? Mr. Schwink?

(Many years ago, Saturday Night Live had a skit in which Bill Murray played a PR man trying to help the Sodom Chamber of Commerce improve their city's image. No details on the web, but a Google search gives the date as May 20, 1978.)

Of course, states with sodomy laws could easily rename them 'buggery laws', but that would only make things worse. As I recall, the original form of the word was 'to bulgar', since, fairly or unfairly, mediaeval Bulgars had much the same sexual reputation as modern Greeks. (Ancient Greeks, too, come to think of it.) Though the Sodomites are all dead, there are millions of live Bulgarians to object. It looks as if some third term will be needed.

All in all, the life of the P.C. vocabulary watchdog is not an easy one.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at June 08, 2002 09:52 PM

Ever wonder what the people in Gomorrah were doing to rate destruction?

Posted by: Paul Wright on June 9, 2002 04:28 AM

Given the current situation in the Middle East, the PC vocabulary watchdog is probably having a fit at the moment over the use of the word ‘Philistine’ to mean someone ‘lacking in culture and smugly materialistic’. Especially since the term was first popularised by a Jewish writer, Heinrich Heine. No doubt Mr. Schwink is trying to get the Old Testament banned for its slighting references to the Ammonites and Amalekites and some West Coast university is setting up a Department of Moabite Studies to restore their good name and counter centuries of Israelite propaganda.

Posted by: Murti Bing on June 9, 2002 04:47 AM

Damned Jews, mucking up a perfectly good language like ours with their nasty recontextualizing. Burn 'em all, I say.

Posted by: Jeff G on June 9, 2002 05:06 PM

For Murti Bing:

Album liner notes are not the most scholarly source, but from my assiduous reading of them I had understood that Robert Schumann was the first to use 'Philistine' in the cultural sense. The Philistines were his musical enemies, of course, while he and his friends were 'the Band of David'. Are you mixing Schumann up with Heine? Or are you saying that Heine took over Schumann's coinage and made it even more popular?

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on June 9, 2002 06:19 PM

I’ve just looked the word ‘philistine’ up and apparently its metaphorical use comes from an incident at the German university of Jena in 1693, where a student had been killed in ‘town and gown’ rioting. At his funeral, the preacher used the text “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson”. From then on, German students used to refer to the uneducated townspeople as ‘philistines’. This is certainly where Heine picked the term up (and Schumann, who was thirteen years his junior, would have taken the word from Heine. Matthew Arnold, who popularised the idea in English, definitely got it from the German poet). In his travel book, “The Harz Journey” (1826), Heine writes about his student years at the University of Goettingen:

“By and large the inhabitants of Goettingen may be divided into students, professors, philistines and cattle; which four classes are by no means sharply distinct. The cattle are the most important class…The number of philistines in Goettingen must be very great, like the sands, or rather the mud, of the sea; truly, when I used to see them in the mornings, planted outside the gates of the academic court, with their dirty faces and clean accounts, I wondered how God could have created such a pack of scoundrels.”

Later, Heine expanded the term ‘philistine’ to mean any enemy of culture or progress, including the backwards-looking elements of German nationalism. His Jewishness probably gave this an extra edge. Heine’s long poem “Deutschland: Ein Wintermaerchen” was supposedly one of Adolf Hitler’s least favourite books. As Heine predicted, those who start by burning books end up burning people.

When he was dying in Paris, Heine returned to the ‘philistine’ theme, parodying the words of Achilles in Homer’s “Odyssey”:

That fellow in Homer’s book was quite right:
He said: the meanest little Philistine living
In Stukkert-am-Neckar is luckier
Than I, the golden-haired Achilles, the dead lion,
Glorious shadow-king of the underworld.

(Rough translation by Robert Lowell)

Posted by: Murti Bing on June 10, 2002 04:24 AM

Thanks, MB. That'll teach me to trust liner notes as sources of reliable information.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on June 10, 2002 11:00 AM


Posted by: akan uko on January 24, 2003 03:18 AM