Archive for January, 2011

It is not even accurate to say that Christianity eventually broke away from Judaism.  It is more accurate to say that, out of that matrix of biblical Judaism and that maelstrom of late Second-Temple Judaism two great traditions emerged: early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism.  Each claimed exclusive continuity with the past, but in truth each was as great a leap and as valid a development from that common ancestry as was the other.  They are not child and parent; they are two children of the same mother.  So, of course, were Cain and Abel. (xxxiii)

The Birth of Christianity, John Dominic Crossan

mael´strom (māl-)

a noun,

A powerful whirlpool, originally (usu. Maelstrom) one in the Arctic Ocean off the west coast of Norway, which was formerly supposed to suck in and destroy all vessels within a wide radius.

[ from early modern Dutch maelstrom (now maalstroom), a whirlpool, from malen to grind, to whirl round (compare meal) + stroom, a stream n.

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Gladiatorial combats in the Forum, the Circus Maximus, and later in the Colosseum, were introduced into Rome in the middle of the third century before Christ.  They were a survival from the primitive religion of the Etruscans, Rome’s immediate neighbors to the north.  After a nobleman’s death his retainers and slaves killed one another in fights at the funeral ceremonies so he would have a proper escort to the lower world.  In Rome there combats rapidly developed into great and bloody public spectacles.  But they were complacently accepted as any customary practice is accepted.

“Several paintings reveal the popularity of the equivalent of the Roman gladiatorial contest.  This deadly sport, thought to have been a relic of the primitive custom of human sacrifice, formed part of the funeral games and originally was intended to supply blood to sustain the spirit of the deceased.”  (22, A History of the Roman People, 2003)

This post is a part of the Cicero series, reading This Was Cicero, by H.J. Haskell.

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The poor hardly existed for the circle to which Cicero belonged except as a mob which could be stirred to rioting by some demagogue, and as a political force through the dispensing of household charity.  When Cicero got into politics we shall see the problem that confronted him and other politicians in dealing with those to whom he publicly referred with great respect, but privately regarded as extremely undesirable citizens who unfortunately had to be reckoned with.  It was necessary to keep them alive by charity.  But so for as their welfare was concerned there people no more entered into the life and through of upper classes that they entered into the life and thought of the aristocratic society of eighteenth century England or of certain parts of society in twentieth-century America.


a noun,

In ancient times, a leader of the people; a popular leader or orator who espoused the cause of the people against any other party in the state.

[from Greek δημαγωγ-ός a popular leader, a leader of the mob, < δῆμος people, populace, the commons + ἀγωγός leading, leader.

In French, demagoge was used by Oresme in 14th cent.; but in the 17th Bossuet wished that it were permissible to employ the word. Démagogue was not admitted by the Academy till 1762.]

This post is a part of the Cicero series, reading This Was Cicero, by H.J. Haskell.

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In Memoriam

In Memoriam – Alvin “Happy” Chandler, Laura and Daniel’s grandfather, peacefully passed on to his great reward last night, 12 January, 2011. I am honored to have met such a gentle, kind soul and to have had many a nice chats with Happy during my courtship with and marriage to his granddaughter.

May our Lord greet his good and faithful servant as a friend.

We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see;
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

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As of this year, I’ve heard a number of students, often African-Americans though not exclusively, use the pronoun mines, which, while I don’t use it myself, absolutely delights me.

There is their and theirs, your and yours, her and hers, our and ours, y’all and y’alls (southern, but okay).

But what about mine and mines?

Like I said, this usage isn’t mine(s), but the more I considered it, the more I enjoy it, and the more I enjoy how it annoys certain pedants who hold the idea that mines is somehow incorrect.

First, understand that language is always changing. Every time we say something, anything, it changes. It may not completely change its “name,” that is how its spelled, but its pronunciation is certainly not concrete.

I’ve been using the Oxford English Dictionary’s free trial (enter trynewoed/trynewoed as login name and password; good ’til February 6), and this trial has allowed me to geek out in every which way, which gives me Exhibit A:

(click to enlarge)

Now, just because mines is documented in the Oxford English Dictionary is not the ace in the hole. Words are words and the OED is simply documenting, taking snapshots if you will, of the English language, i.e., its words, since its inception over a millennium ago.  But some folks would like to see some credentials.

The first time I heard mines outside of the occasional student was in this video, or Exhibit B (approximately 1:10  in the video).

And if you read the OED entry above, you will see that the expression is chiefly Scottish, as is the speaker in the video, but please note the usage is also Irish English, and it’s also Caribbean, which has me wonder where my students would have picked mines up. Now, it’s been documented that poor Blacks and poor Irish have swapped idioms and expressions, and it’s conceivable that the Caribbean strand could have caught with African-Americans some time in the past. Hell, perhaps the -s found its way onto its host the way your become yours and our became ours.

But, in the end, mines is being used in good grammatical fashion, like “Hey, that book is mines!” and that’s all that really matters.

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His manner grew a trifle grander.

“Asparagus for two and tell the chef to choose them himself.  Now what would you like to drink? What do you say to a bottle of hock? We rather fancy our hock here.”

When I agreed to this he told the waiter to call the wine steward.  I could not but admire the authoritative and yet perfectly polite manner in which he gave his orders.  You felt that thus would a well-bred king send for one of his field marshals.  The wine steward, portly in black, with the silver chain of his office round his neck, bustled in with the wine list in his hand.  Roy nodded to him with curt familiarity.

From Cakes and Ale, by W. Somerset Maugham


a noun,

The wine called in German Hochheimer, produced at Hochheim on the Main; hence, commercially extended to other white German wines.

[shortened from Hockamore, or Hochheimer]

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From today’s Writer’s Alamanac with Garrison Keilor, 10 January, 2011

“It was on this day in 49 B.C. that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and launched a civil war. At the time of Caesar’s birth, in 100 B.C., the Roman Republic was falling into political chaos. It had only nominal control of its provinces, which were really under the command of their powerful governors. A few wealthy individuals were becoming increasingly corrupt, and they found it easier to settle political issues with the military than to try and honor Roman law. Caesar was born into a wealthy and well-known family, but one without much political clout. Caesar became the head of his family at the age of 16 after his father died, and he worked his way up quickly through various official positions and appointments — he was an assistant to the consul, a chief priest, a governor of Spain, and then consul, the highest office in the Roman Republic. He formed the “first triumvirate” with Pompey and Crassus — Pompey was a military hero who was frustrated with the politics of the Republic, and Crassus was one of the richest people in the Republic, and is still considered one of the wealthiest people who has ever lived. Even though Pompey and Crassus hated each other, Caesar convinced them that it was worth getting over their differences, because the power and wealth that the three men had together made them hugely influential. The Triumvirate was secured when Pompey married Caesar’s daughter, Julia. Caesar was appointed governor of Gaul — what is now France and Belgium, but at that point was part of the Roman Republic. There, he recruited soldiers and conquered most of Western Europe, all the way to Britain.

But back in Rome, his political alliances were falling apart. Crassus was killed in battle, hating Pompey until the end. Pompey turned against Caesar, and after Julia died, Pompey got remarried to the daughter of one of Caesar’s enemies. Pompey had been appointed the temporary leader of the Senate and was turning the Senate against Caesar, declaring him an enemy of state. In 50 B.C., the Senate announced that Caesar’s term as a governor had ended, and demanded that he disband his army and return to Rome. According to Roman law, if a general was accompanied by a standing army when he entered the official Roman Republic from one of the Roman provinces, he would be considered a traitor. Caesar was afraid that if he obeyed Pompey’s orders and disbanded his army, he would be prosecuted by the Senate for abusing power in the past, and would have no one to defend him.

The Rubicon River formed the border between Gaul and the Roman Republic. According to legend, even when Caesar got to the river with his army, he had still not made up his mind about what he would do. With the famous phrase Alea iacta est, or “the die is cast,” he decided to cross. The historian Suetonius was born around 70 A.D., more than a century after Caesar crossed the Rubicon. He published a history of 12 Roman emperors, beginning with Caesar. Suetonius wrote: “Overtaking his cohorts at the river Rubicon, which was the boundary of his province, he paused for a while, and realizing what a step he was taking, he turned to those about him and said: ‘Even yet we may draw back; but once cross yon little bridge, and the whole issue is with the sword.’ As he stood in doubt, this sign was given him. On a sudden there appeared hard by a being of wondrous stature and beauty, who sat and played upon a reed; and when not only the shepherds flocked to hear him, but many of the soldiers left their posts, and among them some of the trumpeters, the apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, rushed to the river, and sounding the war-note with mighty blast, strode to the opposite bank. Then Caesar cried: ‘Take we the course which the signs of the gods and the false dealing of our foes point out. The die is cast,’ said he. Accordingly, crossing with his army, and welcoming the tribunes of the commons, who had come to him after being driven from Rome, he harangued the soldiers with tears, and rending his robe from his breast besought their faithful service.” With Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, the Roman Republic was thrown into civil war. Eventually, Caesar defeated Pompey and his allies and emerged as the winner. As emperor, he made some radical changes in government. He decreased the power of the provinces, and centralized power in Rome. He eliminated much of the government’s debt, disbanded powerful guilds, and rewarded people for having children in an effort to increase Rome’s population. He set a term limit on governors, launched a huge rebuilding effort, established a police force, and modified the calendar. He made himself incredibly powerful and demanded that everyone revere him as part-deity. Despite all he did and his huge legacy, Caesar’s reign as emperor was short. He crossed the Rubicon in 49 B.C., and he was assassinated in 44 B.C.

Because of Caesar, the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” has entered popular culture, meaning “past the point of no return.” And it is used in all sorts of contexts. In various articles written last fall, Google was “crossing the Rubicon” for the online shopping industry by making it possible for shoppers to see which local stores carry the products they want, in their store, at that very moment; Subaru was “crossing the Rubicon to sedan-hood” with its switch away from a hatchback for one of its models; Joe Biden said, “I crossed the Rubicon about not being president and being vice president when I decided to take this office.” Rubicon is the name of a recently terminated conspiracy thriller TV show, and Crossing the Rubicon is the title of an album by the Swedish band The Sounds. The Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy said, “Sometimes you don’t know if you’re Caesar about to cross the Rubicon or Captain Queeg cutting your own tow line.”

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