Future English & Future Britain

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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 04 Mar 2013, 02:35

Gavin wrote:Regarding the quotation there, excellent, but it seems Cicero never met many of the British underclass: apparently very little of the second part of what he said applies to them. But then we are financing the very roughest and least intelligent people here in the UK to have as many children as they can, while the more intelligent abstain. I suppose things were not the same in Rome.


In some ways they were remarkably similar, actually. Increasing the grain dole for the plebs was always a useful election tactic for a politician, and you wanted your core constituency to be as big as possible. And there was always an undereducated and largely unemployed underclass seething beneath the surface, partly because of the slave economy and the restrictions it put on the labour market; reading Juvenal, Martial and Persius (and even Livy, to a lesser extent) can give you a sense of what Rome was like beyond the slopes of the Esquiline.

Roman society was not as bad as it is habitually portrayed by the miserabilist historians that TD often refers to, but neither was it particularly palatable even to a modern conservative. And it's a trap to believe that the Latin literature that has come down to us, which is generally well-expressed and well-crafted, was at all representative of the quality of the thinking of the wider society in which it was produced. The fact that only the upper classes were literate accounts for some of the quality of what survives, and the natural filter of history (in a period when only the finest works were committed to writing for future generations) accounts for the rest.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 04 Mar 2013, 11:33

I'm of the view that human beings have not become any more intelligent over the years - knowledge just accumulates. Of course, I don't doubt that there were at least as many unintelligent people, and a fair few vulgarians in ancient Rome, and I'm sure everyone reading this knows that the books were written by the learned few (as they still are today).

I am amazed to learn, though, that the Roman underclass is truly comparable to the modern one, that it was so much indulged, if that is really what you and Caleb are claiming. In the UK now we are seeing the effects of many decades of pampered, well-financed stupidity, idleness and coarseness.

I think even Cicero might be shocked at the indulgence we see today and at the coarseness of the resulting people. People today have no great reason to fear the consequences of their actions, or to work. I'm assuming that in most cases this was not true in ancient Rome.

This might explain Cicero's optimism, although to give him the benefit of the doubt, he is probably referring only to refined people. They were, I believe (though you can correct me on this) more elitist in that society, and he probably didn't even regard the masses as worthy of inclusion in his remark.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Jonathan » 04 Mar 2013, 12:08

Mike wrote:Increasing the grain dole for the plebs was always a useful election tactic for a politician, and you wanted your core constituency to be as big as possible.


In general I agree with your description of the Roman underclass, Mike, and its similarity to the modern underclass. However, I'm not quite sure if the analogy holds at the sentence I quoted. The voting rules in the Comitia Centuriata were such that the votes of the lower classes were meaningless. My understanding was that their power lay in the implied threat of their violence - either in riots, mobs in the forum, or civil war; and that currying their favor was a tool to pressure the senate, either by threatening to incite violence (a la Catiline) or offering to suppress it.

This does not detract much from the analogy, however, since we may be fast approaching the point where the potential violence of the underclass (especially since the London riots) becomes a political tool for aspiring politicians .
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 05 Mar 2013, 00:30

Gavin: I think if we were to compare the levels of welfare between two societies we'd need to look at how much of the GDP (or some other economic measure) was allocated to them. All but a tiny, tiny minority of homeless people in modern day Britain would enjoy a better standard of living in many ways than even a Roman emperor due to modern medicine, technology, etc. Cicero didn't have Microsoft Word.

Yet even if it's true that the modern underclass is that much more pampered than other underclasses, I'm not sure that I'd really want to hold up any society in previous periods as necessarily being the way to go. Given the choice, would anyone here really want to live in ancient Rome? Those were nasty, brutal times. There are clearly big problems nowadays, but we need to find modern solutions to them.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 05 Mar 2013, 01:02

Caleb: of course no-one is saying that we would all rather live in ancient Rome, just that over-indulgence of the underclass has gone too far today. Perhaps we had better leave it at that.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 05 Mar 2013, 01:58

Jonathan wrote:
Mike wrote:Increasing the grain dole for the plebs was always a useful election tactic for a politician, and you wanted your core constituency to be as big as possible.


In general I agree with your description of the Roman underclass, Mike, and its similarity to the modern underclass. However, I'm not quite sure if the analogy holds at the sentence I quoted. The voting rules in the Comitia Centuriata were such that the votes of the lower classes were meaningless.


Not quite. There was outrageous gerrymandering, for sure, which resulted in the individual votes of the rich counting for far more than those of the poorer citizens, but it was not an absolute bar to an outsider entering the higher echelons of politics (otherwise, for instance, Cicero could never have become consul in the first place).
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 05 Mar 2013, 02:03

Caleb wrote:Given the choice, would anyone here really want to live in ancient Rome? Those were nasty, brutal times. There are clearly big problems nowadays, but we need to find modern solutions to them.


It's funny that a lot of people these days will buy into the idea of Rome being a harsh, pitiless society but will idolise ancient Greece and its values. From a historical point of view, this is very silly. Greece did produce some of the first great western thinkers and writers, but it too was a very brutal society, with endless internecine fighting and appalling demagoguery.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 05 Mar 2013, 02:36

Gavin wrote:Caleb: of course no-one is saying that we would all rather live in ancient Rome, just that over-indulgence of the underclass has gone too far today. Perhaps we had better leave it at that.


Gavin: Of course, yet it wasn't that long ago in many Western countries when women who had children out of wedlock had their babies removed and were then sent to the workhouse. There were repercussions and unintended consequences of such things.

I think the underclass are over-indulged, yet I also don't have any solutions (even those that I think I might want) that probably wouldn't have very serious negative outcomes also.

Mike: Definitely. You're right. I wouldn't want to have lived in Greece, Egypt or anywhere else in the classical world. Come to think of it, I wouldn't want to have lived in the first half of the twentieth century (or even when my parents were kids post WW2) or the nineteenth century either.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 24 Mar 2013, 07:02

More destruction recommended by Tom Chivers, this time with regard to the word "whom". I wrote briefly about this in the OP.

Unfortunately "whom" is one of those words which it is rather difficult to defend because, indeed, "who" can be substituted without destroying the intended meaning... but my instinctual reaction is that, nevertheless, "whom" should be defended and retained. At some point I intend to write a short extension to Future English on why grammatical rules or features are helpful in aiding clarity even if they do not, on their own, fully provide it. Until then, I will say only what I said in the original essay: that I think "whom" is a useful word.

In the meantime, this little exchange in the Chivers article's comment thread seemed worth quoting:
Cutley wrote:So long as you're not proposing to make it an offence for those of us who want to to go on using "whom", I am quite happy for you to discard the word from your own vocabulary. I agree that the meaning is pretty well always clear whether "who" or "whom" is used.

Pragmatist wrote:The sad lesson of post-war Britain is that tolerance will get you nowhere. Give an inch and a mile will be taken.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Charlie » 24 Mar 2013, 07:30

Well said Elliott.

I've just seen two more comments - I think they're excellent:

I'll miss the m on the end of whom - especially when the next word starts with a vowel: to whom-it-may-concern makes a more flowing sound rather than the stacatto 'to who it may concern'.
Also, I think we should rather cherish our remaining vestiges of Old English...they're the linguistic equivalent of Anglo-Saxon towers.

People whitter on about language 'evolving' as if there were some linguistic blind watchmaker that randomly shaped expression. Well, to use the expression du jour: yadda yadda yadda. That's poppycock and is mostly just because we can't be bothered - but when we are roused to have an opinion about it we blether some relativistic nonsense about freedom of expression - ays eef u kan ekspris urselph trewlee weethaht communitee. Convention that liberates us! Whu'd a thunk it.

Words are forged by us.
Orwell understood that perfectly.
We forget that at our peril.
It's only the educated who can afford to become laissez faire about grammar; the self-indulgent bastards. Go into any school in any deprived part of an inner city in the English speaking world and you'll hear that incomprehensible soup from all corners.

And this isn't Platonism - on the contrary - it's dyed in the wool Aristotelian empiricism with a heavy dose of Chesterton. Aristotle - because it's respectful of what is the case and Chesterton because tradition is simply democracy towards the dead.
With what do you understand Chaucer if you don't speak his language?
"The limits of language are the limits of my world" and all that.

So, ironically enough, the claim that 'English is whatever our usage of it makes it' is platonic - because it's implying that some essence persists over and above the concrete expression of it at any given time....

In the light of all that - I'm stupefied to learn that Tom Chivers is a Philosophy graduate. That must be one of the most depressing pieces of information I've ever read on these blogs. Like hearing of a classicist who thinks that Homer wrote the Aeneid.

As for the football match correction - it was a case of 'whom' being spelt
'p o m p o u s'.
Don't blame grammar for boorish manners.


and

"Let us rejoice."

Yes, of course: let's allow sloppiness and ignorance to triumph.

They are certainly doing so in most other walks of life.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 25 Mar 2013, 06:12

Here is a comment posted by "a teacher" under this article:

This is a ridiculous article, and coming from a teacher I can say that. No I am not left wing and actually would prefer schools to take a more grammar school approach to education, when the return of O Levels was suggested I thought it could also be a good thing. However what I resent about Michael Gove is his desire to force upon our children today the type of education he had at school. I teach history and can guarantee any students I teach leave school with knowledge about the British Empire and key British individuals, however at GCSE level we are restricted by exam content which is European and World history. What Michael Gove is so wrong about is academies, I live within a 5 mile radius of 2 failing academies - they are not the amazing schools Gove makes them out to be. Then consider this contradiction, the Gove wants traditional Grammar style teaching whilst Ofsted slate teachers who teach like that. As a teacher you just can't win these days.

While I might have time for the sentiment, this teacher's punctuation needs some brushing up. His pupils will probably get away with writing essays in that style...
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 19 Apr 2013, 09:32

I will just add a couple of things to this thread. I'm not sure if they came up in the OP but it can't hurt to run them home again.

First, the use of "I'm good" instead of "Very well, thanks". This has become very prevalent in British English but I still find it grating. You ask someone "How are you?" and they say "I'm good".

I wasn't asking about your moral worth! And even if I was, that would be a bit of an arrogant reply. It's "I am very well, thanks" or something like that. I think this is a dumbing down - "good" is such a simple and general word. It may be an Americanism. Many British liberals are pleased to adopt the American speech they hear in dramas while envying and condemning Americans more generally. I find it pretentious from the English anyway, and it is very widespread.

Second, this is really annoying: the current fad for the continual use of the present tense by historians. This is done by the "feminist historians" (that self description indicates an intrinsic, shameless, bias) Kate Williams and Lucy Worsley and it sounds very affected and, to me at least, rather amateurish.

There was just a good slot on The Today Programme about this today (at 2:54:30). Williams was on trying to defend it. She did so by recourse to YouTube comments, saying that since teenagers said everything in the present tense on there, historians should do this too. I know, it beggars belief!

Luckily another woman was on who said that using the present tense for things that happened in the past was extremely confusing and just plain wrong. John Humphrys (who does try to defend good English) added that it was an affectation, and I could not agree more. If it happened in the past, use the past tense!

At the forefront of dumbing down are British academics - what a terrible state - we should not spare them our ridicule.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Jonathan » 21 Apr 2013, 08:58

Gavin wrote:First, the use of "I'm good" instead of "Very well, thanks". This has become very prevalent in British English but I still find it grating. You ask someone "How are you?" and they say "I'm good".


I think this new phrase is a consequence of the non-judgmentalism our society has embraced. For more than a generation, our conversations have avoided explicit judgments about the moral worth of a third party (he's Good, she's Evil, he's Wicked). We use emotional circumlocutions as substitutes (he lets me be myself, I can't understand the place she's coming from, he makes us feel uncomfortable), but not moral judgments. So after all this time the phrase "I'm good" doesn't sound like moral self-praise any more, and is happily used to describe an emotional state.

Our grandchildren may find themselves equally vexed with ancient uses of 'good', as in 'He was a good king'. Like, what, he was good all the time? He never had a hangover, or a toothache? History is just stupid, man.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 26 Apr 2013, 14:51

A Trip Advisor restaurant reviewer wrote:"the best curry ive had in a long time the bred was nice the rice was nice the curry was nice the drinks was cheap the starff great all the time we wer there we sat on the floor it was fun"
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 26 Apr 2013, 18:55

Oh dear...! What can one say?
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