Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
by William Carlos Williams
When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best of all colors.
will believe this
of vast import to the nation.
“Pastoral” by William Carlos Williams. Public Domain. (buy now)
Today marks the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, the first day of fall and the point in which the Sun is directly above the equator and the hours of day and night are nearly equal. It occurs at precisely 9:31 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time. In the Southern Hemisphere, today marks the vernal equinox, the first day of spring.
As poet Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt wrote: “It is the summer’s great last heat, / It is the fall’s first chill: they meet.”
It’s the anniversary of the Norman Conquest of 1066. It was this week that William the Conqueror of Normandy first arrived on British soil. The French-speaking Normans eventually defeated Old English-speaking Saxons at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066 — which had a larger and more pronounced effect on the development of the English language than any other event in history.
Norman French replaced the Germanic-based Anglo-Saxon as the official, administrative, and ceremonial language, and Anglo-Saxon was demoted to everyday, common use. The sturdy English cow, calf, and sheep on the hoof became French once they were on the plate: beef (from boeuf), veal (veel), and mutton (mouton). The word vellum, for a type of parchment made of calfskin, also comes from the French word for calf. In all, some 10,000 French words were adopted into the English language, and within the course of a few centuries, English went from being a strictly Germanic language to one infused with a large Latinate vocabulary, which came via French.
The Normans of course also imposed their ideas and practices of governing on their conquered English subjects, and our vocabulary still reflects a huge number of French-based words. Government is a word of French origin that came in during Middle English. The Old French word is governer from Latin “to steer” or “to rule.”
For many years, English-speaking subjects took allegiance to the royal crown. Allegiance is a distinctly Anglo-Norman word — it’s a variation of the Old French ligeance, from a Latin word describing foreign serfs who were allowed to settle on Roman land and till the soil.
Subject, no surprise, was a word introduced by the Norman invaders, and when it first came into Middle English from Old French (sujet, “brought under”), the word meant “a person owing obedience.”
Yet the conquered English subjects continued to swear allegiance to the king. The French-speaking Norman leader of the invaders, William the Conqueror, actually tried in his middle age to learn to speak English, the tongue of his newly conquered subjects. But from the invasion, English gained several synonyms of French origin that meant, essentially, kinglike or kingly. These include royal, regal, and sovereign. Royalty developed in the late Middle Ages to include a sense of “right to ownership” over minerals, which in the mid-1800s began to also apply to payment given by a mineral harvester to the person who owned the land from which the mineral came. Later, royalties applied to the sales of copyrighted materials.
From the Norman Conquest came the Anglo-Norman French word corune, from Old French coroner, ultimately from Greek for “circle, ring.” It formed the basis not only of the kingly crown, but also of corolla — the inner ring of petals in a flower — and corollary, coronary, coronation, and coroner — who in Norman times, as an officer of the crown, was appointed to investigate any seemingly unnatural deaths of members of the ruling class.
Words from the Anglo-Norman legal system also form the primary basis for the vocabulary of our modern legal system. A defendant is summoned to court, from the Old French cort, from the Latin word for yard. If it’s a civil affair, one might hope that all people “present at court” (the original meaning of courtier) will be courteous, which originally meant “having manners fit for a royal court.” A complaint is filed by the plaintiff, from the Old French word plaintive — a “lamentation” — which is itself derived from a Latin word, planctus, meaning “beating of the breast.”
On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, a document that put the Confederacy on notice of his intention to free their slaves. They had until January 1, he said, to lay down their arms; after that, any slave within a rebelling state would be “then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Although he didn’t make a point of it, his proclamation — both this preliminary one, and the official one he made at the first of the new year, when the deadline arrived — did not free all slaves; those living in border states, for example, would remain enslaved. Nor did Lincoln have, of course, any way to actually enforce a liberated slave’s freedom; other than promising to no longer aid in the capture of fleeing slaves, his promised emancipation relied entirely on the Union eventually winning the war.
But continuing to fight was exactly what Lincoln hoped to avoid with his announcement. The preliminary document emphasized his wish for the reunification of the United States; as such, he hoped to pay slave owners some kind of restitution for their voluntary adoption of either an immediate or a gradual abolishment of slavery. Any state that had seceded had 100 days to accept Lincoln’s offer — to give up slavery in return for monetary compensation. None had any interest in his proposed compromise, and so, as promised, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1.
The official executive order carried a huge philosophical and moral weight, confirming that the war was and had been one that centered on freedom, and is considered perhaps the most important milestone in the struggle to end American slavery. But the political maneuvering in that preliminary document did not go unnoticed or unremarked. Its other signer was Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, who complained, “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®