Friday, June 27, 2008

Parvum Opus 284 ~ Find Shades of Meaning


Number 284


Word of the Week

Reactionary. Mike Sykes sent OED definitions (shorter and online) for redneck giving one definition as reactionary; redneck is “originally, and still often, derogatory, but now also used with more sympathy for the aspirations of the rural American.” Mike added, “Who’s to say?” to which I reply, I am to say.

Reactionary and redneck are still both derogatory. Paul Greenburg’s praise of rednecks, which I quoted last week, confused redneck with hillbilly, however, so let’s start by distinguishing the two. A redneck has a red neck from working outside in the sun all the time. A hillbilly lives in the Appalachians or Ozarks, which are not as sunny as the flatlands. Somehow people who live in the Rocky Mountains or further west are not hillbillies. Both rednecks and hillbillies are generally Scotch-Irish. I think they tended to immigrate to the kinds of landscapes they were familiar with. The mountain people preferred a more isolated locale that fit with their independent character. Rednecks are really flatlanders. (For a good historical take on the difference in cultures, read Sharyn McCrumb’s novel The Ballad of Frankie Silver.)

So why are either or both of these groups called reactionary? Per Wikipedia, the word reactionary goes back to the French Revolution ~ what else. More recently, it was widely used by Marxists to refer to anyone who reacted against rapid, sweeping changes of society from the top down. With that word in your arsenal, you don’t have to discuss issues: just call someone a reactionary and everyone automatically knows that he is ignorant and bigoted. This posits the rightness and righteousness of everything new, progressive, or “subversive”, to use the trendier word, and anyone who prefers to hold on to his own thinking or way of life is naturally primitive and can be discounted, or even disappeared (often the preferred solution: “Death solves all problems. No man, no problem.” ~ Joseph Stalin.)

If the Greeks didn’t actually use the word, they considered Socrates a reactionary nonetheless (see The Searching Mind of Greece, John M. Warbeke, quoted in Wikipedia). A recent shining example was when Barack Obama referred to small-town white people who clutch their guns and Bibles to their bosoms out of economic desperation, because they don’t know no better. Diversity doesn’t mean them and “the people” aren’t those people.

Websters 3rd, 9th, and New Collegiate dictionaries do not use the pejorative “reactionary” as a definition of redneck. Why, Fred asks, has this word suddenly entered many lexicons as a synonym for backwards or uneducated?

This political term has entered ordinary vocabulary, like bourgeois, progressive, and so on, and is used every day, like the time a friend called me elitist as a sort of political insult. I’ve been called worse.

Corex from Mike

Steady on! You can't bivouac anyone in a house. “Originally, a night-watch by a whole army under arms, to prevent surprise; now, a temporary encampment of troops in the field with only the accidental shelter of the place, without tents, etc.; also the place of such encampment.” ... but you can billet them. I was billeted as an evacuee in 1939, to avoid German bombs.

Habla ingles? Is that a trick question?

ProEnglish and fifteen other organizations protested the Administration’s policy of letting Mexican truck drivers demonstrate their required English proficiency by answering questions in Spanish. (from The ProEnglish Advocate)

Hmm. Seems counterintuitive, but at least no Mexican truck driver’s self-esteem has been injured in the administering of that test. When I took Spanish and German in school, it never occurred to me to try answering in English.


The Democratic National Convention coming up in Denver has a green czar or something like that: “Our mission is to produce the most environmentally sustainable political convention in modern American history.” That sounds like the convention is to be sustained, which considering we’re in a two-year campaign may really be the goal.

The Denver Post reported that “caterers must provide foods in "at least three of the following five colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white," garnishes not included. Arugula is green, but as Obama reminded us, the people in this great nation of ours are suffering from the increased cost of arugula. Don’t even ask about organic arugula.

Fried food is verboten at the convention, at least verboten to committee higher-ups, but as usual, the po’ folks will be eating cheaper fried food, which is the staple of most traditionally Democrat southerners. Comfort food. Fried. Reminds me of a little restaurant I always call the home of the all-beige meal. Good.

No one has figured out yet whether paper or plastic is the more moral choice, but the DNC will do so, at their next non-prayer breakfast in a non-smoke-filled room.

Find Shades of Meaning

My student from India asked me if it’s OK to use phrases like black and white at work, or are they offensive to black people. We have so many ancient idioms that refer to black and white, dark and light, and often darkness is used negatively: black list, black heart, and indeed there have been racial complaints. But there’s also in the black (as opposed to in the red) ~ meaning profitable. We’re not changing ink colors. The cowboy in the black hat was usually the bad guy in Westerns, but I always had a thing for the guys in black like Zorro, the Cisco Kid, Paladin, and of course Johnny Cash, the Man in Black.

My brother was accosted in a high-school boys’ room once by a black kid who asked menacingly, “What color am I? What color are you?” My brother said something like brown and beige, which wasn’t the answer the kid wanted. Instead of talking about shades of gray, maybe we should switch to shades of beige.

Obama, the great racial healer, is making people awfully nervous. David Paul Kuhn, a political writer, talking about the campaign on the radio, said, “If Obama becomes the boy who cries wolf ~ and I’m not calling him a boy, I’m referring to the story ...” Kuhn was afraid to use the word boy, from the ancient Aesop fable, let alone black.

I Can Quit Any Time

I keep hearing people say “We’re addicted to oil.” You might as well say that cavemen were addicted to wood for fire. Addicted implies either illness or moral weakness, depending on your take on addiction. We simply use a lot of energy, but everyone else in the world uses as much as they can. No point in beating ourselves up for being so busy. We’re all “addicted” to various forms of energy, like food. The word “does not further”, as the I Ching says about so many things.

Never Mind

The online book club I mentioned last week is a bust. They only send five days of excerpts from the beginning of books, to entice you into buying the books. Fair enough, but not what I expected.


Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2008. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

Link here to look for books on!

Or click on underlined book links.


Veritas Vincit (Truth Conquers) with Keith clan Catti insignia

Flash in the Pants

If you're so smart why aren't you me?

If you build it they won't come (border fence)

Rage Boy/Bat Boy: Can you spot the difference?

Akron U. Alma Mater: The Lost Verse

PWE (Protestant Work Ethic) tote bag

I am here

Someone went to Heaven and all I got was this lousy T-shirt

I eat dead things (doggy shirt and BBQ apron)

Plus kids’ things, mouse pad, teddy bear, coffee mugs, beer stein, and more!

ALSO Scot Tartans T-shirts and more (custom orders available).

No comments: