Saturday, October 21, 2017

With sophistry their sauce they sweeten

Dictionary of Idioms and Their Origins by Linda Flavell & Roger Flavell. Page 156.
hog: to go the whole hog
to do something thoroughly

A number of theories have been advanced for this phrase and there is also some uncertainty as to whether it was coined in America or England. Although written use occurred first in the US in 1828 and in England soon after, there is no way of knowing on which side of the Atlantic it first gained spoken currency.

Speculation over the country of origin is not clarified by the fact that, in the last century, a hog was a slang term for a ten cent piece in America but also for an Irish shilling, so that, according to one theory, to go the whole hog meant to be willing to spend the whole amount on something. As Brandreth aptly comments, this would make the phrase a close relation of in for a penny, in for a pound.

The poet Cowper apparently enjoyed popularity on both sides of the Atlantic and Funk (1950) suggests that a likely origin is to be found in one of his poems, The Love of the World Reproved: or Hypocrisy Detected (1779), in which he discusses the strictures Muslims placed upon the eating of pork. Mohammed prohibited his followers from eating certain parts of a pig but was singularly unclear about what these were. Muslims were wont to interpret his decree according to their own personal taste so that, between them, the whole hog was devoured:

Had he the sinful part express’d,
They might with safety eat the rest;
But for one piece they thought it hard
From the whole hog to be debar’d;
And set their wit at work to find
What joint the prophet had in mind.
Much controversy straight arose,
These choose the back, the belly those;
By some ’tis confidently said
He meant not to forbid the head;
While others at that doctrine rail,
And piously prefer the tail.
Thus, conscience freed from every clog,
Mahometans eat up the hog.
Each thinks his neighbour makes too free,
Yet likes a slice as well as he:
With sophistry their sauce they sweeten,
Till quite from tail to snout ’tis eaten.
I have had perhaps some hundreds of Muslim friends and acquaintances and certainly a couple of dozen with whom I would have felt comfortable making an inquiry into this idea that there was ambiguity as to what part of a pig might be proscribed.

However, among all my friends and acquaintances, it has never occurred to me to ask. When the proscription has been explained to me, it has always been as a blanket prohibition. There was no ambiguity. And among those whom I have observed, self-identified Muslims either do or do not eat flesh from a pig, there has never been any effort to justify bacon versus pork chops, for example.

And those who do not observe the prohibition have always tended to be more westernized and/or secular.

So did Cowper simply get it wrong? Perhaps there really is a blanket prohibition. Or perhaps there are regional variations. Perhaps in his time (1731 to 1800) customs were different. Perhaps, the prohibition is not universal and there are arguments for some parts versus another. I don't know.

It searching for an answer, I discover that the form of the poem provided by the Flavells is abbreviated. The full poem uses Muslims as an instance but then draws a parallel to similar behaviors in the West.

The Love of the World Reproved: or, Hypocrisy Detected
by William Cowper

Thus says the prophet of the Turk;
Good musselman, abstain from pork!
There is a part in every swine
No friend or follower of mine
May taste, whate'er his inclination,
On pain of excommunication.
Such Mahomet's mysterious charge,
And thus he left the point at large.
Had he the sinful part expressed,
They might with safety eat the rest;
But for one piece they thought it hard
And set their wit at work to find
What joint the prophet had in mind.

Much controversy straight arose,
These choose the back, the belly those;
By some 'tis confidently said
He meant not to forbid the head,
While others at that doctrine rail,
And piously prefer the tail.
Thus, conscience freed from every clog,
Mahometans eat up the hog.

You laugh! — 'tis well, — the tale applied
May make you laugh on t'other side.
Renounce the world, the preacher cries; —
We do, — a multitude replies,
While one as innocent regards
A snug and friendly game at cards;
And one, whatever you may say,
Can see no evil in a play;
Some love a concert or a race,
And others, shooting and the chase.
Reviled and loved, renounced and followed,
Thus bit by bit the world is swallowed;
Each thinks his neighbour makes too free,
Yet likes a slice as well as he,
With sophistry their sauce they sweeten,
Till quite from tail to snout 'tis eaten.

Nice Morning by Robert Roberts

From The Spectator, 27 May 1989
Nice Morning
by Robert Roberts

'Nice morning,' he'd remark. Or, if
It wasn't, 'Not so nice today.'
And, watching his Jack Russell sniff
Our labrador, perhaps he'd say,

'There's rain about.' Or, if there was
No rain about, perhaps just that.
Sniffing the air we part, because
We know just where to leave it at.

For, if we did go on about
The nuclear thing, or child abuse,
Greenhouse effect, or modern art,
Biassed reporting on the News,

Or women priests, graffiti, crime,
Man's taking leave of God, what price
That poetry that doesn't rhyme -
The morning would be not so nice.

Again.

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

People of smoke

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

The Race Track

The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse) (1895–1910) by Albert Pinkham Ryder.

Click to enlarge.

Let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance

From The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope. From the letter of dedication. Emphasis added.
The Machinery, Madam, is a term invented by the Critics, to signify that part which the Deities, Angels, or Dæmons are made to act in a Poem: For the ancient Poets are in one respect like many modern Ladies: let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance. These Machines I determined to raise on a very new and odd foundation, the Rosicrucian doctrine of Spirits.
"Let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance": what a perfect description of so many sensitivities on university campuses and in political discourse where there are hordes hungry to find offense in the words of others, the discovery of such offense being an affirmation of their own self-perceived importance.

The Rape of the Lock has had significant literary and cultural influence down through the years. A coda to the Wikipedia entry on the poem brings to light one further influence, of which I was unaware, the naming of Uranus's moons.
Pope's fanciful conclusion to his work, translating the stolen lock into the sky, where "'midst the stars [it] inscribes Belinda's name", contributed to the eventual naming of three of the moons of Uranus after characters from The Rape of the Lock: Umbriel, Ariel, and Belinda. The first two are major bodies and were named in 1852 by John Herschel, a year after their discovery. The inner satellite Belinda was not discovered until 1986 and is the only other of the planet's 27 moons taken from Pope's poem rather than Shakespeare's works.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Not waffling, hedging

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

House of Shadows

Unknown title by Jim Holland

Click to enlarge.

The fate of the last of the Gaderene swine

From Swimming Against the Tide by Raymond Carr. A book review.
When the governing body of Christ Church was debating the admission of women to the college, a member of that body argued that, since other colleges were admitting women, Christ Church could not be left behind. To which my late lamented colleague, Charles Stuart, replied that there was no evidence that the fate of the last of the Gaderene swine was noticeably preferable to that of the first.

The Present by John Mole

From The Spectator, 23/30 December 1989
The Present
by John Mole

He stepped into the room, permitted,
Seen, not heard, His father stood
With glass in hand but sober-suited:
Mother, has the boy y been good?

I think he has. Her voice came faintly
From the long sofa where she sat
Between the aunt no one called Auntie
And the uncle who'd seen to that.

So, he shall have his present. Something
Rustled in a dark recess
Then silence, and then whispering,
Then sudden light, then there it was —

The rocking horse, magnificent,
With stirrups, reins, a crimson bow
Tied round the saddle — heaven-sent
To prove the love they could not show.

He took one step, then dared another,
Folded his hands and bowed his head:
Thank you father. Thank you mother.
Thank you.
That was all he said.