Well it seems that a simple song in a musical can become a political hot potato. I cannot quite believe that on the BBC website I have just read that if “Ding Dong! The witch is dead” does make it into the Top 40 on Radio 1 tonight only a 5 second clip will be played and a news editorial will explain. On the other hand if another song called “I’m in love with Margaret Thatcher” gets into the chart then we will have the song played in the normal fashion. What?! The first song which has been out there in the public domain since 1939 and so not composed as a protest song or to get at anyone in particular is being censored but a song which is clearly partisan is allowed? Really?
Sorry, did I wake up in some parallel universe where freedom of speech has been abolished and only pro Government propaganda is permitted by the allegedly politically unbiased BBC…
I am now wondering just what this might do to our political debates – let’s imagine Prime Minister’s Question Time where only supportive comments can be made and anything remotely critical of Government policy is instantly stifled by Mr Speaker. Mmm not going to do much for debate is it? Then again all sorts of policies are currently being implemented which had no prior airing in any party manifesto and received no mandate from the Electorate so this seems a minor point in comparison. Ah, so I have woken up in a parallel universe…
In which case then were I to form a band and write a song called “I am not in love with Margaret Thatcher” would it be played on Radio 1 (assuming it sold in sufficient numbers of course) without a gagging order?
We are in a sorry mess if the sort of peaceful protest of buying an old song is to be suppressed because some people cannot accept that the same person they choose to admire inspires opposition in others. No prizes for guessing that Margaret Thatcher is a divisive political figure. Surely in a mature Democracy we would rather have a musical contest than the good old days of the 1980’s which involved mounted police, baton charges and scaffold poles?
Now where did I leave my guitar…?
How much more can there be to come down? The wettest year on record and given that until March we had an official drought it must be the wettest 9 months on record? It looks like there is still more rain on its way so not yet time to put those wellies and brollies away. You know things are bad even for Brits with our habitual weather obsession when you find yourself discussing different words for rain with a neighbour. 50 words for rain, anybody? Sadly, there seems to be no truth in that the sky has ever rained cats and dogs anymore than we should take the song “It’s raining men” at face value either. But the weather does seem to bring out the poetical and imaginative in us and this is evident currently on the weather reports on the BBC. “There’s plenty of cloud to be had” “it’s a windy story” “more rain on offer” are commonly heard phrases. Apparently we can ‘lose’ wet weather and fronts or systems can “plough” in a given direction. Sometimes I begin to see that the ancients were not so mad when they imagined winds as deities and earlier map makers placed little cherubs breathing out cloud bursts to indicate points of the compass.
Talking about the Weather
Of course for those who live in Britain the weather is famously an obsession but it does afford a talking point, dare I say an ice breaker, and enables us to strike up conversation with strangers in an acceptable way. The fact that our weather is so unpredictable means we do have to be aware of what is going on in the world around us to some extent. I might have said we need to know when to wear appropriate gear but I have just observed a fully grown man walking past my house in windy wet weather dressed in shorts and a flimsy hoodie! So let me just say most of us like to be dressed suitably for the prevailing weather conditions. So, we do pay attention to the weather but I wonder how much we understand what is going on.
Climate Change is just a lefty conspiracy?
When we first began to hear about ‘Climate Change’ many of us in Britain imagined we would become like a Mediterranean country and that we would have endless hot sunshine. The summer of 1976 but permanently. But even then scientists were trying to get across to us that we were not going to benefit by becoming the dream summer holiday destination resort of Costa Brittanica. Gardeners, who tend to be a bit more savvy have begun to risk growing some plants which are less frost hardy only to find the last couple of winters something of a challenge for sub tropical specimens like banana trees. We also grow more drought resistant plants – mmm. As for those of us who try to grow our own vegetables it has been a constant battle with drought, cold, wet and the consequent outbreak of pests, especially slugs this year. Whereas the growing season sometimes started later than the norm or we got a bit of a warmer autumn extending the season a bit, nowadays you really have to be prepared for extremes. I have become increasingly grateful for anything I manage to produce in my own patch because of this. Scientists and horticulturalists are now all saying some rather large shifts are happening in an unprecedented way which go far beyond previous climatic shifts and it really is down to human activity.
Conservation is Preservation
So, taking care of precious natural resources and species as conservationists have been urging for over half a century are seen to be the ones with real common sense now. Those clinging to some pea brained idea that only trendy muesli eating lefties in sandals are promoting a liberal takeover on the back of the environmental crisis are seriously mistaken and increasingly looking like ostriches with their head in the sand – and there is more of that in the Sahara these days due to climate change. The reality is that we are thoughtlessly plundering the earth and the natural environment has a way of trying to balance things out. We could make more effort nationally, internationally as well as personally in 2013 to treat the planet with more respect and one another whilst we are at it.
Still it rains
It has begun raining even harder now but I am tucked up indoors with some good books to enjoy and then of course there is the weather forecast to look forward to later. I wonder what we will be having or losing in the next 24 hours?
I am putting together all the Christmas sheets and handouts at the moment and one of the carols we are singing this year is God rest you merry, gentlemen. Out of linguistic curiosity I searched on the internet for inclusive versions and got involved in a whole trail of interesting blogs and comments. The best suggested inclusive version is to sing “God rest you merry, gentlefolk” – hardly any easier on the modern ear and it has what I call the ‘ouch’ factor – it is so obviously a tampering with the archaic English that you can hear the gears grinding. It has always seemed to me that the real art with inclusive language is to be so inclusive as to be unobtrusive.
God rest you…
During the various discussions I came across some points were well made – some attempts to be inclusive actually changes the overall meaning of what was intended by the original writer of the lyrics. So, I agree with those who point out that the first line of this carol is a prayer of blessing along the lines of “May God…’ and that rest you merry is akin to expressions like ‘rest content’ and that ‘you’ is not to replaced with ‘ye’ as it switches the object to the vocative. All of this sort of tampering confirms me in my instinct that with many venerable ancient English texts it is best to leave it as the original authors intended otherwise you run the danger of distorting their meaning. If that original meaning is somewhat challenging to the 21st century reader then it can be discussed and in some cases perhaps dropped from usage (for example if anti-Semitic) but this popular carol does not overtly promote misogynistic thinking so is best left untampered and enjoyed for what it is, a wonderfully jaunty re-telling of part of the Christmas story.
“Peace to all men”
Some threads though elicited comments about the song of the angels in Luke chapter 2 verse 14 – in many places we hear this rendered along the lines of: “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to all men” – some of the critics of the politically correct approach tend at this juncture to produce obvious examples of what they claim is unnecessary tidying up of such language and which they suggest is interference of an unwarranted nature. In this way they attempt to debunk the entire inclusive language idea.
It is at this point that the Greek scholar in me takes over. In the latest scholarly edition of the Greek New Testament Luke’s text reads in a literal translation: Glory in the Highest (heavens) to God and on earth peace in/among people of goodwill” The word used for ‘people’ is the noun ‘anthropos’ from which we derive our terms ‘anthropology’, philanthropy etc. Greek has other words used specifically for those of the specifically male gender and for those of a female gender. This word tends to function as a more inclusive term – in modern English it is often translated as ‘person’ or ‘people’. The same is true for the Latin version which uses ‘homo’ rather than ‘vir.
Our ancestors translated many such texts using Man/Mankind with a Capital letter as a reference to humans generally because this is how English expressed humanity as a category – it is hard to tell how many of them were thinking of these in definitely exclusivist terms all along because it has only become an issue in modern times. With the angelic song in Luke even if we revert to the alternative reading “goodwill in/among people” the choice of words have not changed merely that in the currently preferred reading peace is bestowed on those of goodwill and in the variant reading good will is bestowed on people in the same general category as before. With this particular text the onus of defence is really on those who wish to stick to ‘men’ in modern usage. By all means leave it in when quoting or using the 1611 Authorized Version but otherwise the more general and inclusive versions prove to be more in line with the original texts.
Not all men are equal
And so not all men are equal especially in Biblical texts and Men does include all those who belong to the human species in older English texts. In sermons, parish magazine articles and other media output these days we should be careful about our language – whatever some of us were taught in our childhood ‘men’ comes across as ‘male only’ in our current age and just as other words inherited from the past have changed meaning such as the famous “Prevent us, O Lord” so we need to be more precise in our discourse. The split infinitive seems here to stay and ‘upcoming’ has replaced ‘forthcoming’. Like some of the bloggers and commentators I read I too find some of the shifts in the English language are not all for the best but I am also prepared to accept that some verbal assumptions can cause genuine offence and, somewhat curiously, in adapting my own speech and written language to be more inclusive I find myself upholding that age old tradition of my ancestors – politeness!