Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Moving Heaven and Earth: Polarisation and Proto-Indo-Europeans

 How many proto-Indo-European verbs mean to “move”, “move round”, “drive”, “draw out or forth”, or “get shaken”? We are asking, not because we want to rudely expose anyone’s ignorance about proto-Indo-European verbs or because we have some kind of perversion (actually both those motives might not be entirely unrelated to reality), but because it seems to us that roughly half the time we look up the etymology of a word, it comes from a PIE root with the meaning to “move”, “move round”, “drive”, “draw out or forth”, or “get shaken”. One almost inevitably reaches the conclusion that something was deeply wrong with the proto-Indo-Europeans. Why this obsession with movement? one wonders. Why have so many words indicating action? We don’t know about you, but all the people we know who like doing things are disturbed to the point of pathology. 

If one were feeling a bit rabid, one might theorise that there is a reason Indo-European languages are so dominant in Europe and what is commonly described as "the Indian sub-continent", and that reason is that they were spread by a bunch of psychopaths who were not content with being comfortable where they were - possibly having a beer and using terrible puns, or at most flapping their arms about while discussing how much they hate post-modernism - but were intent on striding about, sweating, in order to get to new places. The deeply repugnant effect of the spread of the Indo-Europeans is that the descendants of these psychopaths are now striding about the continent enjoying depraved activities such as playing football (or worse: watching others play football); cycling while encased in tight, unflattering lycra garments; and going to each other’s houses to play boardgames. “Come,” as we are accustomed to sighing, with gritted teeth (oh no, sighing while gritting your teeth is not at all like licking your elbow; it is not just possible but to be encouraged among right-thinking people), “friendly bombs”.

 

An illustration of the horrifying energy levels of the Indo-Europeans. Source: Wikipedia.

The latest such example of a word deriving from a root meaning to “move”, “move round”, “drive”, “draw out or forth”, or “get shaken” is one we came across in an effort to delve into the deeper meaning of the word “polarisation” by looking up “pole”. “Pole”, in the sense we are interested in at the moment, is the third one listed on Etymonline after “person from Poland” (not an irrelevant word in this context; we’ll return to this) and “stake, pole, post”, and what we are told about its origins is this:


"northern or southern end of Earth's axis," late 14c., from Old French pole or directly from Latin polus "end of an axis;" also "the sky, the heavens" (a sense sometimes used in English from 16c.), from Greek polos "pivot, axis of a sphere, the sky," from PIE *kwol- "turn round" (PIE *kw- becomes Greek p- before some vowels), from root *kwel- (1) "revolve, move round."

 

The French, as usual, have left their grubby etymological fingerprints all over the place, as evidenced by the roots of the word we are interested in, “polarisation”:

 

1812, "state of having different properties on different sides," from polarize + -ation, and in part from French polarisation, noun of action from polariser. Figuratively from 1871; of social and political groups, "accentuation of differences," from 1945.

 

"Why this obsession", you ask, "with the source of the word 'polarisation'?" "Isn’t it too hot to worry about anything more complicated than a gin and tonic?" you might reasonably object, and you would of course be right. The reason we’re interested in drawing out or forth the meaning of “polarisation” is that someone told us something amusing and we’d like to go on about it at length. Bear with us; we’ll get there.

 

Society is becoming more and more polarised, we are told, and this is bad. The reason given is usually that we are now, as individuals, encased in what are known as “bubbles” (specifically, we understand, of the filter variety) or "echo chambers". These "bubbles" or "chambers" are caused, some argue, while others state that it is merely that their effect is amplified, by social media. (Reward yourself with another gin and tonic if you saw this coming.) The effect of the filter bubble is to shield one from news, opinions and angles that one doesn't like, thus confirming and strengthening one's beliefs and worldview. So for instance, if one held the view that hanging the toilet paper the wrong way round is a sane, normal and fruitful thing to do, one would only read media, follow social media accounts, and talk to friends who endorsed this view, thus ending up with the erroneous conviction that one's warped minority belief was shared by the majority of the population. The theory is that if everyone is encased in such a filter bubble or echo chamber, strife is inevitable as when people meet in the virtual forum, they become enraged by what they consider the heretical beliefs of other people, and start metaphorically throwing rotten grapes at each other's faces and hurling insults about the cut of their toga.

 

An illustration of what a polarised conflict might have looked like in the ancient world.
Source: Asterix at the Olympic Games, by Réné Goscinny and Albert Uderzo.

Others argue that polarisation is simply a factor of human society; it is natural to want to bond with others who share our views, and our social rituals include affirming commonly held beliefs, and viewing out-groups with suspicion. (Anyone who has had the misfortune of viewing a football match will have seen an illustration of these phenomena.) Indeed, one might argue that we could all freak out a little less about social media and our various digital devices, and take a moment to contemplate one of the many images of gentlemen on trains, in the olden days, wearing hats and reading newspapers. Were these gentlemen, one might ask oneself, reading newspapers propagating views they didn't share? Probably not, or they wouldn't be sitting sedately but gesticulating furiously and perhaps taking their hats off. 



An image of people on a train, reading. We note that two women are standing, and find this fascinating. We are forever hearing that in the past, there was a thing called chivalry. Chivalry apparently meant that men and women interacted freely, and men did things like open doors for women, offer them their seats on trains, and shield them from traffic by helpfully always walking on the side of the pavement where the traffic was (how convenient it is for a woman to always be accompanied by a man when leaving the house!). All valuable and laudable habits, we can probably all agree. Nowadays, the argument goes, in the wake of the Me Too hysteria, men simply can't tell the difference any more between telling a joke and violently assaulting someone, and thus it has become impossible for the sexes to interact in a natural way. We don't know what the hell is going on in this picture from an age in which we are told that chivalry still existed, and the men, presumably, should have experienced an irresistible social pressure to give the ladies a seat; possibly all the men in this particular photograph had arthritis, or polio, or were blind due to tertiary syphilis. We can only speculate.

Whatever one's thoughts are on polarisation, it is a truth universally acknowledged that some things are right, and some things are wrong, and one thing that is wrong is hanging one's toilet roll in the "under" orientation. (For less regular readers, it might help to know that we have explored this topic carefully in a previous post.) We have been explaining this for years on this blog, and our mind is boggled whenever it turns out that a friend of ours persists in their misguided habit of hanging the toilet roll the wrong way round. We have mentioned before that in the case of Shewee Fiend Friend, for instance, we are, for the most part, joined in a pure and beautiful friendship, like "two pulsating brains, beating as one". However, there are certain subjects on which we disagree (for instance, The Great Bike Pedal Débâcle of May 2021 nearly ended our relationship), one of which is toilet roll orientation. You may imagine our surprise when our chat conversation with Shewee Fiend Friend revealed this tantalising information, in November last year:


[Person in Shewee Fiend Friend's immediate circle] usually hangs the tp your way. Not consistently though.

[...]

This is actually worse than if he had principles and was doing it that way consistently. I think he's just never thought about it.

[...]

I think he intuitively has an instinct to do it a certain way but usually isn't thinking about it so 70% of the time it's a 50-50 chance which way it will end up. 15 % of the time he does it the way that seems right to him and 15% of the time he just leaves it there empty. I've put a lot of research into this analysis. Far more effort than he puts into hanging the tp.


Our response to this information was, understandably, as follows:

We find this incredibly stressful. Just thinking about it. It's bad.


To which Shewee Fiend Friend replied:

It's really difficult for me. I would rather have a declared offensive.

Naturally we then hurried on to other topics of conversation, but a few weeks later we had a conversation with a colleague, which led us to reveal this fascinating information:

My work friend admitted today that she and her husband have a fifty-fifty scheme going with the toilet roll. So it's apparently not just you. We are appalled but also intrigued.

 Shewee Fiend Friend said, "I don't know how it works. It is appalling". Which is a good summary of the whole sorry mess.

 

Incidentally, when discussing culture wars and polarisation, Shewee Fiend Friend likes to bring up the Huguenots. There are few things we enjoy more - and we are not being sarcastic here - than listening to Shewee Fiend Friend expound on the horrors of the Huguenots. The splendid and beautiful rant we had the privilege of partaking of a couple of years ago has unfortunately been lost to, if not the mists of time, then to the moving, moving round, or driving between different social media platforms. However, this abridged version has been preserved for posterity. Here, for your delight and edification, is a relatively brief rant about the Huguenots, consisting of a summary of a conversation Shewee Fiend Friend had with another friend:


Then we complained about society in general and she brought up how she thinks left/right wing are like the late-reformation ideologies.

She likened it to the Puritans.

So I went on about the Huguenots.

She is hoping the timeline is similar to the Reformation so we will live to see the return of theatres and fun, and the downfall of censorship.

I think the Puritans might be an even better comparison.

The Huguenots also entered under a cover of [political symbol].

And everyone was like, just let them have their [political symbol].

Then they started burning shit.

 


There is more stuff about Huguenots burning things, terrible slaughter, and a man being put into a cage, which we would tell you more about if the internet hadn't destroyed our memory. You can probably look it up online if you're interested.

Speaking of polarisation, let's have a picture of our favourite toilet babe, Jonny (who counts as a friend for administrative reasons), incorporating at least three things that are prone to causing violent disagreements: face masks, handwashing, and non-mixer taps!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that literally everyone enjoys a toilet selfie from Jonny.


Now for a Festive Video, before we remove ourselves from the computer to venture forth into the real world and drink beer!

 Festive Video: Jon Bon Jovi - You Give Love a Bad Name

As usual, since Blogger fucked up the embed function we don't know if the video is working, so here's a link to be on the safe side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrZHPOeOxQQ.

 

Related Reading

On toilet roll orientation: Rocking, Rolling, Ranting


All posts featuring Shewee Fiend Friend

 

All posts featuring Intellectual Friend, our etymological guide, without whom we would be lost in the wilderness, without a map and with no dried fish. He might accurately be described as both a Pole and a pole, engaging in much wandering but always remaining a fixed position to which one can return for intellectual solace, and whisky. 


An instance of an etymological tour de force from Intellectual Friend

 

All posts featuring Jonny

 

 

 

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