Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Grammatical Analysis: The Second Amendment




"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." 

I’m aware that jurists have split into two camps when it comes to the second amendment – those who argue that it refers to collective rights (the militia, or our modern National Guard), and those who argue that it refers to individual rights (each and every single American). I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t cite the many contradictory court decisions through the ages concerning gun ownership.

But I am a retired Professor of English, so I intend to approach the meaning of the second amendment through its grammar. First of all, let’s dump a couple of commas that make no sense in modern grammar. We end up with a sentence containing two parts:

(1) A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State,
(2) the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

(1) The Latin predecessor of the first half of this sentence was called an ablative absolute; by itself, it was an incomplete sentence. The same is true in English, where it is now called an adverbial phrase or, more technically, a truncated dependent clause.
(2) The second half of this sentence is called the main clause; it is a complete sentence all by itself.

An ablative absolute is a phrase used as part of a sentence, but somewhat detached from the main clause of the sentence in the sense that it does not modify a particular word in the main clause. Rather, it modifies and sets the scene for the idea of the entire main clause.

The way that an ablative absolute modifies the idea of the main clause can vary. It can set up a condition for the main clause. It can establish a cause/effect relationship. It can refine the time element. It can modify the attendant circumstances. It can offer opposition to the idea of the main clause in order to set up a clarifying contrast.

The point to take away is this: the ablative absolute is not irrelevant in its sentence. Rather, it is absolutely essential to the total sentence. In fact, if you don’t factor it in, it is easy to distort the import and force of the idea of the main clause. The ablative absolute is an anchor, a pointer, a stabilizing bracket.

So let’s return to the wording of the second amendment. The main idea is this: the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. But the first part of the sentence tells us why people have a right to keep and bear arms and why that shouldn’t be infringed. It sets up a cause/effect relationship. People have a right to keep and bear arms because a well-regulated militia is necessary to keep the state secure and free.


Conclusion: grammatically, the ablative absolute limits the extent of the main clause. Able-bodied citizens were able to own weapons in case they were called up to serve as citizen soldiers in an emergency. Unless our Founding Fathers were grammatically ignorant, they weren’t giving carte blanche to individual civilian gun ownership as an absolute right in and of itself. It was conditional, and these days, the National Guard has supplanted civilian militias.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Sunday, September 24, 2017

Temblors & Tremblers


While reading a local newspaper, Vic from Suttons Bay came across an article about the recent earthquake in Mexico. What caught his eye was the following sentence:  “The U.S. Geological Survey said the new, magnitude 6.1 temblor was centered about 11 miles south-southwest of Matias Romero in the state of Oaxaca.” What caught his eye was the word temblor. “Shouldn’t that be trembler, or maybe tremblor, as in a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on?”

We appreciate the musical reference, Vic, but temblor is the correct spelling. The word was heisted from the Spanish spoken in the southwestern United States. It translates as earthquake.

There’s no question that the earth trembles during an earthquake and that  tremors are felt by people in the quake area, but those words are not used in the scientific sense. The word tremulous (shaking with fear) can also be referenced. All three of those words owe their existence to the Latin verb tremere, to tremble, shake, and quake.

Our word quake seems to track back to an Old English word that meant chattering teeth.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Friday, September 08, 2017

Nitwit


 Corky from Atlanta, Michigan, asked about the word nitwit. It’s a great little insult –dismissive, but stopping short of outright contempt.

It means a stupid, silly, or intellectually deficient person. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a 1914 citation from the Los Angeles Times (06/05/1914) as its first written instance: “After her trip to Virginia, Miss Helen Morton was quoted as saying that Chicago men were ‘nit wits’.” The quotation marks around nit wits indicates that the word was still relatively new in 1914. In time, when a term is used often enough and long enough, the quotation marks disappear.

The OED points to nit, meaning the egg of a louse or other parasitic insect, as the source. Shakespeare later used the word nit to designate an insignificant, inconsequential, or contemptible person. So, an evolution from insect to bug brain.

But there is an alternate explanation. Merriam-Webster, along with several other dictionaries, thinks that the nit portion probably came from the German dialectical nit, meaning not. So, not having an ounce of intelligence.

An allied word takes us back to lice again. Nitpicking – petty criticism or fault-finding on a trivial level – summons up images of someone removing tiny lice eggs from a scalp.



Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.comand clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Saturday, August 19, 2017

Blind Pig


Pat from Elk Rapids asked about the establishment known as a blind pig. It was known as a blind tiger in the south, and it was also referred to as a hole in the wall elsewhere.

The whole thing was a ruse to sell alcohol illegally. There actually was no animal involved, maimed or not. The fiction was that the customer was paying to see an exotic animal and was given a complimentary drink while viewing it. The adjective blind was probably used because law enforcement officers often turned a blind eye to the enterprise – for a consideration.

A reference to blind pig may be found in 1857. It appeared on page 182 of the May 23 issue of Spirit of Times:

“I sees a kinder pigeon-hole cut in the side of a house, and over the hole, in big writin’, ‘Blind Tiger 10c a Sight.’ Says I to the feller inside, ‘here’s your ten cents. Walk out your wildcat.’ I’ll be dodbusted if he didn’t shove out a glass of whiskey. You see, that blind tiger was an arrangement to evade the law, which won’t let them sell liquor there except by the gallon.”

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






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