Daily Archives: 5 December 2005

Rosie the Alewife: One Boon o’ the Plague

The Black Death was the trauma that liberated the new.

It can be readily seen that the Black Death accelerated the decline of serfdom and the rise of a prosperous class of peasants, called yeomen, in the fifteenth century. With “grain rotting in the fields” at the summer harvest of 1349, because of labor shortage, the peasants could press for higher wages and further elimination of servile dues and restrictions. The more entrepreneurial landlords were eventually prepared to give in to peasant demands. The improvement in the living standard of many peasant families is demonstrated by the shift from earthenware to metal cooking pots that archeologists have discovered.

The Black Death was good for the surviving women. Among the gentry, dowagers flourished. Among working-class families both in country and town, women in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries took a prominent role in productivity, giving them more of an air of independence. The beer- and ale-brewing industry was largely women’s work by 1450. The growth of a domestic wool-weaving industry allowed working-class women to become industrial craftsmen in the textile industry. The graphic picture of farm women churning butter in their kitchens that George Eliot gave us in Adam Bede (set in the 1790s) was certainly occurring by 1400.

SOURCE: In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death & the World It Made, by Norman F. Cantor (Harper Perennial, 2002), pp. 202-203

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The Wrathful Dispersion Theory of Linguistic Evolution

I’ve been distracted by some old-fashioned print-publication-related onuses. (Yeah, that seems to be the English plural, although the Latin is onera. In banking, an on-us check is one drawn on the clearing bank’s own reserves and thus not passed on through to the Federal Reserve’s check-clearing system.) Anyway, that’s my excuse for neglecting to note an important new development in historical and comparative linguistics: Wrathful Dispersion Theory.

The opponents of Wrathful Dispersion maintain that it is really just Babelism, rechristened so that it might fly under the radar of those who insist that religion has no place in the state-funded classroom. Babelism was clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1–9); it held that the whole array of modern languages was created by God at a single stroke, for the immediate purpose of disrupting humanity’s hubristic attempt to build a tower that would reach to heaven: “Let us go down,” God says to Himself, “and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Wrathful Dispersion is couched in more cautiously neutral language; rather than tying linguistic diversity to a specific biblical event, it merely argues that the differences among modern languages are too perverse to have arisen spontaneously, and must therefore be the work of some wrathful (and powerful) disperser who deliberately set out to accomplish a confusion of tongues. When asked in court to speculate about the possible identity of the disperser, Michael Moringa, a prominent proponent of WD, demurred, saying that the theory makes no claims about the answer to that question, and that it certainly does not insist that the Disperser is the God of Genesis. Moringa has, however, elsewhere avowed a deep personal belief in the Christian God as the power responsible, as have other WD theorists. Indeed, there appear to be no atheists in the foxholes on the WD side of this war, and for that matter, no Jews or Muslims, either; the WD movement is composed almost exclusively of evangelical Protestants.

via Language Hat via Language Log

I’m sure the new Pope will clear this up for any doubting Thomists.

UPDATE: I hope it wasn’t necessary to include <clever parody> tags on the blockquote.

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