“Calumniating, misrepresenting and traducing?”

We may need a North American historian for this!

As you recall, we talked about Odinists v. heathens v. Wodanists, etc. the other day and now Richard Nokes brings up the Odinists over at Unlocked Wordhoard.

I, too, tried to locate where these Odinists were pulling the phrase “caluminiating, misrepresenting, and traducing” from, but it took me in a direction I felt I had to ask Bridgett to comment on (and so I do so right now).  It seems that the Canadian Parliament a hundred years ago was arguing over someone caluminiating, misrepresenting and traducing AND, boy, oh boy was Alexander Hamilton angry about it (not the same instance of caluminating, misrepresenting, and traducing, but a different one).  Apparently this used to be quite a popular pastime centuries ago, but has now fallen by the wayside as a way to pass the political time (not the acts themselves, but the words used to describe them).

The whole thing strikes me as silly.  No, Beowulf wasn’t black.  But Cassiopeia was and you don’t hear about anyone sending threatening letters to the folks remaking Clash of the Titans, do you?

10 thoughts on ““Calumniating, misrepresenting and traducing?”

  1. Yep, plenty of calumy, misrepresentation, and traduction in the early republic. The short form of it is that if you called an elite politician a liar, that had a specific social meaning and the principals had to go through a lot of “affair of honor” folderol that sometimes concluded in a duel and sometimes not. However, one could foment all you wanted using synonyms, getting the point across without triggering (so as to speak) a cumbersome and potentially deadly loss of face. The apogee of calumny is during the formation of political parties where you can find a shit-ton (technical term, sorry) of accusations of calumny between the various factions. The term recedes in the North and Midwest as a political hotbutton word by 1820 or so, but remains potent in the South (especially among the planter elite and newspapermen who wrote for them) well past the Civil War. People who do a lot of reading in neo-Confederate literatures (or 19th century Lost Cause accounts of the Civil War) might have picked it up there.

    Alternately, if you’re going crazy on the thesaurus looking for different ways to call someone a liar, you’d come up with that.

    As for the calumnating dude in question, High Commisioner Charles Tupper, he was a railroad baron and perennial power player in Canadian politics. As HC, he was supposed to be non-partisan but he came back from London to campaign for the Conservative Party and thus the Liberal Party (and Alexander Hamilton the Canadian) got peeved.

  2. I thought Cassiopeia was Phoenecian. So she ought to look something like Danny Thomas. Only unsurpassably beautiful, of course.

  3. Well, if you can’t be casually racist about a mythological personage, who can you be casually racist about? Which I guess brings us back to the Odinists.They seem to think that Beowulf was historical, though.

  4. I think there’s plenty of good evidence to suggest that Beowulf was part of a larger mythical universe that also includes the people of the Sagas, some of whom are clearly real and some of whom are more clearly made up and some of whom are real but also legendary. And that, if we’re assuming that the facts related in the story of Beowulf are true, then he can’t have been African, because he was from Geatland, a place, far, far north of Africa and he was the son of the king (I think. I should really check before posting, but what fun is that?) and the king would have come from within the community, not without.

    But making him African is just stupid. It’s not some kind of crime against our culture. It’s certainly not a hate crime.

  5. Sure, within the mythical universe he’s real. But within our present universe, he’s not historical. And, presumably, a Geat wouldn’t have been African in most any universe, without stretching a lot of coincidences. (I mean, we don’t know of any trade routes that led from Africa to Scandinavia at the time the poem was written, or in the mistier past in which it’s set, but we have networks of trade routes that could in theory have gotten an intrepid traveller from Africa up to Geatland, wherever it actually was. Sort of like Aleksandr Pushkin’s African great-grandfather. But it isn’t all that likely.) But, like you, I don’t see where the calumny, etc. come in.

    BTW, I have found the trio of nasty verbs showing up as used by these folks in the work of Alexander Geddes at the turn of the 19th century. I’m betting, looking at the people who use it and when, that it got to colonial America from Scotland, and I wonder if it was something of a cliché, or even a legal term, there.

  6. Interesting. The Scottish Enlightenment had a huge impact on colonial lawmakers (and by definition, most of the elites were well versed in law, even if they were not themselves lawyers). There are political scientists who do this kind of linguistic analysis; I’ll see if any of them have anything to say about calumny and traduction.

  7. Bridgett, I’d love to see if you can find anything out about that. I know nothing about that phrase in Scottish law. Mack, stop being so jealous and jump in and have your own say.

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