Monday, 16 January 2017

Trumpery and Popery

Just  imagine: Trump  meeting Pope Francis; the personification of being in denial meets the personification of self-denial. What I wouldn't give to be a fly in the ointment during that conversation...

But there are two metaphors where the vocabularies of rampant, bullying, exploitative, self-regarding capitalism on  the one hand and the papacy (though probably not Pope Francis in one case) on  the other intersect. The one where the present occupant of the shoes of the fisherman is presumably blameless is nepotism

Nepotism

Many readers of this blog won't need telling that the word is derived from the Latin nepos -otis (= "nephew"), or – in the simpler, more direct Vulgar Latin notation (explained elsewhere in this blog, passim) NEPOTE(M). Where the papacy comes in is that in the bad old days of monastic shenanigans the nephew-word (whatever it was, certainly not "Italian", which didn't exist at the time; something Italic [or come to think of it, given the context, maybe they just used Latin]) was used as an (impious, not to say impish) euphemism for what the strait-laced OED [secondary source, I'm afraid] calls "the natural son" of the Pope; born the wrong side of the chasuble, as it were.

In fact this Etymonline excerpt shows that the word was not specific to one particular relation:
nephew (n.)
c. 1300, from Old French neveu (Old North French nevu) "grandson, descendant," from nepotem (nominative nepos) "sister's son, grandson, descendant, grandchild," and in a general sense, "male descendant other than son" (source also of Sanskrit napat "grandson, descendant;" Old Persian napat- "grandson;" Old Lithuanian nepuotis "grandson;" Dutch  neef; German Neffe "nephew;" Old Irish nia, genitive niath "son of a sister," Welsh nei)....
In that respect, come to think of it, it is reminiscent of cousin in Shakespeare's day: Falstaff, as I remember, was wont to address Prince Hal as "cuz". Old English nefa, which Etymonline says persisted into the 16c, could mean "nephew, stepson, grandson, second cousin"; almost any male blood relative – so it doesn't quite work for Trump's son-in-law [not that I'm a sufferer from  the Etymological Fallacy].

Pontifex

The simplest and most self-evident explanation of this word is that it is an amalgam of words for bridge and make; the maker of a bridge between us miserable offenders and Heaven. There have been suggestions that there has been an element  of folk etymology in the derivation, and that something either Umbrian or Etruscan was involved; I'm satisfied, though , with bridge-builder, as was the Northumbrian monk who used the word brycgwyrcende "bridge-maker". (If you screw your eyes up you can just about see work in the middle of that calque – linguist's jargon for a loan-translation).
<digression>
To form a calque the receiving language borrows the format that the donor language uses to construct a typically two-part compound, but not the word itself. It translates each element of the compound using a native word: for example Latin omni- + potens, Old English æl- + mihtig (whence our almighty), Spanish todo- + poderoso. [Incidentally, that bunch of examples isn't supposed to suggests a series of any kind; its just a bunch of examples.]

Incidentally, it's /kælk/, not /kɔ:k/ or /kɔl:k/;  I'm not sure I've ever heard it said, though – it's that sort of word.
</digression>
Oops  – left a bit out. See update.

L'Envoi 

So [and that is a subordinating conjunction, if that sort of thing bothers you] these two metaphors make a (fairly tenuous, admittedly) link  between the sublime and the ridiculous. Time's wingéd chariot, though...

b

PS Here's a clue:

Re-recording makes Midge Ure a really legendary creator. – (8)

Updat: 2017.01.17.11:45  – Added PPS

PPS
Sorry  – I missed out a bit of the argument: what links Trump to pontifex? Given a pontiff,  together with a belief in his infallibility, you get an action verb: pontificate  – to say what must be true, on the highest authority.  In a way familiar to students of language ...
<digression theme="semantic somersaults">
(here I mentioned the link between glamour and grammar, as discussed by David Crystal in The Story of English in 100 Words. You can read Crystal's discussion for yourself, but I would go a bit further; as I said in that post:
...This is the root of the word glamour, which came to refer to charm or attractiveness in the early twentieth century. Crystal doesn't say so, but it seems likely to me that Hollywood had something to do with it. The progression from wizardry to smoke & mirrors to magic lantern shows to movies strikes me as a fairly likely one.
</digression>
... the meaning flipped. From being a Good Thing (telling the truth, unquestionably) it became a Bad Thing (shooting your mouth off on subjects you have a shaky grasp of and expecting to be believed unquestioningly). Trumpery? You make the link.

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