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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

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Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Erred on a Word? -- Mr. Hitchens

Yesterday on C-Span radio I heard part of a debate that took place recently at Baruth College in NYC, between Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway. Hitchens is a well-known pundit of uncertain leanings, supposedly a Liberal but who sounded like a Neo-con when he spoke about Iraq, where he feels that things are going well. George Dalloway is a member of the English Parliament, who feels that things in Iraq are in the toilet for the British and the Americans.

However, it didn't sound to me like a debate, properly speaking. Instead the fierceness of their reactions to each other was of the kind that blurs the line between verbal and outright physical assault, that is, when you can only hear it and therefore are restricted to imagining how the contestants must have actually appeared.

Naturally, I felt that Dalloway was on the right side of things, and he sounded like a better person to boot. He was direct, he spoke simply, and he spoke forcefully but not overbearingly. Hitchens on the other hand was smug and hoggish of the time with his verbosity. He seemed also to be an overly thin-skinned grandstander, and that made him unusually responsive to the frequent catcalls that he received from members of the audience. He thought he had a good thing going by reminding them that they were on TV -- as if they couldn't afford to have their faces and voices recorded in detail by homeland security people avidly looking for new candidates to lock away in Gitmo.

At the conclusion, Galloway cast aside the civility that they now and then tried to affect, with little success, and he called Hitchens a "popinjay."

Wow! I thought. That's ice cold ...but right on the mark!

I had always thought of "popinjay" as being the worst kind of insult ...when delivered by people who had taken some English Lit courses. Imagine my surprise when Hitchens answered, with I assume a big smirk on his face, that he wasn't insulted at all, because "popinjay" means a target for archers, and that was what he had been all through the debate, from Galloway and the dissenters in the audience.

What! ' I thought. Is that archery thing an alternative meaning for the word, or maybe an archaic one, long since disused? Or is this another case of me losing things? It's been a very long time since I've been in college.

I don't have an Oxford English Dictionary, but my ordinary dictionary gives only one meaning, which is that, as I had thought, a "popinjay" is "a strutting, supercilious person," which means that Galloway used it with absolute precision.

Always interested in the exact meanings and usages of words, I'm wondering whether, in the heat of battle and in his urge always to one-up his adversaries in sly, subtle ways, Hitchens confused this word with another, and if so, what that word could be.

It may be wrong to think this, but if Hitchens was wrong, then it's the kind of thing that throws doubt on all his other contentions. It backed up my feeling that people should always be careful of their words, no matter what. And on an occasion like this especially, with so many young minds listening, if Hitchens erred there, it wasn't the kind of mistake that he could afford to make.

9 Comments:

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9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should consider purchasing a better dictionary and perhaps reading a bit of background--Galloway's "popinjay" comment is one that he first used againt Hitchens when Hitch confronted Galloway before his Senate appearance; and Hitchen's rejoinder about the alterative meaning of the word is one he had used in print before the debate. As so much in the the Hitchens-Galloway "debate" the "popinjay" thing was recycled and rehashed for the entertainment of the audience.

5:34 PM  
Anonymous jim denham said...

Hitchens at least showed some knowledge of the situation in Iraq: Galloway showed none. Hitchens expressed some sympathy for the peoples of Iraq: Galloway, none (except for the fascist "resistance" whom he praised openly). Galloway again showed himself to be a friend of fascism.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Carl (aka Sofarsogoo) said...

Mr. 2nd Anonymous: Still, it would've been helpful if you could've cited the source for that alternative meaning, besides Hitchens. I really would like to know, as the definition given by my dictionary is the only one I've ever heard. And I don't see Hitchens' point in relying on an alternative meaning if it is heavily obscure.
Mr. Denham: What you have in Iraq is not Facism as such but the results instead of stirring up a hornet's nest, caused by Bush's unwarranted invasion and occupation. It's the Cambodia Effect, named after another such blunder, Nixon's. As such I think Galloway has it exactly right.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Carl (aka Sofarsogoo) said...

But thanks, both Anonymouses and Denham, for visiting and posting a comment.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Toque said...

He's a member of the UK Parliament. If we had an English parliament he hopefully wouldn't be in it because he's a Scot.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Carl (aka Sofarsogoo) said...

And the English Parliament would be the poorer for it without his like, as the one I am familiar with (or was, a few years back) the Canadian, would be without those salty Newfoundlanders. Meanwhile pardon me for thinking English and British interchangeably. With the English being so much the dominant group, it is sometimes hard to remember to avoid that, over this distance.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Toque said...

He certainly adds some fire to British politics but his brand of coummunalist politics has no place in today's Britain.

He has left his native Glasgow - very white, very Christian - to go and be an MP in a very diverse part of London where there are high racial tensions. He has used what amounts to a Muslim block vote to get himself elected to give himself a soapbox to oppose Balir.

Whether for Galloway the chance of opposing Blair is worth dividing a community along racial and religious grounds is open to debate; I would say that it isn't.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Carl (aka Sofarsogoo) said...

Thanks for the info about things in Britain. So often the argument against "dividing along racial and religious grounds" is used as an attempt to suppress a challenge to the dominant group. "Why rock the boat?" the argument goes. "Let's keep things as they've always been." But I would think that in a progressive place like Britain, such challenges are unavoidable.

Meanwhile what you say makes it sound as if Galloway would be able to serve in an English parliament after all, even if he is from Scotland, just as here in the U.S. we have an Austrian-derived governor of our largest state.

6:08 PM  

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