Speaking of Meat in Post-Conquest Britain

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Dear Reader Arkein from the land of the Freedom Fries and EuroDisney set me a-thinking about Medieval barns, butcheries, kitchens and dinner-tables. I’ve got a story about that, and I believe it’s far more likely to be true than that slanderous yarn about Louis XIV’s pinkie.

The English language has different words for livestock species and for their meat. Cow — beef. Pig — pork. Sheep — mutton. And there’s a pattern to the linguistic descent of these words: the live-animal words were there already in Old English, whereas the meat words are French loan words appearing from the Middle English period onward.

Middle English (and Modern English, I might add) has been called a product of Anglo-French creolisation. After the Norman Conquest from AD 1066 onward, much of the UK had its social elite replaced by French-speaking Normans or at least culturally re-orientated to a French template. The members of this elite liked feasting on meat, and they talked about meat in French at the dinner table. Boeuf. Porc. Mouton. But the people who worked in the barns, butcheries and kitchens spoke English. Cow. Pig. Sheep. And so the language still preserves an ethnic and social distinction between people who eat meat and people who tend livestock.

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Selling Stuff With Liberal Chic

i-53432dcb1675d19c4ba39393edbb0864-cover-jun07.jpgBlogging here at Sb has many advantages, one of which is a free subscription to Seed. I received the latest four issues the other day and have been reading them with great interest. It’s a very pretty mag with great content.

One detail surprises me. Almost all Most of the models in the ads are black. I have an inkling what this may mean: let me explain.

  • Most of Seed’s readers are in the US.
  • In the US, black people are on average less well-educated and affluent than white people.
  • Therefore, marketing a US pop-sci mag primarily to black people would be a bad idea.
  • The ads are instead in all likelihood aimed at white academics.
  • Seed has an explicit liberal bent.
  • By advertising in Seed, companies aim at getting name recognition and positive connotations for their products among liberal white academics.

Ergo,

  • Seed’s advertisers choose black models because they believe that this will give the magazine’s liberal white academic readers a warm fuzzy feeling. They hope to associate their products in the readers’ minds with civil rights, Democrat-party liberalism, “We Shall Overcome” and “let’s win the next election”.

This is fine by me. But I think it’s kind of obvious and more than a bit silly. I mean, come on: the percentage of Seed’s readers who are black must be way below the percentage of the United States’ citizens who are black. And if we look at the magazine’s writers, well — the percentage approaches zip.

OK everybody, tell me: am I reading this correctly?

Update same day: Derek wisely suggested that I offer some data. Here’s a run-down of all ads with photographs of people in the two most recent issues of Seed, nos 9 and 10. I have classified the models as either black, white or Asian and added available information on who they are and what they are presented as doing in the pictures.

Ad Company Models
#9 p 0-1 Intel Black dancer: anon
#9 p 9 Honeywell Four people (2 white, 1 black, 1
Asian) in white coats: anon
#9 p 11 Maxell ?
#9 p 47 Schering-Plough White PhD: Tom Koestler
#9 p 95 SLOOH Black swimmer: anon
#9 p 97 RosettaStone White farm boy: anon
#9 p 98 Tanqueray Black drinker: Tony Sinclair
#10 p 0-1 Intel Black dancer: anon
#10 p 9 Maxell ?
#10 p 20 SLOOH Black swimmer: anon
#10 p 29 Honeywell Asian in white coat: anon
#10 p 31 Tanqueray Black drinker: Tony Sinclair anon
#10 p 38-39 Dow Chemical Black nude labourer/eye candy: anon
#10 p 51 Schering-Plough White PhD: Tom Koestler
#10 p 59 RosettaStone White farm boy: anon
#10 p 79 W.W. Norton White Nobel laureate: Eric R. Kandel

A few observations.

  • Out of 14 ads with classifiable people shown, eight show blacks, six whites and two Asians.
  • All people on ad spreads are handsome anonymous black men.
  • 50% of ads with whites identify them by name and academic honorific. 25% 13% of ads with blacks identify them by name, none by honorific, and the single identification is in fact that of a fictional character. No ad identifies an Asian.
  • People of all races sometimes wear white coats. Apart from that, blacks dance, swim, drink gin and labour in the nude. Meanwhile, whites receive the Nobel prize and are farm boys.

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Syphilitic Pinkie

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Here’s a story I heard a long time ago about syphilis. I don’t know if it’s true: you tell me, Dear Reader.

You know how posh little old ladies and flamboyant gay men like to hold their pinkie finger in the air when drinking tea? This is because of syphilis at the court of Louis XIV in 17th century Paris. Those people were severely pox-ridden. And they were the cultural elite of their time, emulated in every detail of dress and behaviour by Europeans everywhere.

One thing syphilis does to you is damage the joints of your fingers. After a few years, you are no longer able to bend your pinkies. When holding a glass or cup, your pinkie will point ineffectually at the ceiling. Non-infected people won’t readily understand this, and even if they do understand, they may see the pinkie thing as a typical trait of your poxy social circle. If they admire you enough, they may go home from your splendid court and start doing the pinkie thing even if you have not managed to infect them with syphilis. Call it a meme if you like.

The guttural French R sound has been gaining ground in European languages since the 17th century and is currently typical as far north as the Swedish province of Småland. There is a hypothesis that this linguistic trend was started by a single very influential person with a speech impediment, somewhere in France. Perhaps the man with the pinkie?

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Are Humans Polygamous?

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i-d3001ca5c2ca37fa00a08933390cc23f-image020.jpgThe nature vs. nurture debate will always be with us poor cultured apes. Only very rarely can we lay the blame for our behaviour on genetic programming. A typical issue is that of monogamy.

I happened upon two bloggers (here and here) who argue that humans are polygamous (“everybody’s built to screw around”), or at least polygynous (“men are built to screw around”), by nature. They base this assertion on the results of research showing that a) somewhere between a percent and a third of all babies show genetic evidence of having been sired by someone else than their officially alleged progenitor, b) the pupils at one high school proved amazingly promiscuous over a 6-month period. The bloggers also taught me a cute acronym for adultery: EPC, “extra-pair copulation”.

Now, I find all this very interesting, but as always with evolutionary psychology, I wonder what kind of truth claims these statements about human “nature” really are.

Humans are air-breathers, no doubt about it. Humans are diurnal creatures. Humans are omnivores. All these are reasonably uncontroversial biological claims about humans. But can we say with the same kind of certainty that humans are polygamous? I think that’s pretty close to saying that humans are Mozart fans by nature or that humans like hamburgers by nature. Beyond the basics, it’s actually very hard to disentangle nature and culture.

Humans choose, and that means we’re responsible. Very few wives would accept “My genes made me do it” as an excuse when they catch their husbands cheating. And the research I mentioned suggests that most women actually choose to get impregnated by their steady partners, no matter how friendly the mailman is. It strikes me as an odd interpretation to suggest that the reason that most babies are sired by their mom’s steady partner is that culture conditions women (against their nature) to turn down the friendly mailman. I’d like to suggest another interpretation: humans have free will, and some screw around a lot, some very rarely, and some not at all beyond the officially sanctioned serial monogamy that most cultures cultivate.

I’m a happily married man myself — second marriage. I still look fondly at women in the street, but given all the grief and hassle an EPC would cause, I limit myself in practice to frequent and enthusiastic IPC. Does this mean that I am a polygynous ape acting against my nature? I’d say it means I’m a human who’s pretty happy with the social mores favoured by his culture. But culture isn’t forcing me to be monogamous, and my genes couldn’t force me to be polygamous. I choose. And if you saw my wife, you’d realise that my choice is a pretty easy one.

Kaga Foil-Figure Pre-Print On-Line

I’m proof-reading pdf files of Fornvännen’s summer issue, including a note I’ve written about the Kaga foil-figure die. It’s full of ugly hyphenations, but contentwise it’s OK. So I’ve put the file on-line here for all you guldgubbar fans.

Update 21 April ’08: And here’s the final printed version.

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Book Review: Stenger, God the Failed Hypothesis

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i-f1536573ea39330c1d1ffe5432f7b10e-stenger.jpgScience can never have an opinion about the existence or non-existence of a god who keeps himself hidden and doesn’t interfere with the world. Thus many scientists take the position that god questions are beyond scientific inquiry. In this book, Victor Stenger starts from an interesting observation: no religious people actually believe in a god who keeps himself hidden and doesn’t interfere with the world. Quite the contrary, most believe that he has a strong and direct influence on what happens in the world and that it’s possible to communicate with him on a daily basis. Such a god, once his characteristics have been decided upon, can be studied scientifically through his works. If any. And if there is no evidence of such works — then the god most faithful people believe in has been disproven.

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An Evening in Suitland

Saturday I slipped on a tux for about the fourth time in my life and went to my little cousin’s wedding. It turned out a visit to another world, or at least an alien subculture: corporate suit land. Everybody was a lawyer or a businessperson with a lot more money than I’ll ever have, and I found it really hard to connect to people. Their holiday pastimes, the inflection of their speech, even the hairstyles were unfamiliar. It suddenly became clear to me how tightly defined my own social circle actually is in terms of interests and occupations.

So I decided to take a look at who my people are. They’ve all finished their studies and started careers years ago. How do my closest friends make their bread?

There’s an academic philosopher, two archaeologists, an acoustics engineer, an architect, an electronics engineer, a geologist, a government emergencies manager, a journalist, a mathematician, a physiotherapist, a science writer, a security guard, two small-business-people, four software engineers and two teachers. And looking at my journalist wife’s closest friends, there’s a journalist, a lawyer, a museum administrator, a psychologist…

I guess what happened Saturday was that I was momentarily lifted out of my middle-class academic pond and dropped into an upper-class business-orientated swimming pool. Everybody was very friendly, but I’m afraid we looked at each other with a certain mutual incomprehension.

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Samian Ware Found in Småland

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Samian ware is beautiful reddish amber-coloured pottery, made in moulds and often decorated with figural reliefs. In recent times it has been given the Latin moniker terra sigillata. It was made in peripheral parts of the Roman Empire and rarely moved far beyond its borders. The Swedish finds can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Each find is alone in its respective province: Scania, Västergötland, Östergötland, Gotland…

Last Saturday, Pierre Petersson of the AHIMKAR blog led a guided tour of a 1st Millennium cemetery in Söderåkra parish, Småland, the province between Scania and Östergötland. Småland hasn’t got any Samian finds. That is, it hadn’t got any until last Saturday: Pierre checked out the earth clinging to the roots of a fallen tree at the cemetery and picked out a beautiful sherd of Samian.

You go, Pierre! Now I want you to sieve that muthafucka. And then I want you to dig that cemetery real hard. And I want you to show them lame-ass götar and skåningar that Småland is the place to be in Roman Iron Age studies, trudat.

Hopeful Buttons Again

Time to ask the regulars to push some buttons again. (You do realise that this is just an experiment in behavioristic psychology?)

On average, this blog sees about 90 daily visits from returning readers. If, on average, the blog’s regulars visit the site only every second day, this means that I have about 180 steady readers. Yet at the moment, Aard has only been favourited by ten people on Technorati and graded by twelve on Bloggtoppen.

See those buttons below my profile, top left? Go, kids, go! Push the buttons! Push, push, push! Buttons, buttons, buttons! If you do, I will absolve you of all your sins and give you the gift of eternal life.

Archaeological Surveying: Call for Papers

Dear Reader, are you into archaeological surveying? Contour mapping, field walking, metal detecting, aerial photography, geophysics, truffle hogs? Then Kate Page-Smith has a conference session for you at the 13th EAA annual meeting in Zadar, Croatia, in September.

Investigating Archaeological Survey

With a tradition stretching back over 300 years, archaeological survey and investigation deserves a definitive place within archaeological and historical research. Its multi-disciplinary approach not only provides greater understanding of sites and their landscapes, but it also offers a comprehensive and cost-effective evaluation for projects. However, despite the recognised value of landscape archaeology within the heritage sector, this valuable and versatile specialism is often overlooked.

For this session I would like to invite individuals to come and promote this unique discipline and its contribution towards archaeological research. With increasing emphasis upon landscape approaches and non-intrusive techniques, earthwork survey and interpretation has the potential to become a fundamental method within archaeological practice and enter the mainstream. With the help of case studies, large and small, this session intends to facilitate the liberation of archaeological survey from the margins of research and advocate its importance to an international audience. There will also be added emphasis upon international contributions for it is currently believed that this specialism is essentially a British contribution towards archaeological research. Hopefully this session will either dispel the myth or encourage its expansion outside of the UK.

Whether you specialise in intrusive or non-intrusive techniques, academia or commercial archaeology, this session is intended to appeal to all. Its focus upon holistic approaches should encourage a healthy dialogue between different disciplines and specialists.

To submit a paper, e-mail Kate at kpagesmith@DELETE_THIShotmail.com.