May 3, 2010
MANN TALK: Why Horses Sweat But People Perspire
By Perry Mann
In January, 1066 A.D., Edward the Confessor, king of England, who on the day of his marriage, had taken, as a result of his monastic rearing, an oath of perpetual chastity died. He apparently kept his oath for he left no children, leaving as his next of kin Edgar the Atheling, a mere boy.
The Witan, a body of nobles and churchmen, convened and dispossessed the Atheling and chose Harold Harefoot to be king, a choice the repercussions of which no member of the Witan could have imaged much less foreseen.
The Witan’s decision was not a popular one with two other claimants to the throne, namely, Harold Hardrada of Norway, a descendant of King Canute, who become king of England in 1016 after defeating the Saxon king Edmund Ironside; and Duke William of Normandy, who was related to the English royal family and who claimed that Edward the Confessor had, on a visit to Normandy, promised the crown to him.
In October 1066, while Harold Harefoot at Stamford Bridge, near York, was crushing an invading army and slaying its leader Harold Hardrada, who had invaded England to seize the crown---Duke William of Normandy embarked for and landed on the southern coast of England at Pevensey with a few thousand adventurers to contest with Harold Harefoot and his army the fate of a million English.
On the 14th day of October near Hastings, Harold’s weary army and the Norman invaders under William clashed. By evening, Harold Harefoot lay dead from an arrow in his eye; and his army, demoralized by the death of its leader, was dead or routed.
William the Conqueror quickly consolidated his victory. He confiscated the lands of the English earls and divided them among his loyal followers and his victorious army. For the next 300 years the Norman French ruled England and the French language became the spoken and written words of the nobles, the court, the government and law. Even today, courts are convened by the bailiff declaring, Oyez! Oyez! That is, Hear ye! Hear Ye!
The Anglo-Saxon language, the tongue of so many four letter words, remained the language of the defeated, dispossessed, dishonored and the peasantry, most of whom were villains and serfs. After three hundred years the language that evolved was the Middle English in which Chaucer wrote, a language that was 40 percent Anglo-Saxon and 60 percent French and Latin, of which French is a corruption.
Today English is a composite of Anglo-Saxon and French, the Anglo-Saxon element even now being identified with the crude and uncultured and the French element with the refined and literate.
George Bernard Shaw observed that every time an Englishman opens his mouth he makes an enemy. The point is that the language or dialect one speaks either elicits approval or disapproval from listeners depending on their socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
The Anglo-Saxon element of English to this day has the stigma of the conquest and the enslavement, political and economic, of the English villains and serfs, who continued to speak Anglo-Saxon during the Norman rule, a stigma that still attaches to one who says, “The crowd clapped” but not to one who says, “The audience applauded.”
In fact, what is obscene and pornographic when spoken in Anglo-Saxon words becomes high-brow, cultural dissertation when spoken in French derived synonyms. In France, William the Conqueror, who was born out of wedlock to a tanner’s daughter, was an illegitimate but in England he was a bastard.
If one wants to succeed or be accepted in English speaking society, he must learn early that his success depends upon avoiding words of Anglo-Saxon origin and learning and speaking the French equivalent or synonyms: perspire not sweat; vomit not puke; intestines not gut; prostitute not whore or slut, etc.
1066 is yet a force in the world. A few years ago the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that seven Anglo-Saxon words were unfit for broadcasting on radio or television. All seven words described or identified human biological functions, words and functions with which everyone is familiar but about which few in polite company would speak in Anglo-Saxon terms; but about which they could speak in French equivalents and offend no one.
Uncultured students, that is, students whose speech is predominately of Anglo-Saxon origin, irritate cultured teachers by their speech and give rise to a prejudice that is a factor in students dropping out. The random flight of an arrow that fortuitously entered the aperture of Harold’s armor at Hastings is an event that influences the grades in every classroom in this country. To know the French and Latin derived vocabulary of English strokes teachers more effectively than an apple a day.
History never dies. The murderous irrationality in Yugoslavia can only be explained by history. Croatia is Roman Catholic; Serbia is Greek Orthodox; and Bosnia is Muslim. The split in the Christian Church into Greek Orthodox Church centered in Byzantium and the Roman Catholic Church centered in Rome; and the defeat in 1389 of Serbia by Turkish Muslims and the subjugation of Serbia to 350 years of Turkism rule are events still roiling the Balkans and elsewhere. Just as William’s successful adventure still has influence every time an English speaking person opens his mouth.
Thus, it is mandated by history that it is acceptable to say that a horse sweats but it is more proper to say that a person of refinement perspires. However, if one feels an urge to join the counterculture, then he can throw away the French dictionary and raise the flag of Harold Harefoot, whose survival at Hastings might have given higher status to the word sweat.
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Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV.

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