Kingdoms and republics

Writing about kingdoms and empires in my last post prompted me to complete this post, which I’ve been thinking about for some time and had actually done a lot of research towards: the division of current-day countries into kingdoms and republics. 

Firstly, a few words about empires. Many of the entities we refer to as an empire were never officially called that: the British Empire was headed by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and Queen Victoria and the few kings following her were only ever Empress/Emperor of India.

As far as I can find, the last counties to be officially called empire were:
the Empire of Japan (大日本帝國 Dai Nippon Teikoku or Dai Nihon Teikoku) (1868–1947) (note that the head of state is still called emperor)
the Ethiopian Empire (መንግሥተ ኢትዮጵያ, Mängəstä Ityop’p’ya) (1270-1974), but apparently the literal translation is ‘Government of Ethiopia’
(arguably) the Imperial State of Persia/Iran (کشور شاهنشاهی ایران Kešvar-e Šâhanšâhi-ye Irân) (1925/1935-11 February 1979) 
the Central African Empire (Empire centrafricain) (1976- 21 September 1979).
(Obviously, the scope of an empire varies over time.)

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Kingdoms and empires

The hymn The day thou gavest, Lord, has ended (Wikipedia, performance) has as its last verse:

So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.

We quite often refer to God as king and to God’s kingdom or the kingdom of God, but we almost never refer to God as emperor or to God’s empire or the empire of God, even though King of kings and Lord of lords is more analogous to an earthly emperor than a king. 

The only reference to empire/emperor/imperial in the King James/Authorised version of the bible is in the comparatively late OT book of Esther (1:20):

When the king’s decree which he will make is proclaimed throughout all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honor their husbands, both great and small. 

(The king being Ahasuerus and the empire being Persia.)

Of the other 27 translations on Bible Hub, one uses realm, four use empire and the rest kingdom.


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여러 분 추석 잘 보내세요!

Chuseok isn’t a holiday in Australia, of course, so I spent the day working, listening to Korean music or semi-watching Korean hiking videos for most of the time. Youtube suggested two videos of old photos of Seoul, dating from 1884 and 1984 respectively. (A lot happened in between!)

The first is on the 대한여지도 Korean Geographic channel, and has photos taken by Percival Lowell. (There are other similar videos – follow the links.)

If you can’t see a video above, try here, or search for eg ‘youtube korean geographic seoul 1884 percival lowell’.

The second is the 복원왕 Restoration King channel, and has colourised photos. (There are other similar videos – follow the links.)

If you can’t see a video above, try here, or search for eg ‘youtube restoration king life in seoul 1984’.

The next video I watched was from 1979, and the Yeouido 63 Building was conspicuously absent (it was started in 1980). While I was watching it, I had the sudden thought that it would be interesting to compare then and now (if possible). The screenshot for the second video above should be relatively easy, but the screenshot for the first video is probably under an apartment building or department store.

I also remembered seeing a video at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza of the view from Namsan, with the buildings risings up animatedly over time.

Extraordinarily unique

Wikipedia’s article on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan quotes “US officials” describing it as “extraordinarily unique”.

Some style guides advise or prescribe against any modification of unique. Either something is the only one of its kind, or it’s not. It can’t be (for example) very unique. While modifying unique is probably best avoided in formal contexts, there can be no doubt that many people say or write it informally and normally. Google Ngram Viewer shows not (by far the most common), very, as, most, so, quite, rather, somewhat, almost and probably unique. Some of these are (probably) more acceptable, and others less so. 

Extraordinarily unique isn’t on Ngrams’ top 10 results (its usage is about one-tenth that of probably unique), but a general Google search shows about 391,000 results, starting with blind auditions on The Voice, the Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Villa Bismarck on Capri.  

It might just be possible to describe something as extraordinarily unique if it’s extraordinary as well as unique – a whole level more unique than anything else. Australia has many unique animals, but the platypus is extraordinary. Anyone familiar with jerboas will accept the kangaroo, but when the first samples of dead platypuses (?platypi, ??platypodes) arrived in England, the experts there thought someone here was playing a practical joke on them. But “except for its size and exaggerated security measures,” Bin Laden’s compound “itself did not stand out architecturally from others in the neighbourhood.”

my guide

Speaking of bachs: In December 1933 the German composer Richard Strauss wrote a song titled Das Bächlein, (originally for voice and piano but the first recording that came up is for voice and orchestra), in which a wanderer asks a mountain stream where it came from and where it is going. It answers “I come from the womb of dark rocks. A merry childlike spirit drives me onward, I know not whither. He who called me forth from the rock, He, I think, shall be my guide.”

Strauss set the words for my guide rhapsodically. There can be no doubt that he realised the double meaning of mein führer (leader/guide). There is still debate about his interactions with the Nazi regime, even though he was cleared by a denazification tribunal in 1948. In the early days he might have seen it as the (or a) solution to the chaos of the previous 20 years, but after he reluctantly accepted the position of president of the Reichsmusikkammer he quickly lost whatever illusions he had and fell from favour, especially because of his professional relationship with author Stefan Zweig and personal relationship with his daughter-in-law and her family. The song wasn’t published until after his death. 

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Joseon zombies

A Korean drama about zombies appearing in the Joseon era has been cancelled because of complaints about historical inaccuracies. The inaccuracies in question involved Chinese-style costumes and props, and showing King Taejo (r 1400-1408) cruelly slaughtering innocent people because he was hallucinating. Viewers have apparently accepted the appearance of zombies in the Joseon era as not historically inaccurate.

Hyphenated Australian

I have occasionally referred to myself as an Australian of mixed British Isles descent, or an Anglo-Saxon-Celtic-Australian. I suspect that the full story might be Normo-Dano-Anglo-Saxo-Juto-Romano-Celto-Australian. My ancestry is half English (my father’s side), a quarter Scottish (two of my great-great-grandparents were born in Ireland, but their families originated in Scotland), an eighth Irish and an eighth Cornish (if you count that separately). My father always assumed that his father’s ancestry was Welsh (his grandfather was born in Shrewsbury and our surname is typically Welsh but from other places as well), but we haven’t actually traced it. His mother was horrified at my suggestion that I was anything other than ‘English’, apparently unaware of her late husband’s possible ancestry and her daughter-in-law/my mother’s actual ancestry.

So while I celebrate St David’s Day for various reasons (despite no known Welsh connection), I am ambivalent about St Patrick’s Day (despite known Irish connection). Part of the reason is that those Irish people are usually so noisy on St Patrick’s Day (which they will, of course, say is most of the point). Maybe the Welsh, Scots and English also are on their respective days, but I have never seen or heard a St David’s, St Andrew’s or St George’s Day celebration in Australia. I can imagine the Welsh celebrating (especially in Wales but also in Australia), but the idea of a Scottish St Andrew’s Day or English St George’s Day seems slightly strange (though see St Andrew’s Day and St George’s Day). St George almost certainly didn’t actually exist (at least in his most popular form), and St Andrew didn’t go anywhere Scotland (and wouldn’t even have known that it existed). A colleague who is more Irish than I am decorated himself and part of the office yesterday (we are dividing our working days between the office and home), but I was unable to fully share his excitement. What is one meant to do when one is hyphenated? Celebrating everything without worrying about it so much is a possibility. I accepted his Irish chocolates, though.

And to think that I saw it in a Dr Seuss book

In 1937, Vanguard Press published And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street, by Dr Seuss, known to his family and friends as Theodore Seuss Geisel. The original edition referred to “a Chinaman”, which was later changed to “a Chinese man”. Chinaman is now seen as offensive though possibly not taboo, and no new children’s book would use it. As far as I can find, there are no direct equivalent instances of [Country] + man. The closest is Indiaman, but that didn’t/doesn’t refer to a person, but rather to a large ship engaged in trade between Europe and India. notes that Chinaman was originally as neutral as Englishman and Irishman. The difference is that Chinaman is [Country]-noun + man (compare *Englandman and *Irelandman), while Englishman and Irishman are [Nationality]-adj + man (compare *Chineseman). 

The Wikipedia article on Chinaman (linked above) mentions that Chinese uses 中國人 (zhōng-guó rén, China man/person), and I am familiar with Korean 중국 사람 (jung-guk sa-ram, China person). 중국 남자 (jung-guk nam-ja, China man) and 중국 여자 (jung-guk yeo-ja) are both also possible. I would not be surprised if many other languages use this formula. It is certainly not inherently racist. (Also, the Chinese word for a Western foreigner, 鬼佬 (gwei-lo), means ghost or devil man. Hmmm …)

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Abominable words

A colleague informed us that today is National Grammar Day. He also has a desk calendar of Shakespearean insults, which often turn out to be strangely appropriate to what’s going on in our team, department and company. The combination of Shakespeare and grammar reminded me of the following quotation, from Henry VI pt 2:

Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the Realme, in erecting a Grammar Schoole … thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun and a verb, and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear.

Jack Cade was the leader of a popular rebellion in 1450. Wikipedia says that this rebellion was “one of the first popular uprisings in England that used writing to voice their grievances” but Shakespeare follows Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587) and incorporates aspects of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, which “was highly anti-intellectual and anti-textual” and “ha[d] people killed because they could read”. The real-life James Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele, the Lord High Treasurer (= Shakespeare’s Lord Say) was executed for treason.

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Who’s who?

I am reading a book on Australian history, and one passage is about Harold Holt, the prime minister of Australia from 1966 to 1967. In one of the more bizarre incidents of Australian history, he disappeared and presumably drowned while swimming at a remote surf beach near Melbourne (though alternative suggestions exist). The book says that his memorial service “drew a crowd of foreign dignitaries such as had not before assembled at an Australian ceremony”, including “the president of the United States … the prime minister of Britain, Harold Wilson … the heir to the British throne, the young Prince Charles … the presidents of the Philippines, South Korea and South Vietnam and the young prime minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore”.

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