May 7, 2016

"The appetite of the people of these States, in popular speeches and writings, for unhemmed latitude, coarseness, directness, live epithets, expletives, words of opprobrium, resistance."

"This I understand because I have the taste myself as large, as largely, as any one. I have pleasure in the use, on fit occasions, of—traitor, coward, liar, shyster, skulk, doughface, trickster, mean cuss, backslider, thief, impotent, lickspittle.... A perfect writer would make words sing, dance, kiss, bear children, weep, bleed, rage, stab, steal, fire cannon, steer ships, sack cities, charge with cavalry or infantry, or do anything that man or woman or the natural powers can do.... I like limber, lasting, fierce words. I like them applied to myself,—and I like them in newspapers, courts, debates, congress. Do you suppose the liberties and the brawn of these States have to do only with delicate lady-words? with gloved gentlemen words? Bad Presidents, bad judges, bad clients, bad editors, owners of slaves, and the long ranks of Northern political suckers (robbers, traitors, suborned), monopolists, infidels.... shaved persons, supplejacks, ecclesiastics, men not fond of women, women not fond of men, cry down the use of strong, cutting, beautiful, rude words. To the manly instincts of the People they will forever be welcome...."

From "An American Primer" (1856-1857) by Walt Whitman.

37 comments:

Jack Wayne said...

So Trump is channeling Whitman? Who knew....

Ann Althouse said...

@Jack Wayne That's exactly what I thought. Thanks for noticing.

BDNYC said...

Unreadable

Laslo Spatula said...

Minus " To the manly instincts of the People they will forever be welcome...." I think Althouse could have written this.

As long as Meade kept his Yap shut.


I am Laslo.

kentuckyliz said...

I found it quite readable once I found the sweet spot in my bifocals.

kentuckyliz said...

Lickspittles and supplejacks, the lot of them!

Or supplelicks, for short.

I really like supplelicks.

Paul Zrimsek said...

I am yuge, I contain multitudes.

robother said...

"...I myself have the taste as large, as largely, as anyone." Powerful, the doubling of the adjective with the adverb. This Whitman essayist might have the makings of a poet.

buwaya puti said...

I suddenly appreciate Whitman. I had no great opinion of him before. I will steal this, thank you.

traditionalguy said...

Whitman spoke like an earlier version of Trump because Whitman was also giving voice to an implacable will to be strong and free men. That is what made America Great the first time.

It started with Andrew Jackson defeating the murderous British in the West to save the Mississippi River Valley, and then took off with Robert Fulton building his steamboats and DeWit Clinton building his canal locks to go over the Niagara Escarpment at Lockport, NY to complete a transportation circle from New York City to the Great lakes and then down the Mighty Mississippi to New Orleans. And which soon saw Robert Morse building his single wire telegraph to carry the news.

Trump is a messenger and a builder. And nobody cares if he says bad words in his battle to make America Great Again.

YoungHegelian said...

Man, you wanna see rude! Take a look at the speeches that the politicians of the Confederacy wrote about each other when it started to become clear that The Great Cause was going to be lost.

Attacks on personal & family character, on faith (lots of anti-Semitic remarks about Judah P. Benjamin), on the wedlock status of a man's birth, questions of even basic competency & loyalty --- it all came out in the open when it started coming time to find who was responsible for the present disaster.

coupe said...

Why be weak with language, when you can use your fist...

Fists have many forms;
a fist knows what it can do

without the nuisance of speaking:
it grabs and smashes.

From those inside or under
words gush like toothpaste.

Language, the fist
proclaims by squeezing
is for the weak only.


Margaret Atwood

mockturtle said...

Plain--even rude--words are hardly new to the political scene. Trump has just revived the art of brash hyperbole and we the people have embraced it.

Joe said...

I'm curious as to how Whitman would have edited this after the Civil War.

traditionalguy said...

After 1865 Whitman was only more impressed. There was then a new Inter-continental Railroad and a suddenly there was a free Northern military force greatly trained and no longer busy with other duties. At that point the patiently waiting British Empire had to abandon their military plans to fight us again over made up Canadian boundary claims, especially in Washington State.

gadfly said...

"Trump is a messenger and a builder. And nobody cares if he says bad words in his battle to make America Great Again."

Trad-guy has been nibbling the weed cookies again. let me fix that sentence for you.

Trump is a pathological liar and a demolition expert, bankrupting four companies and failing to run a dozen more businesses at a profit. And conservatives are rightly concerned that his solipsismal, adolescent worldview will surely destroy America as we have known it.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

That is precisely what I think when I sit down to write: "I'm gonna get these words super pregnant!"

chickelit said...

Trump is also like Brom van Brunt (Brom Bones), the alpha male in Washington Irving's "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow." Trump made all the GOP candidates look and sound like Ichabod Crane. In the end, Trump always gets the fair Katrina van Tassel.

There is rich tradition of Trumpian figures in American lit predating even Whitman.

gadfly said...

Walt Whitman was a Lincoln supporter and he looked fondly upon Abe's appearance and traits:

No other human being seemed as multifaceted to Whitman as Lincoln. The President, he said, had “canny shrewdness” and “horse-sense.” He seemed the down-home, average American, with his drab looks and his humor, redolent of barnyards and barrooms. Whitman commented on the “somewhat rusty and dusty appearance” of Lincoln, who “looks about as ordinary in attire, etc. as the commonest man.” Whitman was excited that “the commonest average of life — a railsplitter and a flat-boatsman!”—now occupied the presidency.

So if he were alive today - Walt Whitman would dislike Donald Trump as much as I do.

Lem said...

It would have been something to hear Ortiz going off on plate umpire Ron Kulpa.

His words were a silent movie, without the subtitles, but way more animated.

Fabi said...

I shaved this morning -- am I a "shaved person"?

traditionalguy said...

Why would Whitman dislike Trump because of Lincoln?

Walt Whitman was a NYC Values realist. That included being an admirer the feisty trial lawyer from Kentucky and Illinois who upheld the War effort until his office and the War's loss approached in the November, 1864 Election.

Then General Sherman's flanking tactics miraculously won the reelection and thus the War at the two day Battle of Jonesboro, Georgia starting on August 31, 1864.

The big Statue of Sherman on a horse stepping on a Georgia pine bough is the center of the War Memorial Plaza, outside the Plaza Hotel. It is the biggest Civil War Memorial in Whitman's realist New York City.

walter said...

Walt would love gangsta rap.

Lem said...

Come to think of it... As an MLB subscriber why shouldn't I determine for myself if I want to hear or not hear what is happening on the field of play?

I'm being shortchanged. What's the word Whitman uses?

MLB.tv is a bunch of liars, shysters, doughface, tricksters, backsliding, impotent thiefs.

King Kane said...

There are plenty of live epithets in the real world and on TVs. All you have to do is turn the TV on and you will hear plenty of profanity that are full of life.

You "issue" is not that there are not enough rude words in the world, but that there are not enough rude words in New York Times, in the textbooks, in the court opinions, and in the president's speech, etc. But then again you seem to take great offense at the slightest hint of disrespect for you here and also have a knack for "detecting" such on New York Times & Co and engage in the most twisted kinds of "PC Policing" when your preferred persona is the subject. It has been well established that those who detest "Political Correctness" the most are also the most sensitive kind to what they perceive to be a disrespect. (See Donald Trump)

I suggest you look in the mirror and see how much "life" and "liberty" you see in there.

rhhardin said...

With all due respect for words, given the habits they have contracted in so many foul mouths, it actually takes courage not only to write but even to speak. A pile of old rags not to be touched with tweezers -- that's what we're given to move, to shake, to turn about. And all that in the secret hope that we'll keep quiet...[I]t is necessary to shake yourself free of the soot of words and that silence is as dangerous as possible in this system of values. There is only one way out: to speak against words. Drag them along in shame to where they lead us, and there, they will be disfigured. There is no other reason for writing...One can only escape it by a degrading cowardice which my taste finds intolerable.

- Francis Ponge 1930

walter said...

..but not sure Walt would want to loosen libel libel laws....

Lem said...

Oddly enough, word from the play by play booth has it, Mark Wahlberg has asked David Ortiz to play himself, foul mouth speech and all, for his upcoming Boston Marathon Bombing movie.

They are going to reproduce "this is our fucking city" on a soundstage.

Lem said...

If I'm not stretching Walt Whitman, not "dignifying" something said with an answer, is a cop out. Itself an act that may call for more unhemmed latitude, coarseness and expletives.

David Ortiz has better material against terrorism than Amy Schumer could ever muster imho.

David said...

Paul Zrimsek said...
I am yuge, I contain multitudes.


Made wading through the whole thread worth it. (I sometimes read them backwards to see if they make more sense.)

son sha said...

Lover Fashion
www.lover-fashion.com

rcommal said...

Too late, for me, the recognition of, much less appreciation for, Walt Whitman, and no matter who's playing that card.

Ick.

Clyde said...

There is nothing new under the sun.

Paco Wové said...

"it all came out in the open when it started coming time to find who was responsible for the present disaster."

Hey, that sounds familiar, too.

tim in vermont said...

What beautiful writing. Take that Sam Clemens.

Fernandinande said...

coupe said...
Why be weak with language, when you can use your fist...


Maybe in a few years robotized computers will allow us to punch each other over the internet.

Char Char Binks said...

I prefer to be called a person of shave.