Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


I’M ENJOYING MY most recent semi-monthly London Review of Books, July 30, 2020. Though having read only the first five of its tabloid-size pages, I’ve gleaned several tidbits worth sharing here. Funny thing, they’re not only in significant articles; there’s also pleasurable and illuminating reading in LRB peripherals such as its Letters column. (I think of the reader responses akin to sharing opinions over a pint with friends at our local.)

A Binary “Yea” or “Nay.” The issue’s lead article is William Davies’ “Who Am I Prepared to Kill?,” an examination of democracy and its identification of public sentiment.

The article’s provocative title evolves from political theories of German jurist (and eventual Nazi) Carl Schmitt. In Constitutional Theory, 1928, Schmitt wrote that the public can “express their consent or disapproval simply by calling out…. Public opinion is a modern type of acclamation.”

In a sense, a binary “yea” or “nay.”

”Friend” or “Enemy.” This has evolved from opinion polls initially developed in the 1930s by George Gallup to the Internet’s ubiquitous “Like” buttons. As Davies notes, “… we can all now potentially act like the pollster.”

However, Davies notes through a reductio ad absurdum, “how this reduces to a base distinction between ‘friend’ and ‘enemy.’ The distinction itself is what counts, not whatever fuels or justifies it. From Schmitt’s grim perspective, the friend-enemy distinction is ultimately realized in the question: who am I prepared to kill and who am I prepared to die for?”

A Preferred Alternative. Davies suggests that such binary friend-enemy thinking is a current problem in which “eyeballs are invariably dragged towards public shaming… Given that many of these targets thrive on outrage and provocation (otherwise known as trolling), this is hardly a good use of anyone’s time, but it provides further opportunities to ‘split’ off guilt from innocence.”

Davies writes, and I agree for us in the U.S., “What Britain sorely needs is not self-love, or self-hatred, but self-knowledge.”

Letters from LRB Readers. Immediate, and varied, change of pace is provided in the LRB Letters column, which in the July 30, 2020, issue happened to be directly across from the Davies piece. Here are entertaining insights on English university accommodations and on the world’s languages.

Oxbridge Noisomeness. Following up on an article about English universities, one reader noted, “… when George Frederick Bodley came to build new student accommodation at King’s College, Cambridge in 1888, he asked the fellows whether he should include a bathroom, but was told not to be ridiculous: as terms were only eight weeks long, the undergraduates could bathe after they got home.”

The crest of King’s College, University of Cambridge.

Another reader was reminded of “an exchange I had with an ancient porter at my Oxford college in the late 1960s. He had been there since before the First World War and like to reminisce about ‘the old days.’ ”

“ ‘What’s the main difference between the old days and now?’ I once asked him.”

“ ‘Well, sir,’ he replied, after some thought, ‘in the old says the young gentlemen used to change their shirt every day and take a bath once a week. Nowadays they take a bath every day and change their shirt once a week.’ It was clear from the shaking of his head that he did not regard this an an improvement.”

”He/She” Versus “They.” The non-gendered third-person pronoun was discussed by a Chinese reader from Ottawa: “The Chinese ta (他) is a single character (ideogram) for all of the following: she/he/they/her/him/them.… Is it too much to hope that ‘he’ and ‘she’ might be retired, and replaced by the omnivalent ‘they,’ serving as the English ta?

Yous Glaswegians and… A reader from Glasgow recalls the LRB article’s comment that “most English speakers haven’t distinguished between the second person singular and plural ‘you’ since the 17th century.”

He continues, “Glaswegians frequently say ’yous’ as a plural for ‘you,’ though they rarely do so when writing—out of a mistaken sense of propriety, I reckon. Its meaning is, however, perfectly clear.”

American variations “y’all” and “yuns” come to mind as well. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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