Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. An Unexpected Gift: A Culture of Appropriation

 

Years ago I was told about a family letter. In it, a relative had asked another who was into genealogy about the family history. The letter began:

When a man steals a loaf of bread, one calls him a thief. When a man steals a kingdom, one calls him “The Conqueror.”

My antecedents are English. In that mix of my ancestry is included William the Conqueror and many of his companions whose later descendants became the Magna Carta barons. I am also descended from Vikings who were not filtered through France, Anglo-Saxons, and probably Brittano-Romans and Brythonic Celts if one could precisely trace these things back far enough. The language of the English is a mishmash of Anglo-Saxon, Norman French, Viking-age Danish, and other languages from many cultures. Since the language started stabilizing into what we call Modern English at about the time my patrilineal ancestor left Warwickshire for Virginia, our language has added many words and roots from all over the world: Latin and Greek, German words like schadenfreude, French words, Portuguese words that the English found being used in India, such as “veranda.” We have stolen words from every culture where we found a useful word.

My family has lived in what is now the United States for more than four hundred years. We accepted foods from other cultures into our cuisines. We eat hominy grits, which was part of the cuisine of the Southeastern Indian tribes. More recently, we have taken in foods from other cultures: pemmican and jerky, tacos and enchiladas, spaghetti and other pastas, pizza, curries. We never turn down more food choices, and we make them our own. We’ve stolen cooking ideas from everywhere around the world.

I’m sitting here in jeans and a plaid shirt. England did have a weaving and cloth producing tradition, but jeans and denim came from what is now Italy and France. Plaid, or tartan, is usually associated with Scotland. Now, admittedly, another of my family lines did rule Scotland for several centuries, but they were a Norman or Breton family that had settled in England and then went north with King David. They were certainly not highlanders. In the other room, I have dress clothing, such as I shall be wearing on Sunday. All of my dress shirts have French cuffs. My ties, well over a hundred of them collected over the decades, are mostly made from silk, not a cloth native to English or American cultures. Some of those ties are in patterns that have come from far countries or have used techniques of production that originated in other than England or the United States. Others were made in foreign countries using English-developed techniques or American designs. For instance, one Frank Lloyd Wright tie was made in Italy of silk, probably using techniques developed in China and refined in Europe and the US. We have picked up types of cloth, raw textile materials, and processing techniques from every culture under the sun.

Other types of English culture? Well, there is Shakespeare. He stole from everywhere. The whole copyright thing didn’t really get seriously enforced until Queen Anne’s day in the Eighteenth Century; thus Shakespeare happily appropriated Greek and Roman plays, putting them into English and updating the stories here and there. While Shakespeare used the English form of the sonnet, the sonnet itself came from the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and was adapted by Henry Howard to be more easily written in English. Shakespeare also borrowed from English and Scottish history and myth, of course. But if there was a culture he ran across to steal from, he certainly took anything that wasn’t nailed down. We discussed the words above. He was one of the greatest word creators in our language. He used roots from Latin, Greek, French, and anywhere else he knew of to create words.

My forebears have left me an unexpected gift, a boon for the ages. Do you want to accuse me of cultural appropriation? You don’t understand. My culture is appropriation. If your culture is not English in origin, you cannot appropriate any other group’s culture. Not only will you be appropriating that group’s culture, but you will also be appropriating my culture of appropriation. Don’t appropriate my culture.

There are 95 comments.

  1. Judge Mental, Secret Chimp Member

    Arahant: He was one of the greatest word creators in our language. He used roots from Latin, Greek, French, and anywhere else he knew of to create words.

    Fartles didn’t really catch on.

    It always amuses when the people yelling about cultural appropriation are doing so while totally appropriating our stolen culture.

    • #1
    • March 1, 2019, at 3:08 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    It always amuses when the people yelling about cultural appropriation are doing so while totally appropriating our stolen culture.

    Exactly.

    • #2
    • March 1, 2019, at 3:10 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Fartles didn’t really catch on.

    The version with a Latin root did, although only for one meaning.

    • #3
    • March 1, 2019, at 3:14 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    @she, You’re always welcome to quote me on this.

    • #4
    • March 1, 2019, at 3:15 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  5. Seawriter Member

    Greek and Roman plays were in the public domain by any copyright standard when Bill S. wrote his plays.

    • #5
    • March 1, 2019, at 3:34 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Greek and Roman plays were in the public domain by any copyright standard when Bill S. wrote his plays.

    Sure, but Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy was not. Besides, it was still cultural appropriation.

    • #6
    • March 1, 2019, at 3:41 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member

    Good morning, cousin.

    CS Peirce called English “pirate lingo.”

    • #7
    • March 1, 2019, at 3:42 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):
    CS Peirce called English “pirate lingo.”

    It works for me.

    • #8
    • March 1, 2019, at 3:43 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant: My antecedents are English. In that mix of my ancestry is included William the Conqueror and many of his companions whose later descendants became the Magna Carta barons. I am also descended from Vikings who were not filtered through France, Anglo-Saxons, and probably Brittano-Romans and Brythonic Celts if one could precisely trace these things back far enough. The language of the English is a mishmash of Anglo-Saxon, Norman French, Viking-age Danish, and other languages from many cultures. Since the language started stabilizing into what we call Modern English at about the time my patrilineal ancestor left Warwickshire for Virginia, our language has added many words and roots from all over the world: Latin and Greek, German words like schadenfreude, French words, Portuguese words that the English found being used in India, such as “veranda.” We have stolen words from every culture where we found a useful word.

    The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.

    James Nicoll

    • #9
    • March 1, 2019, at 3:54 AM PST
    • 16 likes
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    1. James Maxwell codified the equations describing electromagnetism that bear his name.
    2. Electricity is Scottish.
    3. Now, awa’ an’ bile your heads, ya wee bampots!
    • #10
    • March 1, 2019, at 4:01 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  11. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    @she, You’re always welcome to quote me on this.

    Lovely post. We always called him “The Bastard,” though. Because true, in fact and in law.

    • #11
    • March 1, 2019, at 4:04 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  12. Mark Camp Member

    You want to accuse me of cultural appropriation? You don’t understand. My culture is appropriation. And don’t even think of appropriating it.”

    I’m signing up for QOTD with this puppy, with myself as the author. I will wait till everyone forgets where it came from. Copyright-wise, I changed some wording, shouldn’t be an issue.

     

    • #12
    • March 1, 2019, at 4:09 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  13. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):

    1. James Maxwell codified the equations describing electromagnetism that bear his name.
    2. Electricity is Scottish.
    3. Now, awa’ an’ bile your heads, ya wee bampots!

    I’m descended from Robert the Bruce, too, through his daughter Marjorie. Bow before me, peasant.

    • #13
    • March 1, 2019, at 4:21 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  14. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    You want to accuse me of cultural appropriation? You don’t understand. My culture is appropriation. And don’t even think of appropriating it.”

    I’m signing up for QOTD with this puppy, with myself as the author. I will wait till everyone forgets where it came from. Copyright-wise, I changed some wording, shouldn’t be an issue.

    I shall look forward to it.

    • #14
    • March 1, 2019, at 4:22 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    She (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    @she, You’re always welcome to quote me on this.

    Lovely post. We always called him “The Bastard,” though. Because true, in fact and in law.

    I’ve always thought his father had one of the best epithets: Robert the Munificent.

    • #15
    • March 1, 2019, at 4:22 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  16. OldDanRhody, 7152 Maple Dr. Member

    Arahant: I’m sitting here in jeans and a plaid shirt.

    Something like this, right?

    See the source image

    • #16
    • March 1, 2019, at 4:24 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  17. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    OldDanRhody (View Comment):
    Something like this, right?

    Depends on how broadly one defines “Something.” My shirt is flannel and long-sleeved. I always have my shirt tucked in. My tartan is more sedate. And both jeans and shirt are probably of a larger size.

    • #17
    • March 1, 2019, at 4:31 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  18. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The English were the quickest to discern what was and was not useful and appropriate accordingly. It is the useful and not useful bit that is important. 

    So were they also indentured when they crawled up shore in the New World? So many people forget about this part too.

    • #18
    • March 1, 2019, at 5:06 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  19. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    1. James Maxwell codified the equations describing electromagnetism that bear his name.
    2. Electricity is Scottish.
    3. Now, awa’ an’ bile your heads, ya wee bampots!

    I’m descended from Robert the Bruce, too, through his daughter Marjorie. Bow before me, peasant.

    I think that I may have mentioned that the family’s location with respect to the border made nationality highly situational.

    1. Who are they?

    2. Can we take them?

     

     

     

     

    • #19
    • March 1, 2019, at 5:12 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  20. OldDanRhody, 7152 Maple Dr. Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    OldDanRhody (View Comment):
    Something like this, right?

    Depends on how broadly one defines “Something.” My shirt is flannel and long-sleeved. I always have my shirt tucked in. My tartan is more sedate. And both jeans and shirt are probably of a larger size.

    The shirt pictured is not of Scottish origin, but is an appropriated Madras plaid.

    • #20
    • March 1, 2019, at 5:28 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  21. Dr. Bastiat Member

    Arahant: Shakespeare was one of the greatest word creators in our language.

    Second to Dr. Seuss…

    • #21
    • March 1, 2019, at 5:32 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor

    What a delightful way to look at “gifts”! The cultural appropriation was an extra gift–for us! Thanks, @arahant.

    • #22
    • March 1, 2019, at 5:58 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  23. Kay of MT Member

    Good Morning @arahant, with your genealogy and my genealogy, we are probably 1st cousins 15 times removed.

    • #23
    • March 1, 2019, at 6:49 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  24. Mark Camp Member

    Kay of MT (View Comment):

    Good Morning @arahant, with your genealogy and my genealogy, we are probably 1st cousins 15 times removed.

    Many generations have passed, let’s say 15. That makes you 15th cousins. Arahant is at least one generation older than you, though. So assuming he’s the 14th generation and you are the 15th, you would be 14th cousins once removed.

    (Many years ago, I looked up the subject of cousin-numbering for the 14th or 15th time, and it finally stuck…I’m not a well-informed person, but I play one on Ricochet.)

    • #24
    • March 1, 2019, at 8:35 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  25. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    Kay of MT (View Comment):

    Good Morning Arahant, with your genealogy and my genealogy, we are probably 1st cousins 15 times removed.

    My mother befriended this couple years ago. She tends to adopt people. One day she was out to dinner with them and their children and one of the daughters started talking about how they were descended from Pocahontas. Well, there is an unverified claim that Pocahontas had a daughter by an aboriginal man, supposedly before she married John Rolfe, but her only verified child was Thomas Rolfe. Thomas had one daughter, Jane Rolfe. Jane married Robert Bolling. They had one son, John Bolling, before Jane died. And my mother’s friends she had “adopted” were descended from John Bolling. Well, Robert Bolling remarried to Anne Stith, and my mother is a direct descendant of that couple, so it turned out that her “adoptee” was really her half-fifth cousin and the family had branched off back in the late 1600s.

    So, I would not doubt that we probably are related.

    • #25
    • March 1, 2019, at 8:37 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  26. Arahant Member
    Arahant

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    Arahant is at least one generation older than you, though.

    Interesting judgment on your part, considering Kay is older than my mother.

    • #26
    • March 1, 2019, at 8:41 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  27. Mark Camp Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    @she, You’re always welcome to quote me on this.

    Lovely post. We always called him “The Bastard,” though. Because true, in fact and in law.

    I’ve always thought his father had one of the best epithets: Robert the Munificent.

    Who was himself rumored to be the illegitimate son of Debbie the Barbara and Nigel the Ted.

    • #27
    • March 1, 2019, at 8:43 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  28. Mark Camp Member

    Arahant (View Comment):
    So, I would not doubt that we probably are related.

    I would go so far as to say that I would not doubt that you are related, or even to say flat out that you probably are related. But you’re right; it’s often true that it is usually best to generally hedge your bets, most of the time.

    (I got your back, man, when it comes to flagging redundancy that may create repetition. You are that close to being able to chuck it all and take up writing full-time.)

    • #28
    • March 1, 2019, at 8:59 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  29. Seawriter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    Arahant is at least one generation older than you, though.

    Interesting judgment on your part, considering Kay is older than my mother.

    • #29
    • March 1, 2019, at 9:00 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  30. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’m the son of an Ohio steelworker. Does that trump an Ohio mailman?

    And if I want to prove I’m related to Barbara Eden do I need the help of a professional Genie-ologist? 

    • #30
    • March 1, 2019, at 9:13 AM PST
    • 11 likes