Claiming the ‘WASP’ label

It’s so seldom done these days; it caught my eye when I saw the title of a blog post from The Propertarian Institute blog. The post is titled ‘I’m a WASP.‘ How often do we hear anyone just saying it matter-of-factly, like that?

It’s a brief post but makes a point about the attitudes in some quarters towards Anglo-Americans or ‘WASPs.’

I won’t put words in the blogger’s mouth or try to speak for him ; everyone’s experiences differ, but so often WASPs are either disparaged for having been the cause of every ill of our country, or criticized for having “deserted” our American sinking ship and shirked our responsibility.

Some people talk of us in the past tense as if we are all ghosts, or as if we are an extinct species. Somewhat like Dr. Seuss’s ‘Who’ people, who were invisible because they were too small to be seen, we might need to do what the ‘Whoville’ people did to make their presence known by shouting ”We are here!”

We are here, but there are still people who insist that ‘nobody in America is pure English or pure anything, we’re all mixed.’ That makes us irrelevant, I suppose, to those people.

Despite this, we do have a heritage, and we have ancestors in whom we should have a healthy pride. That can’t be taken away.

 

Men of England

Men of England

Men of England! who inherit
Rights that cost your sires their blood!
Men whose undegenerate spirit
Has been proved on land and flood: —

By the foes ye’ve fought uncounted,
By the glorious deeds ye’ve done,
Trophies captured — breaches mounted,
Navies conquered — kingdoms won!

Yet, remember, England gathers
Hence but fruitless wreaths of fame,
If the patriotism of your fathers
Glow not in your hearts the same.

What are monuments of bravery,
Where no public virtues bloom?
What avail in lands of slavery,
Trophied temples, arch, and tomb?

Pageants! — Let the world revere us
For our people’s rights and laws,
And the breasts of civic heroes
Bared in Freedom’s holy cause.

Yours are Hampden’s, Russell’s glory,
Sydney’s matchless shade is yours,–
Martyrs in heroic story,
Worth a hundred Agincourts!

We’re the sons of sires that baffled
Crowned and mitred tyranny;–
They defied the field and scaffold
For their birthrights — so will we!

Thomas Campbell

Our linguistic heritage

I’ve been vainly searching for some of my papers about the development of the English language, but failing to find them (I’m not well-organized) I thought I would write about the subject here on the blog, rather than look for my missing work.

Obviously I think that  in historical accounts of Britain, the Normans are given short shrift, alluded to as rapacious and cruel people who invaded the island of Britain in 1066 and spoiled (in all senses of the word) the idyllic existence of the Saxons. They are often reduced to a “mocking and a byword”, seen as aliens even these centuries later. It seems most people either know little about the Normans at all, or they know them to be bad guys, of whom we are well rid. People do talk about the Normans, if at all, in a very negative way for the most part. Everyone seems to speak of them in the past tense, as if they are gone and left no progeny.

But just by surnames, it’s evident that there are many descendants of those Normans both in the British Isles and in all of the Anglosphere. I don’t know if DNA testing can differentiate Norman DNA from the other kindred peoples of the places where the Normans ruled. In my own extended family we all show some Norwegian descent though in our family tree we have scant documentation of recent Norwegian ancestry. But as we all know, the Normans, (‘Northmen’) came from Scandinavia, and mostly Norway and Denmark as far as British Isles ancestry is concerned.

Another evidence of the influence of the Normans is the presence of many words in our English vocabulary which had Norman origins. Since I can’t seem to find my own list of Norman words, I’ll refer to the website,The History of English:

“The Normans bequeathed over 10,000 words to English (about three-quarters of which are still in use today), including a huge number of abstract nouns ending in the suffixes “-age”, “-ance/-ence”, “-ant/-ent”, “-ment”, “-ity” and “-tion”, or starting with the prefixes “con-”, “de-”, “ex-”, “trans-” and “pre-”. Perhaps predictably, many of them related to matters of crown and nobility (e.g. crown, castle, prince, count, duke, viscount, baron, noble, sovereign, heraldry); of government and administration (e.g. parliament, government, governor, city); of court and law (e.g. court, judge, justice, accuse, arrest, sentence, appeal, condemn, plaintiff, bailiff, jury, felony, verdict, traitor, contract, damage, prison); of war and combat (e.g. army, armour, archer, battle, soldier, guard, courage, peace, enemy, destroy); of authority and control (e.g. authority, obedience, servant, peasant, vassal, serf, labourer, charity); of fashion and high living (e.g. mansion, money, gown, boot, beauty, mirror, jewel, appetite, banquet, herb, spice, sauce, roast, biscuit); and of art and literature (e.g. art, colour, language, literature, poet, chapter, question). Curiously, though, the Anglo-Saxon words cyning (king), cwene (queen), erl (earl), cniht (knight), ladi (lady) and lord persisted.

While humble trades retained their Anglo-Saxon names (e.g. baker, miller, shoemaker, etc), the more skilled trades adopted French names (e.g. mason, painter, tailor, merchant, etc). While the animals in the field generally kept their English names (e.g. sheep, cow, ox, calf, swine, deer), once cooked and served their names often became French (e.g. beef, mutton, pork, bacon, veal, venison, etc). Sometimes a French word completely replaced an Old English word (e.g. crime replaced firen, place replaced stow, people replaced leod, beautiful replaced wlitig, uncle replaced eam, etc). Sometimes French and Old English components combined to form a new word, such as the French gentle and the Germanic man combined to formed gentleman. Sometimes, both English and French words survived, but with significantly different senses (e.g. the Old English doom and French judgement, hearty and cordial, house and mansion, etc).

But, often, different words with roughly the same meaning survived, and a whole host of new, French-based synonyms entered the English language (e.g. the French maternity in addition to the Old English motherhood, infant to child, amity to friendship, battle to fight, liberty to freedom, labour to work, desire to wish, commence to start, conceal to hide, divide to cleave, close to shut, demand to ask, chamber to room, forest to wood, power to might, annual to yearly, odour to smell, pardon to forgive, aid to help, etc). Over time, many near synonyms acquired subtle differences in meaning (with the French alternative often suggesting a higher level of refinement than the Old English), adding to the precision and flexibility of the English language. Even today, phrases combining Anglo-Saxon and Norman French doublets are still in common use (e.g. law and order, lord and master, love and cherish, ways and means, etc). Bilingual word lists were being compiled as early as the 13th Century.”

The English language as it is today would not be what it is if not for the infusion of Norman-French words which are part of our daily usage. My personal belief is that the language would not be as complex and nuanced without the Norman influence. Some see that as a bad thing; some time ago I wrote here about the movement started by one scholar to de-Normanize (if there is such a word) the English language, and turn to the old Englisc tongue, which is more basic, using more one-syllable words and compound words to convey the message.

We can’t know how things would have happened had history taken a different course; had William and his knights failed in 1066, had the Normans never ruled, we can’t envision the result. To insist, as many do, that nothing but good would have befallen (there’s a good English word) England if the Norman Conquest never happened, is idle supposition.

The website which I quote above is a very interesting one if you are at all interested in the history of England or Britain and in the language we speak and the quite different language our ancestors spoke in the times of Chaucer, as the writer discusses. There are sound clips here and there on the web page so that you can listen to the Prologue to Canterbury Tales, for example, to hear the sound of the language of Chaucer.

I admit I love our language; I’m a partisan when it comes to the English language. Now, our cousins across the Atlantic may think our American version of the ‘tongue that Shakespeare spake’ is not very English at all but the language is a part of The Old Inheritance, and it’s very much a part of the English people and of our history and culture.

I expect I will probably have more to say of the Normans; they are a neglected part of the story of England/Britain, at least as it is told in our day.

Do Anglo-Americans reject their identity?

At least one online commenter asserts this is true. Below is the comment from a blog, (with the commenter’s name blocked out):

This kind of thing turns up on blogs here and there; it must be a somewhat widespread idea. Another allegation is that (Anglo or WASP) Americans “have no culture’.

I don’t know who this commenter has spoken to, or if he has even been to our country; I also wonder what kind of sample of ‘Old Stock’ English-Americans he’s met or talked to.

We’ve been sort of written out of the script in our own country, as it were. Many people whose families were here before the American Revolution identify as just ‘American.’ Many English-Americans from the South identify with their state; Texas used to be like that. Texas, after all, was an independent country in its early history, and it did seem as though it were a world of its own. The South in general is, or used to be, distinctive. That part of the country, especially the Southeastern states, was settled by English Cavaliers, as contrasted to the very middle class colonists of New England. So not all English- or British-Americans have the same origins, which in part explains their varying cultures.

The Ulster folk who settled parts of the Southeast, the Appalachian mountains, are also a culture to themselves.

Do English-Americans have no culture then, or are their original culture and folkways gone and forgotten? My answer would be ‘no’, because I don’t believe that the old ways are dead, but they may be on life support in some places.

Another issue is that America is a country that emphasizes individuality at the expense of group identity, and this may be a natural tendency of Anglo-Saxons. Scots-Americans, including the Ulster folk who settled here, have their cultural events and I think they are more likely to express their identity than Anglos.

But for WASPs or English-Americans, the fact that we’ve been declared people without a culture or identity is not conducive to maintaining our identity. Speaking for myself, though, I have no problem telling people about my ancestry. I certainly would not consider it an “insult”as the comment writer I quoted at the beginning. I don’t know anyone who would.

It’s true that some Americans have an obvious hostility towards the people of Britain — let me correct that: I should have said ‘the people of England; that’s more specific and accurate. Online commenters, bolstered by anonymity, feel free to spill their feelings, sometimes in very unpleasant ways. The English royals are especially targeted for harsh criticism, but then there are many American women who dote on royalty and all the glamorous trappings.

Some Americans of English descent, because of all the negativity towards the English, may downplay their ancestry. And many Americans don’t really know their ancestry except in the vaguest terms. Because of propaganda many White Americans, including some Anglo-Americans, would rather be something more exotic than “boring” “whitebread” WASPs, as the stereotypes portray them.

Many people seem surprised to be told that so much of American culture, things we take for granted, are English (or British) in origin. Maybe people think that these aspects of our culture original to America, and were ‘invented’ out of whole cloth right here in America. It’s as if people think that when we separated from England, we had to invent a new culture from scratch, just to distinguish ourselves as a nation, to be different from our Mother Country. (Actually, there was a touch of this attitude in Noah Webster’s changing the spelling of many English words; Noah Webster thought Americans