If You Thought King James’ English Was Tough, What about Thomas Jefferson’s?

This is a few days late, but pairs well with the recent post about a modern English version of the Westminster Standards. H. L. Mencken believed the Declaration of Independence was showing signs of inaccessibility:

The following attempt to translate the Declaration of Independence into American was begun eight or ten years ago, at the time of of my first investigations into the phonology and morphology of the American vulgate. I completed a draft in 1917, but the publication was made impossible by the Espionage act, which forbade any discussion, however academic, of proposed changes to the canon of the American Koran. In 1920 I resumed the work and have since had the benefit of the co-operation of various other philologists, American and European. But the version, as it stands, is mine. That such a translation has long been necessary must be obvious to every student of philology. And this is Better Speech Week.

The great majority of Americans now speak a tongue that differs materially from standard English, and in particular from the standard English of the eighteenth century. Thus the text of the Declaration has become, in large part, unintelligible to multitudes of them. What, for example, would the average soda-fountain clerk, or City Councilmen, or private soldier, or even the average Congressman make of such a sentence as this one: “He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures”? Or this one: “He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise”? Obviously, such sonorous Johnsonese is as dark to the plain American of 1921 as so much Middle English would be, or Holland Dutch. He may catch a few words, but the general drift is beyond him.

With such remoteness in view, between 1776 and 1920 English, Mencken offered the following remedy (only the first two paragraphs):

When things get so balled up that the people of a country have to cut loose from some other country and go it on their own hook, without asking no permission from nobody, excepting maybe God Almighty, then they ought to let everybody know why they done it, so that everybody can see they are on the level, and not trying to put nothing over on nobody.

All we got to say on this proposition is this: First, you and me is as good as anybody and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain’t got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time however he likes, so long as he don’t interfere with nobody else. That any government that don’t give a man these rights ain’t worth a damn; also people ought to choose the kind of government they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter. That whenever any government don’t do this, then the people have got a right to can it and put in one that will take care of their interests. Of course, that don’t mean having a revolution every day, like them South American coons and Bolsheviki, or every time some jobholder does something he ain’t got no business to do. It is better to stand a little graft, etc., than to have revolutions all the time, like them coons, Bolsheviki, etc., and any man that wasn’t a anarchist or one of them I. W. W.s would say the same. But when things gets so bad that a man ain’t hardly got no rights at all no more, but you might almost call him a slave, then everybody ought to get together and throw the grafters out, and put in new ones who won’t carry on so high and steal no much, and then watch them. This is the proposition the people of these Colonies is up against, and they have got tired of it, and won’t stand it no more. The administration of the present King, George III, has been rotten from the jump-off, and when anybody kicked about it he always tried to get away with it by strong-arm work. Here is some of the rough stuff he has pulled…


What The Cats Missed This Week

At the instigation of our web administrator and designer (whose name will be kept secret to protect the allegedly innocent), a new series commences with this post — namely — what movies, dvds, or television episodes the Harts watched this week. The series name stems from the remarkable habit of our cats, Isabelle and Cordelia, to sleep through whatever we watch. Odd for cats to sleep so much, no?

One other word of introduction: since some readers mistake this blog as a form of ministry, do not take this or ensuing reports as an endorsement for all Christians. Since Paul wrote that some believers could handle meat offered to idols and others could not, readers of Old Life should consult any title for themselves before watching or ordering. IMDB is a good web resource for movies and television and should provide enough information to warn consciences appropriately. Rottentomatoes is another source for reviews of movies that I use occasionally. Readers will need to rely on their own powers of discernment.

The week started with Troubled Water, a Norwegian movie (subtitles, of course) about an ex-con who tries to make good life by playing organ for a church and befriending the female pastor’s boy. Since his crime led to the death of a boy, and since he returns to the town where the deceased boy’s family lives, his attempt to resume life is — let’s just say — complicated. The film is another reminder of how easy it is to make people who commit wicked acts into monsters (when we never see the monster in the mirror).

The week continued with the first three episodes of season three of In Treatment. Gabriel Bryne continues to play his role as a psychologist with lots of baggage in a mesmerizing way. The producers and directors also continue to make counseling sessions riveting. It was good to see Debra Winger on the screen again.

Also this week I persuaded the Mrs. to go to the theater to see Ted — and I lived to tell about it. I figured we needed to get out of the rut of staying in and streaming. So we went to the local theater, not exactly an art house establishment, and saw the best on display. Angelo Cataldi and company had recommended this movie, so I had misgivings. It was like so many Hollywood comedies, an interesting premise — a talking teddy bear who is a lifelong companion of the person who first received the stuffed animal as a gift. But once you get past the first prank of the teddy bear as grown up — smoking a bong and swearing — the movie descends into debauchery and juvenilia. Subtlety is not a three-syllable word that Hollywood does well, even though the writers did get off at least a half-dozen guffaw producing lines.

Last (it was a slow week in Hillsdale, alright?), we watched Welcome to Sarajevo, a 1997 movie about the Balkans War. Stephen Dillane, whom I like a lot, plays a journalist who turns activist and helps Muslim orphans to leave the city. The film seems to include a lot of footage from the war, which is hard to watch. The human story line is compelling but for me it could not offset what seemed to be a missed opportunity to explore a part of the world that the West has never come lost to understanding, perhaps because the Ottomans, Turks, and Muslims spook too readily.