Back to the Future

This time our video takes a look at whether or not the English language has a future tense:

This work is largely drawn from my own doctoral dissertation, so it kind of feels like going back in time and revisiting the topic! In this blog post I’m going to (gonna? I’ma?) go into some more of the detailed grammatical background of this topic for those of you who are (like me) real grammar nerds. Of course this still only scratches the surface, so if there are any real keeners out there perhaps I’ll post a copy of my dissertation too. Let me know if you’d like to see that.

As a comparison to how the English futural constructions work, it’s useful to have a look at how tense works in a language that certainly does have a grammatical future tense, Latin. For the verb amare “to love” the present tense (in the first person singular) is amo “I love”. To make it a future tense you add a different ending, amabo “I will love”. So one word on its own can express the basic idea of futurity, unlike “will love” in English, though being formed with a single word isn’t essential to a grammatical tense. But let’s jump forward to see what happens in French, which is a descendant of Latin. Because of sound changes that happened in the transitional stage called Vulgar Latin, it became difficult to distinguish between future tense as in amabit “she will love” and past tense as in amavit “she loved”, an obvious problem. So Vulgar Latin dumped the one-word future tense and started using an auxiliary verb, the verb habere “to have”, to form a new futural construction, as in amare habeo “I will love”. What happened next was that auxiliary verb habeo got simplified down and glued on to the end of the main verb to give us a one-word future again, as in French j’aimerai “I will love”. So we’re back to where we started. Funny thing is in addition to this one-word future tense, called the futur simple, French also developed yet another future construction, the futur proche, with the auxiliary verb aller “to go”, as in je vais aimer “I will love”. The distinction between these two tenses was originally how distant a future you wanted to talk about: the futur proche was for the near future and the futur simple was for the more distant future, but today the distinction is really more one of formality, less formal for the futur simple and more formal for the futur proche. The even funnier thing is that the original Latin future amabo was itself originally created by having a form of the verb to be , which comes from Proto-Indo-European root *bheuə- “be, exist, grow” glued on the end of the present tense verb. And the word future itself, as we saw in the main video, also comes from the verb to be, from Latin futurus, which is the future participle of the verb to be which comes from the suffixed form of that same root, *bhu-tu-.

Now Latin had another set of futures. While first and second conjugation verbs had endings like amabo “I love” and amabit “she will love”, third and fourth conjugation verbs had endings like audiam “I shall hear” and audiet “she will hear”, which look a lot like the forms of the subjunctive mood, audiam “I may hear” and audiat “she may hear”. So again we see the future occupying the intersection of tense and modality. And getting back to the English modal auxiliary verbs will and shall, they can be used in their past tenses to indicate not only mood, as in I should go or I would go, but also to indicate future in the past, that is an action that is happens in the future relative to another action in the past, as in he knew he would win the race.

Now as we saw, French has a future tense formed with the auxiliary verb aller “to go”, and English can do this to, with the so-called go-future as in I’m going to love, often reduced down to I’m gonna love, or even I’ma, as in I’ma let you finish. This construction first appears in the Middle English period, and comes about through the idea of going somewhere for the purpose of doing an action, as in I’m going (in order) to hunt. So this construction originally implied purpose. Similar to this are constructions like he is to leave tomorrow, which uses the verb to be with the infinitive to indicate a planned action.

And speaking of the verb to be, in Old English there were two forms of the verb to be in the present tense, eom “I am”, eart “you are”, and is “she is”, or beo “I am”, bist “you are”, bið “she is”. Often these forms are interchangeable, but when the verb is referring to the future the beo/bist/bið forms are almost always used, and eom/eart/is forms are almost never used, so this can be a way of distinguishing the future tense from the present. The future of the verb to be is also sometimes indicated with another verb weorðan which really means “to become”. So he was, is, and will be can be expressed in Old English as he wæs, is, and bið, or as he wæs, is, and weorð. This futural usage might also remind one of modern German werden which can be used with the infinitive to form the future tense, as in ich werde haben “I will have”. One other specialized use of the beo/bist/bið forms is to indicate a gnomic statement, that is a statement of general truth without any indication of actual time, as in the sky is blue which in Old English would be seo lyft bið hæwenu. Interestingly, another way of making a gnomic statement in Old English is with *sculan “shall”, as in cyning sceal rice healdan “a king shall rule a kingdom”. The word gnomic by the way comes through Greek gnomikos from the Proto-Indo-European root *gno- meaning “know”, and gives us not only the words know and gnomic, but also the word gnomon which is the vertical shaft on a sundial which casts the shadow indicating the time.

And the sundial leads us to the history of clocks and timekeeping, which will be covered in an upcoming Endnote video, so stay tuned for that!

School notes

Since it’s back-to-school time, this week’s video is all about “Education”:

This video is part of a large collaboration with other members of the WeCreateEDU group, a collection of educational YouTubers. Do check out the full playlist of videos for a variety of takes on the theme of education.

We’ll be releasing two Endnote videos over the next few weeks with some more details that didn’t make it into the main video, so stay tuned for that. As a university teacher myself, I’ve unsurprisingly touched on the topic of education, both its history and its future, a number of times, so in a way I don’t have too much else to add here that wouldn’t just be repetition. So I’ll end off this blog post with a list of links, some my own and some that I recommend, if you want to go deeper into the topic. And I’d certainly welcome any further discussion on the topic. But first one last detail that I haven’t included elsewhere. In the video I mentioned that the Greek philosophers/teachers held their so-called peripatetic schools in a variety of public spaces, such as Plato in the grove of Akademos, hence the words academia and academic. Well, Aristotle’s school came to be known as the Lyceum (or Lykeion in Greek) because it was held at a grove near the temple of Apollo, who had the epithet Lykeios meaning “wolf-slayer” from lykos meaning "wolf" (think lycanthrope another word for werewolf). Because of this many educational institutions, often secondary schools, are called lyceums (or in French lycées).

 Plato and Aristotle walking and disputing. Detail from Raphael's The School of Athens (1509-1511)

Plato and Aristotle walking and disputing. Detail from Raphael's The School of Athens (1509-1511)

From grass widows to lawn sports

This week’s video is on the word “Widow”:

One year ago my father passed away, leaving my mother a widow. As chance would have it, my father had always wanted me to cover the expression “grass widow” on my channel, and so this video is, in more ways than one, a reflection of him. My father was from India, but immigrated to Canada where he met my mother. So this this video also reflects that crucial period of Indian independence and partition that he grew up in. Furthermore, my father was also an avid golfer, so I think recounting the history of that game would also have pleased him. I’d also like to thank my sister for her help and input on the script.

There’s not to much else to add to this story. There are a few other small details that I’ll release soon in an endnote video, so stay tuned for that. For another detailed and fascinating story of widowhood in India, specifically as it relates to Bengali cuisine, have a look at this excellent post by Mayukh Sen.

In the video I quoted one British official about divide and rule policy in India, but that was hardly a unique point of view. Indeed that was a commonly repeated refrain, as the following additional quotations show:

“I am strongly of the opinion that Mussulmans should not be in the same company or troop with Hindus or Sikhs, and that the two latter should not be mingled together. I would maintain even in the same regiment all differences of faith with the greatest of care. There might be rivalry or even hatred between two companies or troops. The discipline of a native regiment instead of being impaired would gain by it, as regards the greater question of obedience to the commanding officer. The motto of the regimental commander and therefore of the commander-in-chief, must for the future be "Divide et Impera."” (Minute of Major-General Sir W. R. Mansfield)
 William Rose Mansfield

William Rose Mansfield

“But suppose the whole native army to be formed into one grand army, the component parts of each regiment being as heterogeneous as possible, and suppose some cause of discontent to arise which affects all castes alike, the danger would be undoubtably far greater than that which overtook us last year. I have long considered this subject, and I am convinced that the exact converse of this policy of assimilation is our only safe military policy in India. Divide et impera was the old Roman motto, and it should be ours. The safety of the great iron steamers, which are adding so much to our military power, and which are probably destined to add still more to our commercial superiority, is greatly increased by building them in compartments. I would ensure the safety of our Indian Empire by constructing our native army on the same principle; for this purpose I would avail myself of those diversities of language and race which we find ready to hand.” (Lord Elphinstone)
“Keep the armies as separate as possible, as to tribes and grades in them. The system and organization may be the same; but I would rather have them distinct— "Divide et impera" - never let them assimilate if possible.” (Major-General John Hearsay)

So it was clearly a very conscious policy of divide and rule which laid the groundwork for the later divisiveness in India.
And speaking of the administration of India, those two lexicographers Henry Yule and Arthur Coke Burnell, who wrote Hobson-Jobson, had both been involved in the government of the British Raj. After attending the East India Military College, Yule joined the Bengal Engineer Group and worked on various infrastructure projects. Both of his brothers also worked in India, one of them dying in the Sepoy Mutiny.  As for Burnell, he had worked in Madras for the Indian Civil Service.

And a couple of  final notes — you may have heard the claim that golf is an acronym “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden”. As with all such claims of acronym etymologies before the 20th century, this simply isn’t true. There’s another interesting lawn sport connection with India, by the way. Badminton is said to have developed in British India. Though there were various racket and shuttlecock games around, badminton as we know it now seems to have been developed in the city Pune where there was a British garrison, and used to be called poona. It gained its current name from Badminton House, the name of the Gloucestershire estate of the Duke of Beaufort, where the game first was played in England, mid-19c., having been brought over from India by British officers. My father taught my sister and me to play badminton when we were kids, and he was also a great fan of tennis, so I think this connection to India also would have pleased him.

 The New Game of Badminton in India

The New Game of Badminton in India

The Ingredients of a Good Recipe

This week’s video is part of the Recipe Project’s Virtual Conversation, and looks therefore at the word “Recipe”:

It was the origin and history of the word recipe itself that really led to the web of connections presented in the video. One recipe-related word we didn’t have time to include in the video is the word ingredient. It comes from the Latin verb ingredior meaning “to enter or go in”, and specifically is formed from the present participle, so literally “going in”. It’s first use in English is indeed to describe what goes into a recipe of the sweetened and spiced wine hippocras that I mentioned in connection to the word receipt. This first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is in a book of household practises and management called the Bok of Nurture by one John Russell: “Alle þese ingredyentes, þey ar for ypocras makynge.” In addition to explaining how to make hippocras, this 1250 line poetic manual explains such things as the duties of a butler, how to lay the table, how to carve meat, and so forth. So not exactly a recipe book, but an interesting document which records late medieval household practices around the middle of the 15th century.

Culinary recipes of course go back to ancient times. One of the most famous recipe books from the ancient world is the Apicius, a cookery book from the late 4th or early 5th century CE, and named after (though probably not actually written by) the famous Roman gourmand Marcus Gavius Apicius, who lived in the 1st century CE. One notable recipe detail we’ve discussed before in the video “Bug” (which discusses in large part the history of patents), is the apparent patenting of recipes in ancient Greece. The ancient Greek colony Sybaris, located in what is now Italy, was so financially successful that the citizens became known for their feasting and hedonism, so much so that even today the word sybaritic means “devoted to opulent luxury”. It’s perhaps not surprising then, that cooks in Sybaris were apparently granted exclusive rights to any culinary recipe they invented for a period of one year, at least according to the Greek writer Athenaeus. Even if this report isn’t true, that the idea of intellectual property could be conceived of in the ancient world is an interesting milestone. By way of comparison, today recipes can be copyrighted (not patented) but in order to be copyrighted they have to include more than just a list of ingredients but also the process (at least that’s my understanding of it).  It’s also worth noting about recipes in the ancient world that Galen, that most important of Roman physicians, who was the main source of medical knowledge in the middle ages, also wrote about food in something resembling a recipe book, as did several other Roman physicians, according to Athenaeus. In terms of Galen’s views on the humours, he believed that blood was the most dominant of the humours and thus most needed to be controlled, hence his recommendation of leeching.

 The Apicius manuscript

The Apicius manuscript

 Marcus Gavius Apicius

Marcus Gavius Apicius

As we mentioned in the video, the notion of bodily humours is not unique to ancient Greece and the medical traditions that stem from it. Most notably Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine from India, recommends the balance of three doshas (or humours) in order to maintain health. And similar to the ancient Greek humoural system, these doshas are also associated with the elements (earth, air, fire, water, and ether). Unlike the now obsolete humoural system in Europe, however, a considerable percentage of the population in India still practise some form of Ayurvedic medicine.

 Ayurveda humours

Ayurveda humours

And finally we come to the women’s magazines which we ended the video with as well. If you’re interested in knowing more about this history, we highly recommend the Guardian article “Zeal and Softness” by Kathryn Hughes, which goes into much more detail. We particularly traced the progress of British women’s magazines, but of course there were other notable women’s magazines in the English-speaking world.  In the US, the premiere magazine was Godey’s Lady’s Book. Though still published by a man, Louis Godey, it was edited by the highly influential Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale, who also wrote the children’s song "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (which by the way has the honour of being the first recording made on Thomas Edison’s phonograph), was responsible for promoting the US Thanksgiving tradition, and popularizing the Christmas tree in America. Hale was also very politically minded, at a time when the country was threatened by civil war. Her appeal to President Lincoln to create Thanksgiving as a national holiday was in part motivated by a desire to create a unifying American tradition. She also used Godey’s Lady’s Book as a platform for promoting national unity, even though the publisher, Godey, was against putting any overt political material into the magaizine. For instance, in her fiction she often wrote stories of romances between northerners and southerners, all with nice happy endings. For more on Hale’s efforts to stop the US Civil War, see this JSTOR post by Erin Blakemore. But in these (at the time) bold efforts we perhaps can see something of Teen Vogue’s current political statements in the turbulent US politics of today, a trend we can for instance see demonstrated in this Teen Vogue article and frequently commented on in other news outlets (such as here and here).

 Godey's Lady's Book

Godey's Lady's Book

 Sarah Josepha Hale

Sarah Josepha Hale

A Closer Eye on the Potato

This week’s video is part of a larger collaboration looking at the potato, and in particular at the potato battery:

The video begins with the potato battery and specifically Alessandro Volta’s pile, the world’s first battery. But it could also be argued that another invention of Volta lies behind the video’s ending point with the potato cannon. He invented a glass pistol-like device which used an electric spark to ignite flammable gas. It came about from a device  called the eudiometer designed by Joseph Preistley for testing the quality of the air, in other words its oxygen content. Volta’s pistol version made the device more portable, and Volta used it to ignite swamp gas, what we know now as methane. When the gas in the glass pistol ignited it blew a cork out of the end, so basically a cork gun or pop gun. This principle of expanding gasses firing a projectile also lies behind the potato cannon. As a side note, the scientist who worked out the role of oxygen in combustion was Antoine Lavoisier, also influenced by Priestley’s work with flammable air, who also happens to have been one of the notable figures invited to potato PR man Parmentier’s potato dinner.

 Volta's electric pistol

Volta's electric pistol

But getting back to Volta’s pile, though in English the word pile has been commonly replaced by that word battery, in French a battery can still be called a pile. In English a battery is also referred to as a cell. Cell comes from the Latin word cella meaning a "small room", and by way of analogy to the monastic cells, the small rooms in which monks lived in medieval monasteries, other concepts came to be referred to as cells, including biological cells, brain cells, and battery cells, essentially compartments that contain the anode and cathode suspended in the acidic electrolyte. So the term battery cell contains two metaphors, artillery and the medieval monastery. By the way if you’re interested in hearing more about the semantic development of the word cell and cellular, have a listen to the Words for Granted podcast episode on the word cellular.

Now as I said in the video, Volta was inspired to create the battery because of Galvani’s experiments with “animal electricity”. Well, experiments in galvanism was also one of the inspirations behind Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Those experiments in making animal muscles twitch using electricity suggested the notion of bringing a creature back to life, like the monster in Shelley’s book. And that brings us back to the potato-powered industrial revolution, because one of the ways Frankenstein is interpreted is as a response to industrialization. Romantic writers like Mary Shelley were often critical of the industrial revolution. You see they were great nature lovers and were therefore somewhat suspicious of the way industrialization and urbanization were transforming the countryside of Europe.  Furthermore, industrialization was seen as a perversion of the natural order, figured in the novel as Victor Frankenstein meddling with the natural forces of creation. And finally there was the worry that the industrial worker would be dehumanized or even replaced by scientific contrivances.

 Frankenstein creates his monster

Frankenstein creates his monster

 The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution

In light of the rapid transformation of the western world through industrialization these fears are not surprising. But the novel Frankenstein still resonates today, only the way we apply its warnings is somewhat different. Today we fear the rapid development of genetically modified foods, which we sometimes term Frankenfoods in reference to the novel. Well, each era has its own preoccupations and fears about rapid progress. We can take this back to the potato, one such genetically modified organism, varieties of which have been designed so as not to bruise and become discoloured. There are even potatoes being developed that are resistant to the potato blight disease which led to the terrible Irish famine in the 1840s.

In the video I described how the global tuber trade led to the mixing up of two similar vegetables the potato and the sweet potato. Well there’s another tuber that similarly gets thrown into the mix, the yam. Properly speaking a yam is an African derived tuberous vegetable in the genus Dioscorea, but in some parts of North America the word yam is sometimes applied to the unrelated sweet potato. The word yam, by the way, comes through Portuguese inhame, ultimately from a West African root which means “to eat” (compare Fulani nyami “to eat”).

 yams

yams

The spread of potatoes is just one example of the globalization of food, which I’ve touched on a number of times before, including the video and blog post on “Turkey” and more recently in our podcast episode on condiments. For Europe this globalization of food, and in particular the potato, allowed for the escape from the so-called Malthusian trap, the idea that population growth and a rising standard of living could not continue unabated due to lack of resources, which are finite. In other words population growth should outstrip the resources leading to shortage and starvation. But the agricultural revolution that was made possible in part due to the potato, along with the accompanying industrial revolution, took the limits off that resource growth and allowed it to keep up with the population boom, and our various technological advances, including things like artificial fertilizers and now genetically modified crops, allows us to continue to stay ahead of the Malthusian trap—for now.

 Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus

But if all this talk of potato based revolutions is becoming too serious, we can remind ourselves of the fun side of potatoes, not only with potato batteries and potato cannons, but also toys such as the spud gun, a kind of mini version of the potato cannon which uses compressed air to fire off small chunks of potato from a pistol reminiscent of Volta’s electric pistol. The spud gun was surprisingly invented during the Great Depression, when you’d think they’d have thought better of wasting food in that way. But the most famous potato-based toy is of course Mr Potato Head, which was originally designed to use an actual potato as the head, before this was replaced with a plastic potato-shaped base. Surprisingly it too was invented during the 1940s, around the time of food shortages, caused by World War II and its rationing. And anyways, don’t parents always say not to play with our food?

 spud gun

spud gun

 Mr Potato Head

Mr Potato Head

And I’ll leave you on  one last light-hearted potato note, the welcome potato. This photoshopped image was supposedly a demonstration of the dangers of careless use of Google translate in a sign designed to welcome the Pope. You see the word papa in Spanish can mean "potato" (borrowed from the Quechua word for the vegetable as I pointed out in the video), but it can also refer to the Pope as a kind of word for father (as in holy father). Although this was a photoshop job and not an actual Google translate error, the image became a popular meme. But I’ll leave it to you to decide how welcome the potato is to world history.

If you want to watch more about potato science, check out this playlist for experiments with potato batteries, potato cannons, potato chip psychology & more!