Monday, February 18, 2008

Bastard: An Etymology

1223, "illegitimate child," from O.Fr., "child of a nobleman by a woman other than his wife," probably from fils de bast "packsaddle son," meaning a child conceived on an improvised bed (saddles often doubled as beds while traveling), with pejorative ending -art. Alternate possibly is that the word is from P.Gmc. *banstiz "barn," equally suggestive of low origin. Not always regarded as a stigma; the Conqueror is referred to in state documents as "William the Bastard." Figurative sense is from 1552; use as a vulgar term of abuse for a man is attested from 1830. Bastardize "debase" is from 1587.Who wants to be considered low?
I wasn't conceived in a barn, and I wasn't raised in one either (which is why I always shut the door). I was shocked when a guest arriving at my home not only did not shut the door behind himself but was also ignorant of the terminology. I considered teaching him but realized that I had no idea why we use that term. Maybe there isn't even a "we" anymore. I haven't heard my father use it recently. On top of that it doesn't really seem to make sense. You'd probably get into trouble on a farm leaving all the barn doors open. I don't know much about farms and barns but my old Fisher Price playset kept the horses and cows in the barn. There might even have been some other animals kept inside. If I left the door open wouldn't all the livestock get out? Or the wolves and various predators in? Wouldn't a real farmer and his children know all about such things? When I was younger I remember thinking maybe people raised in barns were stupid or backward, but was my father really prone to use social epithets? I didn't think so. I was obvious he didn't want me to leave the door open so I stopped doing it.


What was up with that?


Other ways for people to be bastards: As stated in the above history the figurative derogatory term was present after 1552. Illegitimacy in some way or conception by means other than the prescribed and holy church blessed methods would bring bastardhood. Ideas, practices (including dental), corporations, governments, causes, religions. I suppose there could be bastards in all of those. Societies must have bastards too. Anyone who no longer has acceptable or reasonable claim to a birthright either literal or figurative would be a bastard. So a vegan who chooses to eat a baby cow's head while sledding down a hill of chicken's bones on a leather tarp would be a bastard to the cause of Veganism and I suppose Animal Rights as well. Likewise a police officer who shoots civilians and children eating candy could be considered a bastard to the cause of public justice and the call to "Protect and Serve". A Christian who beats up poor people for money (or pleasure), discriminates against another because of skin color, ethnic background, economic background, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, lack of martial arts training and the like would be a bastard to the cause of Christianity. Just like Esau lost his birthright we can lose ours just as easily. We can lose claim to that birthright quite easily by turning on the principles that we know we should be living. It may not leave but our claim to it becomes weaker when our actions do not warrant the reward. We should be nicer. I should be nicer. Now the crux:I am not a liar. At times I intentionally pretend ignorance when I have deduced things that I should not conceivably know; things people assume they are hiding from me. When knowing doesn't convenience me I just continue acting like I am as unaware as the people concealing things from me want me to be. But the fact remains that I do know and it affects the way I process new information and colors the general tenor of my relationships. Then in the end it all comes out in the wash and I turn out feeling like a "bastard" because even though there is no reasonable expectation that anyone would know such things, and they never knew I was privy to their mysteries, they nevertheless censure me for not knowing and impugn me for not acting accordingly.

What is to be done?


You may want to ask yourself a question. Are you a bastard too?

5 comments:

Emily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

I would suggest that we are all bastards.

I especially am, since as a vegan, I have eaten a baby cow's head while sledding down a hill of chicken bones on a leather tarp.

T. Robbins Esq. said...

I mainly want to know who's comment you deleted and what it said...

Nick said...

I second Tod...

Ryan said...

I don't even know. I think it was mine. I might have said boob.