The Difference Between Citizens And Subjects

It’s not that the German alphabet is officially gaining a new letter in the form of an upper-case Eszett (that funny ß thing they use in some words instead of ss – it never had an official upper-case because no German words started with it and apparently all-caps isn’t, or wasn’t, that much of a thing until all the government forms that had to be all-caps proliferated forcing the Großmann family to be confused with the Grossmann family).

It’s that these things are decided by a German Spelling Council. Or rather, the German Spelling Council. Which includes rules about whether or not words dragged into German from elsewhere can have their spelling Germanized or not.

The French have a similar group that, the last I looked, was still fighting a rearguard action against offenses against Frenchness such as “le hamburger” and trying to force French speakers to stick to their own language and not go borrowing willy-nilly from the rest of the world.

English meanwhile just ploughs on merrily appropriating anything people feel like, and letting a combination of usage and reference material standardize the spelling for it. A true bottom-up (or at least keyboard-up) solution to balancing language adaptability with the need to be clearly understood.

More to the point, the major English-speaking countries of the world (England, the USA, and to a lesser extent because of their longer history as colonies, Canada and Australia (no, New Zealand isn’t ‘major’ yet, but it’s getting there)) have tended to be more inclined to view their people as citizens who can make their own decisions in most things than as subjects who need to be told what to do. Despite the depredations of power-hungry bureaucrats and politicians, all these nations are still in many ways more free than almost the entirety of the rest of the world. None of us have official bodies telling us what words we can use or what the proper spelling of new words is.

It’s the little things like this that point to the mindset under them. Or as Pratchett memorably put it in Small Gods: “Sheep are stupid and have to be driven. But goats are intelligent, and need to be led.” European nations treat their people like sheep. The USA treats its people more like goats, although the would-be shepherds keep pushing. Pratchett did not add that trying to drive goats will often earn the would-be driver a kick in the nadgers, but it’s worth remembering. Because Americans are goats. We can be led by the right people for the right reasons. Try to drive us, and you will find your family jewels suffering.




25 thoughts on “The Difference Between Citizens And Subjects

  1. Not the first time I’ve read about how the language influences the culture and politics. There does seem to be something about English that imparts a different (more individualistic) mindset to the cultures that speak it. The author here may be talking about the result more than the root cause, but I believe there is something to it.

    1. I honestly don’t know where the root cause is, but I suspect that the mindset and the language have a common root cause.

  2. Well except that in Canada, according to Mark Steyn, you can indeed be told what words to use (or not). For example, using “his” when the transgendered prefers “their” or “xiz” or some other nonsense, can result in being brought up on charges.

    1. Oh yuck. That’s just a complete disaster. I can accept “their” for an unknown or generic singular, but I’ve yet to encounter any trans people who present in a way that won’t work with “he”, “she” or in extreme cases “it”.

      Going Tagalog and just designating “it” as the pronoun no matter what the gender is preferable to these made-up abominations that don’t work and don’t last. They’re flash-in-the-pan nonsense.

    1. Well, sheepdogs and wolves are kind of independent of sheep and goats, really. I’m more the sheepdog type myself.

    2. Except if you are a sheepdog, you have to spend all day protecting a bunch of dumb sheep, even as they despise you for it, and call you a wolf when you do it. Thats fine if you get paid well to be a military or cop, but otherwise sucks. The goats are smart enough to take care of themselves.

      1. Sadly, true. Sheep really loathe being protected from their own stupidity, and most of them aren’t shy about saying so, either.

  3. Another major difference between Subject and Citizen: I am a Citizen, I possess and carry firearms. I am a not a sheep or goat, I am a sheepdog. We need more sheepdogs.

    1. Yes, we do need more sheepdogs. Because while goats are smart enough to recognize when they’re being protected from wolves, sheep resent the sheepdogs like crazy.

  4. Canada may deserve an asterisk. Didn’t they recently make it a crime to use the wrong pronoun? I think you can be jailed in Canada for refusing to use “xhe” or whatever the transgender term is these days.

    1. That is definitely deserving of an asterisk, but at least they’re not dictating that you have to use some strange squiggle to spell “xhe” or whatever it is.

  5. “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English assaults the other languages in a dark alley and takes what it wants.”

    1. It’s called natural selection and survival of the fittest. There are good reasons why many languages go extinct; and not just because someone slaughtered all the language speakers.

      (I know, a year and a half late and a dollar short.)

  6. There’s another “council” that pretty much has to approve any new letter: the Unicode Consortium. If it’s not in Unicode, good luck getting your computer to type it. (Or rather, good luck sending it to someone else‘s computer and having it come out looking correct: it can be done, but that requires a good bit of technical know-how on the part of the sender and the recipient).

    However, the Unicode Consortium tends to treat people as citizens, not as subjects: their process for approving new letters pretty much goes, “Is there evidence of real-world usage by more than a dozen people? Is it distinct enough from all existing letters that we really need to add a new letter for this? Okay, then it’s approved, and it’ll be officially added with the next Unicode version.”

    1. Actually, I believe the Unicode Consortium had the uppercase eszett allocated before the German Spelling Council approved it – presumably because there were enough rage-typing shouty German posts wanting it.

    2. Which is why the story has me doing a double-take. A few years ago, German underwent a major re-spelling to eliminate the ß because it did not convert easily. I ignored the changes unless I was dealing with certain kinds of paperwork.

      Oh well. I’ll look for it if I get back to Germany.

      1. Apparently they couldn’t get rid of all of them. Which is probably a good thing because getting rid of it completely would render a fair amount of old German even harder to read – and that would stop it being read.

        Hm… do I sniff ulterior motives here?

  7. When New Zealand finally gets the cruel Ozzie boot off it’s throat, it’s gonna get ugly for the rest of the world.;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *