Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Awful Second Amendment

The Awful Second Amendment
©2019  Ross Williams

Calm down, libertarians.  You get so easily riled.

The English language owes 50% [or thereabouts] of its dictionary to the German language.  Its grammar and syntax is descended wholly from German.  English and Germans 500 years ago, roughly at the time of Shakespeare, could converse with each other in their native languages with only modest stoppages in play − similar to what Italians and Spaniards can do today.  English, and particularly American English, evolved away from strict German syntax over the last 500 years, and mostly in the last 250.

But our Constitution was written 240 years ago when English, written properly, leaned heavily on its German roots.  As little as a hundred years after our Constitution was written, Americans, even those who were professional writers, were largely unpracticed in what was considered proper English grammar in the prior century.

Libertarians: please follow that link.  You'll learn something; if you’re smarter than a doorknob you’ll laugh. And frankly, most of you need desperately to do both.

In my conversations with those of our countrymen who intensely dislike the prospect of their fellow Americans being armed to the teeth, I’ve discovered that most of the problem with their misreading of the right to keep and bear arms lies in their being illiterate.  They cannot read and, having read, comprehend what was written.  This is particularly true of American historical documents, and most especially that awful Second Amendment.

Which astounds me, as they have zero problems, generally, understanding Yoda.  Yoda talks in the same way as the Second Amendment was written.  Which is to say: backwards.  Yoda is, for all intents and purposes, German.

Americans had no difficulty understanding German − the words or the grammar − 240 years ago.  Indeed, it was a toss-up whether English or German was to be our official language.  For better or worse, we settled on neither.  But for better or worse [and “worse” is, to libertarians, the usual conclusion], the Second Amendment was written using backward German syntax.

The Second Amendment is, as written:
A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The Second Amendment would be written, today, as:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free State.

Modern English is syntaxed as subject/verb/object; who/does what/to whom. 

German is syntaxed as object/subject/verb; whom/by who/is done.

We would say All you need is loveYoda
 − and a German − would say Love is all you need.

The first thing anti-gun nuts see in the Second Amendment is a well-regulated militia, and they conclude this phrase to be the subject of the thing.  They further conclude that the object − the thing dependent on the subject − is the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  Because they are illiterate and cannot navigate antiquated sentence structure, they conclude that only those people in the well-regulated militia are allowed to have guns.  They don’t even bother deciphering the verb portion of the sentence [shall not be infringed] and indeed ignore all points regarding it, because they’ve arrived at the conclusion that satisfies their political desires: only the military and police can have guns. …a recipe for a police-state dictatorship if ever there was one.

But because the Second Amendment is written backwards, in German syntax, the subject is the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  The verb-phrase is shall not be infringed.  The object is a well regulated militia.  Which means that the populace is rightfully presumed to be heavily armed, and the well-regulated militia − the military and the police − are chosen from among them.

Of course, anti-gun nuts will deny that the modern sentence structure I gave is the rhetorical equivalent of the Second Amendment as written.  Which is why I’ve periodically trotted out a corollary statement without the emotional bias inherent to gun-totin’ rowdies:
Well-rested students, being necessary to a successful education, the obligation of parents to insist upon an early bed-time shall be required.

And then I ask them a series of multiple choice questions, similar to those I was given in the late 60s and early 70s when I and my classmates were actually taught variant sentence structure in primary school.  This was so we could read English poets of the romantic era and understand why they were gibbering on about Greek vases and all.  Such instruction, sadly but understandably, no longer takes place.  The questions I would ask were like:

Which of the following statements properly rephrases the statement above?
a. Schools must send parents to bed early so the students will learn.
b. Parents need to get their kids in bed early so they’ll do better in school.
c. Getting good grades makes students go to bed early.
d. To get parents to do better in class, the teacher must be asleep.

The correct answer is, naturally, b.  If we were talking about the Second Amendment, though, anti-gun nuts would answer everything but b, with a heavy emphasis on c − good grades cause early bed-times.  All that learning just wears out their poor, frazzled brains.  Or something.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might conclude that public schools no longer taught variant sentence structure in 4th grade as a means to deliberately inspire misinterpretation of the Second Amendment.  Along with no longer teaching cursive handwriting so as to be unable to read the original American historical documents in the first place.  Et cetera.

But I’ll leave that for the other libertarians.  They’re much better at it.


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