In a Word

baisemains
n. respects or compliments

idoneous
adj. appropriate; suitable; proper; fit

peradvertence
n. thorough care or attention

basilic
adj. royal

At the Athens Olympics of 1896, American runner Thomas Curtis asked his French competitor Albin Lermusiaux why he was putting on white gloves before the start of the 100-meter race.

Lermusiaux said, “Because I am running in front of the king.”

Planned Community

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French philosopher Charles Fourier promoted a self-contained utopian society he called the phalanstère, or “grand hotel.” Each building would be a four-story apartment complex with two wings, one for children and noisy activities and the other containing ballrooms and meeting halls. Tasks would be assigned based on each member’s interests and desires, with higher pay going to undesirable jobs.

“In Fourier’s utopia, social harmony was guaranteed by assembling exactly 1,620 members, since he believed there were just twelve common passions that resulted in 810 types of character,” writes Damien Rudd in Sad Topographies. “In this way, every possible want, need and desire could be duly satisfied. It would be a society free of government, unfettered capitalism and the oppressive labour exploitation Fourier saw as the scourge of the modern world.”

The idea fell flat in Europe, but seven years after Fourier’s death in 1837 a group of idealistic followers built a community along the Ohio River based on his teachings. For $25 each subscribing family would get a timber house and a portion of land. It fell apart when Fourier’s promised “80,000 years of perfect harmony” failed to materialize.

Nondelivery

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James McNeill Whistler to a publican:

“My man, would you like to sell a great deal more beer than you do?”

“Aye, sir, that I would.”

“Then don’t sell so much froth.”

Dueling Servilities

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An encounter between theologian and mathematician Isaac Barrow and John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester:

Barrow … met Rochester at court, who said to him, ‘doctor, I am yours to my shoe-tie;’ Barrow bowed obsequiously with, ‘my lord, I am yours to the ground;’ Rochester returned this by, ‘doctor, I am yours to the centre;’ Barrow rejoined, ‘my lord, I am yours to the antipodes;’ Rochester, not to be foiled by ‘a musty old piece of divinity,’ as he was accustomed to call him, exclaimed, ‘doctor, I am yours to the lowest pit of hell;’ whereupon Barrow turned from him with, ‘there, my lord, I leave you.’

From William Hone’s Every-Day Book, 1868.

International Relations

Inspired officials of the East German Communist party, ever diligent in setting standards to which party members may conform, issued a list of the terms which are approved for use in vilifying the West. Henceforth Red speakers will know they are on safe ground if they choose any of the following synonyms for Americans: ‘Monkey killers, lice breeders, mass poisoners, chewing-gum spivs, boogie-woogie tramps, gas-chamber ideologists, leprous heroes, breeders of trichinosis, arsenic mixers, delirious lunatics, exploiters of epidemics.’ For the British a different set of terms must be used: ‘paralytic sycophants, effete betrayers of humanity, carrion-eating servile imitators, arch cowards and collaborators, conceited dandies or playboy soldiers.’

LIFE, Sept. 14, 1953

Migration

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When Winnie-the-Pooh was proposed for sale in East Germany, censors found its message too neutral, insufficiently progressive, and hence not representative of East German society. Here’s an extract from the print permit files of 1959:

Winnie the Pooh is exclusively about fantasy, happiness and child’s play. Certainly our children are not less imaginative in their play, but it cannot be denied that the fantasy of our children moves in another direction. Our time is not so much about a single child with his toys on his own — and if this does prevail in a child, it is not desired and does not match our didactic ideals. Thus, the value for the education of our children is minimal and it is not worthwhile spending foreign currency on it. Yet, should it be taken on in exchange for publishing one of our valuable children’s books in West Germany, a publication should not be refused.

The book did eventually get a permit and was published in 1960.

(From Gaby Thomson-Wohlgemuth, Translation Under State Control, 2011.)

The Way of Things

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“Pyramid of Capitalist System,” from a 1911 edition of Industrial Worker, a newspaper of the international labor union Industrial Workers of the World.

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings,” said Churchill. “The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

Side-Eye

jealousy glass

This is sneaky: Operagoers in the 18th century could spy on their neighbors using a “jealousy glass” — you’d appear to be watching the stage but a mirror would direct your view to the side, like a horizontal periscope. Marc Thomin, optician to the queen of France, wrote in 1749:

It is sufficient to turn this opening in the direction of whatever one wishes to observe and the curiosity is immediately satisfied. Its usefulness is confined to letting us see surreptitiously a person we seem not to be observing. This lorgnette may have been called a decorum glass because there is nothing more rude than to use an ordinary opera glass for looking at some one face to face.

Hanneke Grootenboer writes in Treasuring the Gaze, “Apparently, it was very convenient in allowing one to keep track of latecomers entering the opera without having to turn one’s head.”

(From J. William Rosenthal, From Spectacles and Other Vision Aids: A History and Guide to Collecting, 1996.)

Needs Analysis

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I do not believe in freedom of will. Schopenhauer’s words, ‘Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants,’ accompany me in all life situations and console me in my dealings with people, even those that are really painful to me. This recognition of the unfreedom of the will protects me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and judging individuals and losing good humor.

— Albert Einstein, Mein Glaubensbekenntnis, August 1932

Circumstance

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In the afternoon I went upon the river to look after some tarr I am sending down and some coles, and so home again; it raining hard upon the water, I put ashore and sheltered myself, while the King came by in his barge, going down towards the Downs to meet the Queen; the Duke being gone yesterday. But methought it lessened my esteem of a king, that he should not be able to command the rain.

— Samuel Pepys, diary, July 19, 1662