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Also republished by The Rag Blog and OpEdNews.

A little fun while I take a short break from the Zombie-Marxism series. [alex]

Origins of English Words and Class!

Originally published in shorter form, September 1, 2008

by Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com

Would you rather receive a hearty welcome or a cordial reception?

Notice the imagery and feelings evoked by the two phrases. The first has a Germanic origin, the second, French. The English language is split along class lines — a reflection of the Norman invasion of England, almost 1000 years ago. German-derived English words carry with them a working class connotation, and French-derived words come off sounding aristocratic and slightly repulsive.

Even though cordial literally means “of the heart” in French (cor is Latin for heart), the picture that comes to my mind is a royal douchebag entering a hall of power amidst classical music and overdressed patrons and nobility. The image I get from hearty welcome is the extreme opposite: a single peasant reaching out to hug me and get me into their little hovel, out of the weather. Class is deeply embedded within our language, each word having its own unique history.

Wikipedia teaches many fun facts. The English language derives mainly from:

  1. Old German — the Angles and Saxons (from Saxony) conquered Britain in the 5th century, mixing with Scandinavians and developing Old English.
  2. Old French — the Normans (from Normandy) conquered England in 1066.

William the Conqueror, first Norman king of England, as depicted on the famous Bayeux Tapestry. His royal descendents would speak French until Henry V, 350 years later.

After the Norman invasion, England was dominated by a small French aristocracy, ruling over a much larger German working class. For more than three centuries, the rulers of England spoke French, while the common person spoke a Germanic language (Old English).

The two cultural groups began to intermarry after the Black Death of the 1340s wiped out half of the population, and over time the languages slowly merged, greatly simplifying the grammar of English, but also leaving a huge combined vocabulary.

The really interesting thing is that a lot of words in English carry a class connotation, based on whether they derive from French or from German. Words that mean basically the same thing will have either a formal, fancy, academic, upper-class connotation, or a casual, down-to-earth, gut-level, working-class feeling depending on the origin of the word.

Check out this list of synonyms! Read the rest of this entry »

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Also published by Countercurrents and The Rag Blog.

Why Marxism Has Failed, and Why Zombie-Marxism Cannot Die
Or My Rocky Relationship with Grampa Karl

by Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com
Part 2 – November 4, 2010
This is part of an essay critiquing the philosophy of Karl Marx for its relevance to 21st century anti-capitalism. The main thrust of the essay is to encourage living common-sense radicalism, as opposed to the automatic reproduction of zombie ideas which have lost connection to current reality. Karl Marx was no prophet. But neither can we reject him. We have to go beyond him, and bring him with us. I believe it is only on such a basis, with a critical appraisal of Marx, that the Left can become ideologically relevant to today’s rapidly evolving political circumstances. [Click here for Part 1.]

A brilliant, critical mind in his own time. Not infallible.

What Marx Got Right

Boiling down all of Karl Marx’s writings into a handful of key contributions is fated to produce an incomplete list, but here are the 5 that immediately come to my mind: 1. Class Analysis, 2. Base and Superstructure, 3. Alienation of Labor, 4. Need for Growth, Inevitability of Crisis, and 5. A Counter-Hegemonic World-view.

(It must be noted that many of these insights were not the unique inspiration of Marx’s brain, but were ideas bubbling up in the European working class movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, which was the political context that educated Marx. Further, Marx’s lifelong collaborator, Friedrich Engels, undoubtedly contributed significantly to Marx’s ideas, although Marx remained the primary theorist.)

1. Class Analysis

In the opening lines of the “Communist Manifesto” (1848), Marx thunders, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

In other words, as long as society has been divided into rich and poor, ruler and enslaved, oppressor and oppressed, capitalist and worker, there have been relentless efforts amongst the powerful to maintain and increase their power, and correspondingly, constant struggles from the poor and oppressed to escape their bondage. This insight appears to be common sense, but it is systematically hidden from mainstream society. People do not choose to be poor or oppressed, although the rich would like us to believe otherwise. The powerless are kept that way by those in power. And they are struggling to end that poverty and oppression, to the best of their individual and collective ability.

The Manifesto elaborates Marx’s class framework under capitalism:

“Our epoch… possesses this distinctive feature: it has simplified class antagonisms: Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps…: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” (Marx-Engels Reader 474).

Marx relayed the words “bourgeoisie” and “proletariat” directly from the French working class movement he encountered in his 1844 exile in Paris, when he briefly ran with the likes of “anarchist” theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Marx himself reminds us, “No credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them.” Class analysis pre-dated Marx by many decades. Yet he articulated the class divisions of capitalist society quite clearly.

The “bourgeoisie” are those who own and control the “means of production,” or basically, the land, factories and machines that make up the economy. Today we know them as the Donald Trumps, the Warren Buffets, etc., although most of the ruling class tries to avoid public scrutiny. In short, the ruling class in capitalism are the wealthy elite, who exert control over society (and government) through their dollars.

Opposing them is the “proletariat,” which Marx defines as “the modern working class – a class of labourers who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital” (479). The working class for Marx is everybody who has to work for a wage and sell their labor in order to survive.

The divide between the bourgeoisie and proletariat as seen by Marx impacts society in deep and rarely understood ways. However, it is clear that as the rich rule society, they design it for their own benefit through politics, the media, the school system, etc. Inevitably, through “trickle up” economics, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As the class conflict worsens, for Marx there can only be one solution — revolution:

“This revolution is necessary not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew” (193, “The German Ideology” 1845).

How could it happen? Marx rightly answers, “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” Read the rest of this entry »


hey all,

check out this podcast of me being interviewed by Todd Curl.  I’m excited to have my views recorded on audio for the first time.  in this extensive 2-hour interview, I discuss:

  • my hometown of Ambler, PA and its history with asbestos
  • my life story of becoming politically aware and active
  • peak oil and its interpretations
  • the end of capitalism theory
  • the nature of capitalism and enclosure
  • resistance in China, Arizona, and around the world
  • how radicals can use language to speak to everyday people
  • healing from abuse and empowering ourselves to live better lives

here it is (click to play audio): Alex Knight Podcast

[alex]

Is Capitalism Approaching the Darkness of Knight?

Todd Curl

The Pigeon Post, August 2, 2010

Here is the interview I did with Alex Knight on Friday, July 30, 2010 at Alex’s home in Philadelphia:

Alex Knight Podcast

At just 27 years old, Alex is already an accomplished writer and a full time activist for social justice. His site, The End of Capitalism, explores the theory of the unsustainable nature of a profit-driven global system that continues to exploit all of the earth’s resources for the sake of greed and power.

Having grown up in Ambler, Pennsylvania — the ‘Asbestos Capital of the World’ — Alex saw first hand the devastation of his home town through the greed of Keasbey and Mattison Corporation who continued to manufacture Asbestos through the 1970s despite the evidence that had existed for years that Asbestos causes Mesothelioma, a serious form of Lung Cancer.

Seeing the sickness of his community first hand eventually built the foundation for Alex’s future environmental and social activism. While at Lehigh University studying Electrical Engineering, Alex became more intellectually aware of the systemic patterns of exploitation and human/environmental devastation brought on by a long history of a Capitalist system concerned only with profit. Alex went on to get his Master’s in Political Science from Lehigh and now is a full-time activist in the Philadelphia area fighting for real and meaningful progressive change.

As Alex will tell you, there is nothing extraordinary about him. Being the quintessential “All American Boy” — he was born on the 4th of July — Alex discovered that real social change is ameliorated when we decide to join forces and fight the powers that are determined to keep us placated and in a constant state of fear so we will not question our own imprisonment of thought and continue to consume without thought or premeditation. For Alex, grassroots organizing and activism is the key to a sustainable future and when we define ourselves as left, right, Marxist, Anarchist, etc.. we just perpetuate petty semantic divides. Alex is proud to call himself “Progressive” as he is a tireless fighter for justice.


George Orwell was an English radical who wrote some of the most important books of the 20th Century, including Homage to Catalonia, about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, Animal Farm (see cartoon adaptation), an allegory to Stalinism, and the infamous totalitarian novel 1984 (see film adaptation).

Orwell was an acclaimed writer because he wrote in clear and efficient English. He gave us this 1946 article, “Politics and the English Language” on how to write effectively. Check this out before penning/keying your next masterpiece! [alex]

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

[Orwell goes on to explain how English writing is deteriorating from clear, crisp words into vague and opaque phrase-mongering, citing specific examples of particularly bad writing from intellectuals and politicians.]

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties.

Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

Consider for instance Read the rest of this entry »


updated 12/4/2010

by Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com

Would you rather receive a hearty welcome or a cordial reception?

Notice the imagery and feelings evoked by the two phrases. The first has a Germanic origin, the second, French. The English language is split along class lines — a reflection of the Norman invasion of England, almost 1000 years ago. German-derived English words carry with them a working class connotation, and French-derived words come off sounding aristocratic and slightly repulsive.

Even though cordial literally means “of the heart” in French (cor is Latin for heart), the picture that comes to my mind is a royal douchebag entering a hall of power amidst classical music and overdressed patrons and nobility. The image I get from hearty welcome is the extreme opposite: a single peasant reaching out to hug me and get me into their little hovel, out of the weather. Class is deeply embedded within our language, each word having its own unique history.

Wikipedia teaches many fun facts. The English language derives mainly from:

  1. Old German — the Angles and Saxons (from Saxony) conquered Britain in the 5th century, mixing with Scandinavians and developing Old English.
  2. Old French — the Normans (from Normandy) conquered England in 1066.

William the Conqueror, first Norman king of England, as depicted on the famous Bayeux Tapestry. His royal descendents would speak French until Henry V, 350 years later.

After the Norman invasion, England was dominated by a small French aristocracy, ruling over a much larger German working class. For more than three centuries, the rulers of England spoke French, while the common person spoke a Germanic language (Old English).

The two cultural groups began to intermarry after the Black Death of the 1340s wiped out half of the population, and over time the languages slowly merged, greatly simplifying the grammar of English, but also leaving a huge combined vocabulary.

The really interesting thing is that a lot of words in English carry a class connotation, based on whether they derive from French or from German. Words that mean basically the same thing will have either a formal, fancy, academic, upper-class connotation, or a casual, down-to-earth, gut-level, working-class feeling depending on the origin of the word.

Check this list out!

German-derived French-derived
begin commence
talk/speak discuss/converse
ask inquire/demand
teach educate
think/wonder consider/ponder
understand comprehend
truth verity
answer reply
before prior
come arrive
meet/find encounter
leave depart
wall barrier
make/build construct
break destroy
small/little petite
feeling sentiment
good beneficial/pleasant
hope aspire
lucky fortunate
help assist
mistake error
forgive pardon
buy purchase
have/own possess
yearly annual
careful/wise prudent
child/youth juvenile/adolescent
earth soil
cold frigid
wild savage
belly/gut abdomen
drink beverage
hungry famished
eat dine

.
Notice that the Germanic words are usually shorter, more concrete and  direct, while the French words are more elaborate, more abstract and indirect. What kind of person do you imagine speaking the words in the left column vs. the right column?

It’s interesting to me that nature and children are described by the French-derived English words as somehow negative or hostile, as with savage and juvenile. To me this reflects the hatred on the part of the wealthy and powerful for that which is untamed and free.

The medical-industrial complex also uses almost exclusively Latin and French-derived words, to sound more technical. This has the effect of making the body seem lifeless and mechanical, as with abdomen.

Plus, meat words are almost all French-derived, which reflects that while the Anglo-Saxon working class was responsible for hunting/shepherding the animals, it was only the Norman nobility who could actually afford to eat meat.

German-derived French-derived
cow beef
pig pork/ham
deer venison
sheep mutton
calf veal

.
Chicken and fish are the exceptions here, most likely because these meats were less expensive and more available for peasants and workers.

Finally, most of our government/state words are all French: court, judge, jury, indict, appeal, traitor, prison, military, representative, parliament, Congress, president, and marriage.

I notice that when I use the French-derived words, I experience a slight feeling of discomfort, as if I’m trying to impress people with my big words. This is precisely how academia functions, which is why if you attend a university or graduate school, you will be inundated with French and Latin-derived vocabulary, to distinguish you from the uneducated masses with their street language.

Might all of this explain why American conceptions of the French are as snooty, pompous, pretentious, easily-hate-able snobs? In occupied England, THEY WERE!

And for anyone interested in working class revolution, the best way not to talk down to people: stick with the more common Germanic words instead of bureaucratese.

Towards freedom! (not mere liberty)

p.s. George Orwell wrote an awesome essay called Politics of the English Language, where he breaks down how abstract, complex language is a tool for those who seek to confuse the populace, and he outlines how to make use of concrete, plain English to actually reach people. A highly recommended essay for anyone who wants to write.

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