Monday, July 15, 2013

Is Your Protasis Valid?

A letter to the editor of a daily newspaper, commenting on the alleged misreading of the Second Amendment, maintained, “Every schoolchild knows that the protasis needs to be valid for the apodosis to be valid.”  I would not venture a guess about what every schoolchild may know—in fact, I shudder to think—but I have to confess to my undying shame, self-anointed grammar maven that I am, that I was not familiar with either a protasis or an apodosis until now.

The Constitutional section under discussion is “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 first part of that sentence is the protasis, and the part following the comma is the apodosis.

A protasis is the premise of a syllogism, or the subordinate clause of a conditional sentence: “If I drink too many martinis…”  It comes originally from Greek proteinen, “to stretch out or put forward.” 

An apodosis is the conclusion of a syllogism, or the main clause of a conditional sentence: “…then I will be out of gin.”  It derives from the Greek apodidonai, “to give back or deliver.” 

The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first usage of these terms in 1638, although Webster’s puts them as early as 1568.

An earlier meaning of protasis refers to the introductory part of a classic Greek drama (the “exposition”), which is followed by the epitasis (“development”) and, ultimately the catastrophe (“resolution” or “dénouement”). (I’ve seen plays in which the catastrophe comes much earlier.)

Now as to the Second Amendment, the letter-writer’s point was that its protasis is no longer valid, i.e. a well-regulated militia is pretty much irrelevant in the era of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, intercontinental missiles, suicide bombers, and unmanned drones.  A few Tea Party members, even if armed with Uzis, wouldn’t hold out long against modern weaponry.  Ergo, the apodosis of the Second Amendment is also invalid, meaning it is perfectly OK to infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms, by registering and licensing them, limiting them, or banning some of them.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou uses his arms principally by bending their elbows to lift glasses of chilled Chardonnay to his parched lips.  You can tell how successful he is in that operation from the following: 

            If you pose a protasis, 
            And you find it’s not valid, 
            Then the egg on your face is 
            Best used in a salad. 

            But since your apodosis 
            Is also in question, 
            You may get a neurosis 
            Or at least indigestion.            

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