Monday, May 16, 2016

Who’s A Bigot?

One of the customers has been investigating the origin of the word bigot. I suspect that his interest was piqued by the recent rise to prominence of certain politicians (their names will not appear in this apolitical blog, but you know who they are) whose pronouncements might lead one to believe the word applied to them. 

The primary meaning of bigot, from the 16th century, was “religious hypocrite,” but by the 17th century it had taken on the meaning of “a person obstinately and unreasonably wedded to a religious creed or opinion.” Abraham Cowley used the word in his 1661 Discourse Concerning Oliver Cromwell, in which he wrote, “He was rather a well-meaning and deluding Bigot, than a crafty and malicious Impostor.” Today the word has the added connotation of “intolerant.”

Where the word originally came from has provoked vigorous disagreement among scholars, with the result that nobody can really say. The best explanation that most dictionaries offer for its etymology is: “from French bigot (12th century), of unknown origin.”

The earliest French use of the word is in the 12th-century Romance of Girard de Roussillon, in which it is used to refer to the people living south of Gaul. From this instance, it has been inferred that bigot is a corruption of Visigoth. Since the Franks were Catholic and the Visigoths were Arian, the term might therefore have taken on the meaning of “foreign heretic.” But phoneticists claim there is no connection between bigot and Visigoth (although there is apparently a Middle Latin word Bigothi, in reference to Visigoths.)

Bigot later became a French derogatory term for the Normans, and one story is that it originated in the refusal of Rollo, the Viking ruler of Normandy, to refuse to kiss the foot of the 10th-century Carolingian King Charles the Simple, by defiantly shouting “Ne se, bi go”—a supposedly Germanic way of saying “No, by God!” Normans were allegedly fond of uttering “bi go” as a common oath. Bigott shows up as a Norman surname as early as the 11th century.

Try as they might, etymologists have not been able to establish a connection between bigot and the Spanish bigote, which means “mustache.” The chief virtue of the theory, says the Online Etymological Dictionary, is that “there is no evidence for or against it.”

Others think the early use of bigot to mean “religious hypocrite” sprang from the Beguines, a 12th-century community of women ascetics in The Netherlands, who took their name from Lambert le Bègue ("Lambert the Stammerer”), a priest who was instrumental in their founding. The order later attracted mendicants who sought contributions in the guise of religion—giving rise to the word beggar.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou rejects the notion that he is a bigot. He says that all his benighted opinions, to which he clings immovably, are not only reasonable but self-evident.
            I’m not a bigot, no I’m not,           
            The word does not apply to me.
            But of my friends, I know a lot—
            All those with whom I disagree.

No comments:

Post a Comment