Word of the Day: Palinode

Word of the Day

Today’s word of the day, thanks to Glossographia Anglicana Nova, or a Dictionary Interpreting Hard Words of whatever language, as are at Present used in the English Tongue, with their Etymologies, Definitions, etc., is palinode, a word derived from the Greek, meaning, “a Recantation or unsaying what one had spoken or written before.” The book, by Thomas Blount, was published initially in 1656; it defined around 11,000 words, and it was reprinted numerous times. At the time of its publication, it was the largest English dictionary.

The website www.dictionary.com is a bit more specific. It defines palinode as “a poem in which the poet retracts something said in an earlier poem,” though it adds more generally “a recantation.” The website www.etymonline.com somewhat agrees, “’poetical recantation, poem in which the poet retracts invective contained in a former satire’”; it adds that the word entered English in the “1590s, from Middle French palinod (16c.) or directly from Late Latin palinodia, from Greek palinōidia ‘poetic retraction,’ from palin ‘again, back’ (see palindrome) + ōidē ‘song’ (see ode).” The “palin” part of the word comes from a root meaning “again, back,” so we have a back ode.

On this date in 1933, the New York Times reported that the Blaine Act, or a “Joint Resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” had been approved by the United States Senate. The resolution, which would be approved by the House of Representatives just a few days later, and then by two-thirds of the states before the end of the year, authorized the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment ended Prohibition.

Prohibition, created by the 18th Amendment, which was passed by Congress in 1917 and ratified by the necessary number of states by 1919, was a long time in coming. The American Temperance Society was founded way back in 1826, almost 100 years before Prohibition started. Its approach to ending the evils of “Demon Rum” was to make the production, sale, or consumption of alcoholic beverages illegal. In 1869, the Prohibition Party started, and in 1873, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was founded. In 1881, Kansas put prohibition into its constitution. Other states, particularly in the South, passed prohibition laws.

One of the key factors in getting prohibition onto the national stage was the adopting of the prohibition platform by the Progressive movement. The Progressives were committed to the improvement of the human condition by fiat—anything they thought was good for people was, in their minds, good for people, whether those people wanted it or not. The Progressive movement was not limited to one or the other of the major political parties: Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican Progressive who began the federal government’s taking over of land for the sake of the people. Woodrow Wilson was a Democrat Progressive who kept us out of war, except that he didn’t. And they were all involved in passing Prohibition.

We should be clear about the target of Prohibition. It was not directed at the upper classes—remember The Great Gatsby? The target was the working poor, who were poor, so the argument went, because the men stopped at the tavern on payday and spent their money on alcohol. But the rich were able to stockpile large amounts of alcohol while the poor were not. The disparity was not lost on many of the poor, and on many onlookers. H. L. Mencken is reported to have said, “Prohibition worked best when directed at its primary target: the working-class poor” (David Oshinsky [May 13, 2010], “The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (book review),” The New York Times).

In brief, here are some of the results of Prohibition’s 13 years:

In order to prevent industrial alcohol from being used in beverages, the federal government ordered companies to poison alcohol with methyl alcohol, which led to the deaths of an estimated 10,000 Americans.

Speakeasies became popular, and with their popularity, the defiance of American law.

A large, underground, black market for alcohol developed, including bathtub gin in the North and moonshine in the South. Moonshiners souped up the engines of their cars to try to outrun federal Prohibition agents (revenuers).

While there were street gangs prior to the 1920s (mostly in the employ of local politicians in big cities), organized crime was not really a thing until Prohibition, so we have the Progressives to thank for the rise of the Mafia in America. Names like Al Capone, Bugsy Moran, Vito Genovese, and Machine Gun Kelly would never have become big without Prohibition.

It may not have seemed possible prior to 1920, but Prohibition actually increased corruption among politicians as they were bought by the mobsters for the sake of protection. But, then again, it may not be fair to blame Prohibition for corrupt politicians, who exist wherever there are politicians.

Between 1920 and 1930, violent crime increased significantly around the country, and especially in big cities like Chicago, which saw 800 gangsters murdered during that time.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing to people who sincerely believed in Prohibition was the hypocrisy in Washington. Bottles of alcohol could be found in the White House, in the Halls of Congress. The very people who passed the Volstead Act violated it on a daily basis with impunity.

These negative effects should not surprise us. The people in power who believe that they know how the rest of us should live our lives usually don’t. And they do not want to have to abide by the rules they impose on the working poor, the people of fly-over country. And the powerful have not changed. They want to tell the rest of us what food we should eat, what food our children should eat, what we can put into our bodies in general, and what kinds of things we should own. Prohibition of alcohol has ended, but other kinds of prohibitions exist with the same kinds of effects the Prohibition brought us.

But at least, on this one occasion, the hypocrites in Washington offered up the palinode called the Blaine Act. Would that they had learned their lesson.

The picture is of a “rally in New York City protesting prohibition in 1933” (https://allthatsinteresting.com/prohibition-government-poisoning).

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