Wednesday, 29 August 2007

My little mate

Lionel Murphy (pictured)was hoisted on his own (or someone else's) petard for inaccurately defining his "little mate"; or perhaps for presuming on the relationship of mateship. So it is with some caution that I approach the question of whether or not new citizens should have to sign up to the concept of 'mateship' as a key Australian value.
The truth is we use the word 'mate' to cover a multitude of sins. And like all such blanket uses do, so this begs all sorts of questions.
I had a superior not so very long ago who came from the East (but it is probably not true to say he was a wise man) and used to like to call everyone 'mate'. Being a reverential sort of person I found this uncomfortable, and indeed it became a cause for raucous amusement. Whenever you wanted to feign intimacy or be sarcastic you would simply add the word 'mate' to your sentence and we would all fall about laughing.
I fear that we don't have the faintest clue what the word 'mate' means. We take it to mean what ever we want to promote.
So Murphy was taken to mean 'his little mate' was someone who needed to be sneakily looked after. Howard pretends to understand the psyche of the soldier mate, without ever having been close to having had the commitment that one soldier has to have to another in order to keep alive.
Others, like my former boss, just splash it around like confetti. So its meaning becomes ridiculous.
All this suggests to me that we should be very cautious about asking people to ascribe to something that is so ill, and indeed variously, defined


Whodoyouthink? said...

Should one, when unsure, ask another "What does it (or do you) mean?" and if so, should the other respond, and if yes, how?

nonynonyno said...

"Hoist by his own petard"

The word remains in modern usage in the phrase to be hoist by one's own petard, which means "to be harmed by one's own plan to harm someone else" or "to fall in one's own trap". Shakespeare coined the now proverbial phrase in Hamlet.

In the following passage, the "letters" refer to instructions (written by his uncle Claudius, the King) to be carried sealed to the King of England, by Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the latter being two schoolfellows of Hamlet. The letters, as Hamlet suspects, contain a death warrant against Hamlet, who will later open and modify them to instead request the execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Enginer refers to a military engineer.

There's letters seal'd: and my two schoolfellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd,
They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way
And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
For 'tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petar; and 't shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon: O, 'tis most sweet,
When in one line two crafts directly meet.

After modifying the letters Hamlet escapes the ship and returns to Denmark.

In medieval and Renaissance siege warfare, a common tactic was to dig a shallow trench close to the enemy gate, and then erect a small hoisting engine that would lift the lit petard out of the trench, swing it up, out, and over to the gate, where it would detonate and (hopefully) breach the gate. It was not impossible, however, that this procedure would go awry, and the engineer lighting the bomb could be snagged in the ropes and lifted out with the petard and consequently blown up. Thus to be 'hoist with his own petar' is to be caught up (and destroyed) by his own plot. Thus, Hamlet's actual meaning is "cause the bomb maker to be blown up with his own bomb", metaphorically turning the tables on Claudius, whose messengers are killed instead of Hamlet.mlu

stephen clark said...

I imagine nonynonyno if we had not known what the phrase meant we could have looked it up on Wikipedia too!

as for whodoyouthink's question about clarifying meaning. I guess one should ask.
Not all questions have answers. Not all answers are easy.
Personally one should write to politicians, and write agin and agin.
Popular mythology has it that politicians take letters seriously as they think one person who bothers to write a letter represents 500 votes!

Whodoyouthink? said...

Do I take it that in your view you have fully answered the question put?