[lit-ideas] Re: Just like the Marines, but much nastier

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 8 Apr 2014 22:06:51 -0400 (EDT)

In a message dated 4/8/2014 5:50:58 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx writes:
I ran across a JL sort of passage on page  6 of The Fall of the Roman 
Empire by Peter Heather:
Just like the Marines,  but much nastier.”
That last sentence puzzles me.  
if the Roman legionairies were “just like the Marines” then they couldn’t  
be “much nastier.”  
Yes. I think there is a sort of meta-text here. I am in love with 'text'  
today, as I was reading on The New York Times over the weekend this essay by  
McWhorter where he uses 'texters' and 'texting' in the implicatural sense. 
And I  think it was a point made by L. Helm in this forum: "I will speak a 
lot about  this stuff in this book" (one example he selected).
The phrase seems to involve a meta-text, in the way that L. R. Horn makes  
use of notions like 'meta-linguistic' negation. This meta-linguistic aspect  
applies to ALL operators and features of language, not just negation.
My favourite seems to be a commercial in the Bow Tie Cinemas:
"Cinema as it used to be, only better."
---- I'm not sure that above is the exact wording, but since it SEEMS to  
involve a contradiction (a logical contradiction in terms of entailments) at 
the  LEVEL of what Grice would have as 'what has been EXPLICATED" (rather 
than  implicated), the triggering for an implicature seems obvious. The 
utterer CANNOT  mean that this is cinema as it used to be -- only better.
Similarly, I am all with L. Helm when he criticises Heather's  
sensationalist (and I'll add 'sloppy', since this is McWorther's term of 
choice,  but 
I'd need to double check that -- I provided the link in the post "Because  
So let's revise L. Helm's puzzlement:
"I ran across a JL sort of passage on page 6 of The Fall of the Roman  
Empire by Peter Heather."
A Speranza sort of passage. But note that it's the bit of the last sentence 
 that seems to inspire L. Helm, which he uses in the subject line:
"Just like the Marines, but much nastier."
--- In full terms:
i. The Roman legionaries are like the marines -- only nastier.
There are variants and some are more illogical than others. This relates to 
 the implicature once discussed elsewhere: is similarity a form or sort of  
identity. If I say that Superman is like Clark Kent (on the assumption that 
 Superman = Clark Kent), is the assumption that there is something that 
Superman  has but Clark Kent hasn't MERELY IMPLICATED and thus cancellable? I 
think so. 
For one can say: Superman is LIKE Clark Kent; in fact, he _is_ Clark  Kent.
So we have some logical variants of the sensationalist bit of prose by  
Heather, alla:
ii. The Roman legionaries were like the marines -- But they were NOT like  
the marines. They were like the marines with respect to R1, but they were 
not  like the marines with respect to R2. 
The fact that Heather uses the comparative can only complicate things,  si
nce, as J. D. Atlas, who teaches Grice in a prestigious campus of U.  
California, the importance of being a comparative is a great one.
I.e. Heather's utterance does entail 
iii. The Marines are nasty.
For he is using the comparative 'nastier' as applied to the Roman  
legionaries who are however 'much nastier' than the Marines who are plain  
A less sensationalist, but clumsier, variant would be:
iv. The Roman legionaries were a nastier type than the Marines. 
Helm expresses it right:
"That [bit of the] last sentence puzzles me: ... [i]f the Roman  
legionaries [are] "just like the Marines", ...  they [the Roman  legionaries] 
NOT -- emphasis mine -- Speranza] be "much nastier."
As L. Helm realises, this is aggravated, if that's the word, by the  
pleonetetic 'much' (Altham, "The logic of plurarity"). For Heather is not just  
v. The Roman legionaries are nastier than the Marines.
He is emphasising:
vi. The Roman legionaries were MUCH nastier than the Marines.
And yet, can it logically follow, or is Heather incurring in logical  
contradiction, when he says that the Roman legionaries were LIKE the  Marines?
Contrary to popular belief, Steinem did not coin the feminist slogan "A  
woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Although she helped popularize 
 it, the phrase is actually attributable to Irina Dunn.[38] When Time 
magazine  published an article attributing the saying to Steinem, Steinem wrote 
letter  saying the phrase had been coined by Dunn. [39] "A woman needs a 
man like a fish  needs a bicycle". The Phrase Finder. ^ Letters, Time 
magazine, US edition,  16 September 2000 and Australian edition, 9 October 2000.
So let's see if we can compare Heather's use of 'like' with Irina Dunn's.  
She said:
vii. A woman needs a man LIKE a fish needs a bicycle.
This becomes the better phrased:
viii. A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. 
Here the implicature is that a there must be some ground of comparison. Now 
 to retrieve Heather's phrase:
i. The Roman legionaries were JUST like the Marines, but MUCH  nastier.
Note that indeed, the sentence in full in elliptical, as as per subject  
ii. Just like the Marines, but much nastier.
So let's search for the ground of comparison, with the caveat and reminder  
that we have to degrade the level of nastiness as we apply it to the  
Heather's first point:
“Recruits trained together, fought together and played together in groups  
of eight: a contubernium (literally, a group sharing a tent)."
There is nothing nasty about this. So this can't be what Heather means.  
Unless you have something against the number '8'. 
If the number in the marines is, say, 6, or 10, this can be actually  
Heather goes on:
"And they were taken young: all armies prefer young men with plenty of  
testosterone.  Legionaries were also denied regular sexual contact: wives  and 
children might make them think twice about the risks of battle."
Nothing nasty or nastier about that. So it's the next section that becomes  
relevant, in a way -- although it's all adding up. Cfr. Grice, 'be 
relevant',  qua conversational maxim:
"Basic training was grueling.  You had to learn to march 36 kilometres  in 
five hours, weighed down with 25 kilos or more of armour and equipment.   
All the time you were being told how special you were, how special your 
friends  were, what an elite force you belonged to."
At this point, Heather sums it all up in a catchphrase intended to provoke. 
 For he does not use the specific "American" and could well be meaning the  
ii. Just like the Marines, but much nastier.
The implicature seems to be, perhaps, that the marines are taught to march  
LESS than 36 kilometres in 5 hours -- the use of double ciphers here  
complicate things -- what about 25 kilometres in 4 hours? 
Another sub-implicature may be that the Marines (American or Royal) are  tau
ght (and indeed learn) to do the above with LESS than 25 kilos (Heather's 
"or  more" complicates things arithmetically).
The last bit is a trio:
The Royal legionary was ALL THE TIME [hyperbole] being told that 
a. he is special -- the implicature being that the Royal or American Marine 
 is not?
b. his friends are special -- I would NEVER use 'amicus' here! I think the  
Romans thought of the 'amicus' as the 'alter ego' -- not a member of an 
8-member  tent. 'Mate' or 'companion', or 'comrade-in-arm', if you must, seems  
c. he belongs to a NICE elite force.
Heather's phrase, 'what an elite force' he belongs to is ambiguous in that  
it does not precisely state or makes it explicit if this is good or bad. 
'Elite'  of course carries a positive connotation, but the 'what' can only 
confuse. It is  different from: "what a GOOD elite forc you belong to". Or 
Finally, revising what 'nasty' means may help.
The Online Etymological site notes that the word is sort of 'newish' (this  
reminds me of D. Ritchie when discussing the etymology of "Watling Street" 
--  'pertaining' to the Watling. "Pertaining"? What kind of Anglo-Saxonism 
is  that?
nasty, we are told, comes from circa 1400. And the site paraphrases  as:
"foul, filthy, dirty, unclean".
But of course nothing of these four adjectives applies to the Roman  
legionaries. So the meaning or implicature must be metaphorical (for Grice all  
metaphor or figurative 'senses' are implicatures -- they are figurative 
'uses',  rather).
The stie goes on to say
"of unknown origin"
which isn't helpful.
"Perhaps [Barnhart] from Old French "nastre", which the site goes on to  
paraphrase as
"miserly, envious, malicious, spiteful".
Barnhart stretches things a bit when he thinks the adjective 'nastre', in  
French, is a shortened form of 
--- But I would disagree: English speakers like to abbreviate things, but  
not the French. 
A 'villenastre', in any case, was someone who was thought to be
"infamous, bad".
The etymology is then traced to "vilein", villain, as in the villain of the 
+ -astre, pejorative suffix, from Latin -aster. 
So what happened, in France -- the land of logic -- is that the 'n' with  
which the word 'villaiN' ended was confused and thought to belong to the 
suffix,  'aster', which becomes 'naster'. 
A rather convoluted etymology, if you ask me.
An Alternative etymology provided by the OED is from Dutch 
which also means "dirty," 
literally "like a bird's nest." 
'nesty' should perhaps be the correct pronunciation then.
-- Note the elliptical nature of the 'nestig' -- dirty with different  
substances, but which however prove harmless enough to the birds in the nest  
(And I suppose some birds have nastier nests than others?)
It is likely that the French"villainaster" and/or the Dutch word "nastig",  
or nesty (however it reached the shores of England -- possibly via sailors 
and  applying to sea-fowl?) were reinforced by a Scandinavian source 
(compare Swedish  dialectal naskug "dirty, nasty"), which also might be the 
of the Middle  English word. 
"Or not", of course, if one is allowed the affectation. Why dialectal  
Swedish terms for 'dirty' were borrowed (but never returned) by English 
 should remain a mystery. And note that the paraphrase, Swedish 'naskug', 
meaning  'nasty' is HARLY explanatory, when we are trying to trace the etymon 
or true  meaning.
As applies to the weather (rather than the Marine or the Roman legionary)  
it is from 1630s.
Of things generally, "unpleasant, offensive," from 1705. 
Of people, "ill-tempered," from 1825. 
Noun meaning "something nasty" is from 1935. 
Related: Nastily; nastiness.
If L. Helm is right that Heather incurs in a logical mistake, let us  
correct Heather:
The Roman legionaries were NOT like the Marines. They were _nasty_. 
Cfr. further variants:
iv. The Roman legionaries were like the marines IF NOT nastier.
And so on.
Note that since what triggers the elliptical -- "Just like the Marines, but 
 much nastier" is the triad of qualifications 
i. A Roman legionary is said to be special
ii. As his 'teamsters' are special.
iii. and elitist.
Heather is thinking all this is nasty enough yet not THAT nasty that or as  
the Marines (Royal or American) would care to display it.
Or something like that.
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