In 1595, the early English explorer and colonist, John Davys, wrote in The Worlde’s Hydrographical Discription, Thomas Dawson, London,
“There is no doubt that we of England are this saved people, by the eternal and infallible presence of the Lord predestined to be sent into these Gentiles in the sea, to those Isles and famous Kingdoms, there to preach the peace of the Lord; for are not we only set on Mount Zion to give light to all the rest of the world? *** By whom then shall the truth be preached, but by them unto whom the truth shall be revealed?”
In the 1850’s, the Reverend Augustus Longstreet – president of a leading American University and minister of the Lord – wrote to his son-n-law regarding the unreasonable behavior of his slaves:
“The creatures persistently refuse to live together as man and wife, even after I have mated them with all the wisdom I possess, and built them such desirable homes.”
About the same time, the famous case of the slave, Dred Scot, wound its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States. On its way, the Supreme Court of the state of Missouri found that one of the key issues before it was whether African slavery really did exist for the benefit of the slaves.
Of course, we’ve come a long way since then. In 1997, Robert Hendrickson wrote, in The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Checkmark Books :
“cretin. Our pejorative cretin, for “an idiot,” began as a kindly word. In the Middle Ages many deformed people with a low mentality lived in the Alpine regions, their condition resulting from a thyroid condition now known as myxedema, which was possibly caused by a deficiency of iodine in their drinking water. These unfortunates were called Chrétiens, “Christians,” by the Swiss, because the word distinguished human beings like these people from brutes, and they believed these childlike innocents were incapable of actual sin. But the kindly word went into French as cretin, meaning “idiot,” and retained the same meaning when it passed into English.”
It leaves me wondering: if our best navigators, University presidents, and supreme courts can be such cretins, where does that leave the rest of us?
Honk if you love word origins.