Sunday 9 May 2010

The Generous Haystack And The Crooked-Nosed Robber-Chieftan

The Clegg family motto is, apparently, "Qui potest capere capiat", which means "Let him take what he can get".

That is as far as the Inky Fool's political analysis goes. There was an old Norse word kleggi that meant haystack. So far as anybody can tell (and opinions are hung) there was a place in Lancashire called Haystack Hill that was therefore called Clegg and the name of the village survived even when the hill's name was changed to Owl. People from Clegg were called Clegg.

Meanwhile there was an Scottish chap who suffered a broken nose. The Gaelic for nose is shron and the Gaelic for crooked is cam, so this chap became known as Crooked-Nose, Cam-shron, or Cameron. He had children who had children who had children in a huge teleological domino-run of parturition that led inevitably to the current leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party.

In 1169 some Englishman invaded Ireland. Why they did this I can't imagine, but they did and they got a little bit of territory. Territory is best marked out with stakes (steaks don't work) and the Latin for stake is palus and so such territory is called a pale. So the territory around Dublin was called The Pale and everything else was Irish and beyond The Pale.

Anyway, the English rampaged about, driving innocent Irishmen from their ancestral peat-bogs. These innocent Irishman found that in their straitened and vagabond conditions innocence no longer paid and many turned to banditry. They became thieves, or to give the proper Irish word tories.

The word tory found its way into English as a pejorative term for an Irish Catholic. The English were mostly protestant with a protestant king called Charles II who died and was replaced by James II who was (like Mrs Malaprop) of the Roman Obedience. James II was not simply Catholic, he also appeared to have plans to give his Irish Catholic henchmen their land back and so his supporters were insultingly called Tories.

The Tories did all right for a while. They didn't get to keep James II, who was ousted in the Glorious Revolution; but they stuck around well into the eighteenth century until they were wiped out by the Whigs. In the late eighteenth century the Whigs themselves split and one faction, the Friends of Pitt, were insultingly referred to as Tories. Everybody had by this time forgotten that tory meant thief. The term essentially meant "You're like those people from a hundred years ago that we wiped out".

Even in 1812 when they were in government they preferred to call themselves Whigs. They were the true Whigs in the way that the Real IRA consider themselves real. (I'm more frightened of the surreal IRA). Then in 1834 there was the Tamworth Manifesto and they decided to call themselves Conservatives and the name became official.

Tory has always been an insult. Indeed, the posters in this election campaign saying "I've never voted Tory before but..." were the first official posters ever to use the word.

As liberal means generous, all of this necessarily implies that the generous haystack is currently in talks with the crooked-nose chief of the robbers.

Meanwhile, labour, as any mother will tell you, is agony and is best survived on drugs.

The Inky Fool casts his vote


  1. What an amazing series of facts. And you link them all together in the most entertaining way. All very topical, and intensely satisfying.

  2. What a woderfully convoluted historical tale. :)

  3. What a fabulous Sunday morning (MDT) you've given me, with the added bonus of the 'anybody can tell' link which revealed the meaning of the original spelling of my family name. What a treat!
    We use the term 'Tory' in Canada without, as far as I know, any derogatory association whatsoever. Unless, of course, you're on the other side. (I won't be telling Them about this post...)