Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Words and bonds and borrowings

Michelle Obama in 2008:

“Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.”
“Your word is your bond”: why aren’t those words a matter of plagiarism? Because they’re meant to be recognized as a borrowing. Dictum meum pactum , “My word is my bond,” is the motto of the London Stock Exchange. The philosopher J. L. Austin adapted that motto in his How to Do Things with Words (1962):
For one who says “promising is not merely a matter of uttering words! It is an inward and spiritual act!” is apt to appear as a solid moralist standing out against a generation of superficial theorizers: we see him as he sees himself, surveying the invisible depths of ethical space, with all the distinction of a specialist in the sui generis . Yet he provides Hippolytus with a let-out, the bigamist with an excuse for his “I do” and the welsher with a defense for his “I bet.” Accuracy and morality alike are on the side of the plain saying that our word is our bond.
The poet Geoffrey HIll borrowed Austin’s words in a 1983 essay, “Our Word Is Our Bond.” More recently, Austin’s words showed up in Marianne Constable’s punning book title Our Word Is Our Bond: How Legal Speech Acts (2014).

Austin, HIll, and Constable all intend that their borrowings be recognized: that’s the whole point. There’s a world of difference between a borrowing meant to be recognized — an allusion, and the unacknowledged use of words passed off as one’s own.

I used to think about allusion all the time. This page gives some idea.

A related post
Abby and Austin

[In Constable’s title, speech acts is not a plural noun: acts is a verb. Clever.]

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