07 May, 2006

Staartmen, rejoice!

Today the Englishman has cast off petty pejorations like pom and limey; he has discovered, in their stead, a far superior ethnophaulism. This, from Elizabeth Staffell's 'The Horrible Tail-Man and the Anglo-Dutch Wars', in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 63 (2000):
In 1652 there appeared in Holland a pamphlet entitled De Nederlandsche Nyptang ('The Dutch Pincers'), which purported to explain the origins of the time-honoured nickname for an Englishman—'staartman', that is, 'tail-man', or simply 'staart'. (p. 169)
You know, Englishmen have tails, because they're the Devil's children, that sort of thing. And not just little puppy-tails: judging by Staffell's period illustrations, we're talking mammoth-trunk appendages between the legs. (Of course, all Brits know the true origin of this story—and not such a tall tale, neither.) Related legends are found in Pliny and other ancient sources. The OED doesn't have much to say on the matter, but it does provide a small note on start, citing Dryden:
A supposed Dutch term of contempt for an Englishman.

[Perh. a. Du. staart, tail, in allusion to the old accusation that Englishmen had tails. But cf. WFlemish drilsteert, plaagstaert, a bore, vraagsteert a prying person.]

1673 DRYDEN Amboyna I. i. 3. Hang 'em base English sterts. Ibid. V. i. (end) Then in full Romers, and with joyful Hearts / We'l drink confusion to all English Starts.
And where does staart come from? I'm not sure; one internet resource only gave schaduwen as a Dutch translation for 'tail', but this seems to be a cognate (or loanword) of 'to shadow', ie. to tail in the detective sense. The only cognate I can find online for staart is the Frisian sturt, whereas German and the Scandinavian languages have variants of Schwanz. Staffell, meanwhile, speculates further:
It is possible that diabolical descent was attributed to the English before they were said to have tails. The very name of the English lent itself in many languages to wordplay; in Latin 'Angli'/'Angeli' (as in Pope Gregory's famous joke): in Dutch 'engel'/'Engels'; even in French, 'ange' and 'anglais'... When insulting an enemy, the inversion whereby an angel becomes a fallen angel is an obvious step, and in the mid-seventeenth century the Dutch were known to refer to England as 'devil-land' ('Duyvel-landt') in moments of indignation. (p. 170)
An interesting inversion of the Biblical movement from devil to fallen angel, as Isaiah's address to Nebuchadnezzar, 'How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning (heilel ben-schahar)!' (14.12) was transformed by Luke into Christ's words, 'I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven' (10.18). The epithet 'the morning star' (Eωσφόρος, 'the Dawn-Bringer', in the LXX), must have suggested soon afterward an angelic origin for the Devil.

Anyway, today we rejoice as staartmen, with our overelaborated and possibly prehensile coccygial appendices, or even better, as upstaarts.

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