Today marks one week since our most recent election. Many races have been decided, while some are due for an automatic recount due to the close vote. At least one senate race will have a runoff between the top two candidates (Georgia), as some races haven’t been decided at all, since the vote counters took Veteran’s Day and Sunday off. Then we have all the legal, but late arriving mail-in ballots from the military and overseas residents. These too need counting. We’ll know the final, final results sometime after December 6th, when Georgia results are in.
Pundits on the left and right can give you commentary ad nauseam for the duration with breaking news alerts or standing up for what’s right(wing). They’ll talk demographics, policies, and statistics, but you won’t get that commentary here. I’m more interested in the deep derivations of the arcana of the day. Arcana is that mysterious or specialized knowledge, language, or information accessible or possessed only by the initiate —usually used in plural. The singular arcanus, is from the Latin, arca, chest. It was first used in the 15th century.
Of course, the conspiracy mongers among us are busy weaving tales of hanky panky. As an aside, my spell check wants to make this phrase “hanky pancakes.” I’ll check in with Cornie’s Kitchen to see if there’s any special ingredient for making hanky panky pancakes. Hanky pank once referred to any of the various carnival games in which contestants might win small prizes for the exercise of simple skills (such as dart throwing). State Fair enthusiasts who succumbed to the barkers of carnival games might, if they were lucky, grab a few of these prizes, but as in casino betting, the wise player remembers the house usually wins. It’s an old word, dating from the 1840’s, maybe related to Hokey Pokey. Both these words referred to trouble making bordering on the illegal, if not out right against the law.
This is why your parents warned you not to run away and join a traveling circus or side show, as “There’s hanky panky going on there, child, and you’ll come to no good!” Not that I ever tied a peanut butter sandwich up in a bandana and walked away from home, or at least I got as far as that sandwich took me, which was to the end of the city block. Hot summer days can change a child’s mind about running away from home.
Those trading in false tales were known as mongers, from which we get the word “costermongers,” or apple sellers. In the 1510s, “itinerant apple-seller” was formed from coster (a type of apple ) + monger (“to traffic in, deal in,” often implying a petty or disagreeable traffic, by 1897). The sense extended from “apple-seller” to “hawker of fruits and vegetables,” to any salesman who plied his wares from a street-cart. Contemptuous use is as old as Shakespeare: “Virtue is of so little regard in these coster-monger times, that true valour is turn’d bear-herd” (2 Henry IV), but the reason for it is unclear.
But I come not to bury America, but to praise her, especially the American democratic project, which so far has earned the distinction of having the world’s longest surviving written charter of government. It was written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and has been in operation since 1789. We’ve celebrated 233 years of our unique brand of representational democracy. We aren’t ruled by mobs/anarchy, nor by a wealthy few/oligarchy, or even by one/autocracy, but by all who vote/democracy. As Whitman writes, we must be careful to distinguish between the “chosen” and the “act of choosing.” It’s not the winning candidate which represents the “heart”of our democratic achievement, but rather the “quadriennial choosing” itself.
If you follow my musings, you’ve probably guessed Whitman is a favorite poet, and the varied landscape is a renewing and inspiring source of reconnecting with a creator God. I recently took a vacation to California and photographed some of our great national parks in the month I took off to see America. On my journey, I met generous, kind, and decent people everywhere I went. May God bless America and use her bounty and her people to bring peace and prosperity to the nations of the world. I hope my images do justice to Whitman’s words.
Election Day, November, 1884
By Walt Whitman
If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:) the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—. while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.
Joy and Peace,
Walt Whitman: Election Day November 1884
What does Hanky Panky mean?
Words related to monger
Shakespeare: Julius Caesar Speech, spoken by Marc Antony
NOTES: Whitman’s Election Day, 1884 https://pubs.lib.uiowa.edu/wwqr/article/26076/galley/134444/view/