420 chars #3

Note: It always amazes me how the sacrifices you have to make to reduce 630 characters to 420 feel like cutting off your arm while you’re doing them, but the result is often a cleaner, clearer, though forbiddingly dense expression. This one takes some unpacking, but it’s all there.

I also present a second version incorporating a discussion with Bryon in the comments below.

First edition:

America’s national god is not Jesus but Mammon. Jefferson expressed Locke’s “life, liberty, and property” as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but the identity of wealth, luck, and happiness persists in the words “fortune” and “hap.” The Framers protected liberty by separating church and state. Now liberty is on the ropes because they hadn’t the guts to separate wealth and state. Let’s correct that. (415 characters)

Second edition:

America’s national god is not Jesus but Mammon. Jefferson turned Locke’s “life, liberty, and property” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This identity can be etymologized in two continuums: property=​fortune=​luck=​hap=​happiness, or wealth=​blessing=​bliss. The Framers protected liberty by separating church and state. Now liberty is on the ropes because they hadn’t the guts to separate wealth and state. (417 characters)



About Greg Bryant

I teach writing and literature at Highland Community College in northeast Kansas.
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6 Responses to 420 chars #3

  1. bryon says:

    Your prescription concerning wealth and state is one we should take immediately. “Hadn’t the guts” is an elegant phrase, in its way. I’m sure you did it that way to save characters, but it’s a good construction. If you were to eliminate “the words,” you could spell out “happiness.” Or turn “expressed” into “made” (which is not as nice a word). But where are you quoting “fortune” from in the first place?

    • Greg says:

      I may edit this using some of your suggestions, so I can clarify that word-history stuff. “Fortune” means both money (“cost a fortune”) and luck (“fortunate”). “Hap” is the root of “happenstance,” “perhaps” (by chance), and also of “happiness.” I could have added, had I the room, that “bliss” and “bless” are cognates, one currently referring to a kind of happiness and the other to an especially fortunate occurence (“blessing,” “blessed”).

      So: The words “fortune” and “hap” are the links of property, luck, and joy:

      property <–(fortune, blessings)–> luck <–(hap/happy, bliss/blessedness)–> joy

      The words are probably rough synonyms in almost every earthly language.

      Does that help?

    • Greg Bryant says:

      Bryon, I revised this one per our conversation. Whaddya think?

  2. bryon says:

    I like them both. I still get stopped with the word “hap,” maybe because I hear it in other words but not used by itself. Something happens, someone is happy, he is hapless, but not just plain vanilla “hap.” Now, with it as part of the etymological continuum as you have it in the revision (damn! I sound educated), it does work better, but I still Googled it to see that it’s its own word (and now, less so).

    I use Firefox, but the typography holds up perfectly.

  3. Greg Bryant says:

    Here’s a Thomas Hardy poem titled “Hap” — but the word is only in the title. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it Hap as (sb.1) “Chance or furtune (good or bad); luck, lot.” It etymologizes Happy (a.) as “[f. Hap sb.1 + -y1.]” and comments thus on -y suffix1: “The general sense of the suffix is ‘having the qualities of’ or ‘full of’ that which is denoted by the sb. to which it is added…” — thus, happy = lucky, or fortunate in any or all of its senses.

    OED has “Happiness” sb.2 used in 1725 by Hutcheson in the phrase greatest happiness of the greatest number (“a principle of moral and political action”) and later by others as “the happiness principle,” and that definition vaguely blends the two senses: “the state of pleasurable content of mind, which results from success or the attainment of what is good.” However, as Jefferson was building on the political philosophy of Locke and Rousseau, and as the “life, liberty, and” part of the phrase parallels those sources, the wealth/property sense of “good fortune” in this use of “happiness” cannot be ignored. Nowadays only the “satisfaction, glad, pleased” sense is used in all but the most formal writing, and so modern Americans do not understand how deliberately our founders enshrined personal property in our government.

  4. bryon says:

    Your latest reply was quite an education. First, the good poem. Then the derivation of happy, which is obvious once one gets his head around “hap” (schools should teach more etymology). And despite all my studies of the Declaration of Independence, I had never really seen what Jefferson had done by altering “property” to “the pursuit of happiness.” I had always read it that Jefferson gave property short shrift as part of the long-lived conspiracy to make way for our first black, socialist president (end sarcasm). And at the end of that document, the signers pledged to each other “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,” which takes us right back to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

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