spacer image
spacer image

Welcome! You're looking at an archived Snarkmarket entry. We've got a fresh look—and more new ideas every day—on the front page.

March 30, 2006

<< American Stakeholders | Good Tiled Background Images >>

Red Badge of Verbiage

Every subculture has its code-words and pass-phrases. One that I particularly revile is “blood and treasure,” a favorite of warrior-politics neocons. It’s handy, actually, because anytime anybody says something like “You cannot expect Americans to spend blood and treasure blah blah blah” with a straight face, you automatically know they are not credible.

I’m not even going to link to the place where I just saw it because it’s so vile. Anybody know the etymology of the phrase, though? I just did some quick Googling but didn’t find any leads.

Another angle: What are some other classic subcultural code-phrases?

“I’m familiar with the argument” is one I hear a lot in academic and quasi-academic circles, and always seems to be sending a meta-message. Any others spring to mind?

Posted March 30, 2006 at 4:35 | Comments (34) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture


I don't know yet if this is the ultimate source, but I found "blood and treasure" in this quotation by President James Monroe (from the main text for the "Monroe Doctrine"):

This difference proceeds from that which exists in their respective Governments; and to the defense of our own, which has been achieved by the loss of so much blood and treasure, and matured by the wisdom of their most enlightened citizens, and under which we have enjoyed unexampled felicity, this whole nation is devoted.

-- J.D. Richardson, ed., Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. 2 (1907), 287.

It's mildly reassuring to me, at least, that this isn't just some phrase Hayek or Leo Strauss used to throw around. Still, you're right -- when people use this phrase, they're either going all neocon or arguing with neo-cons in an old-timey way. But for all I know, this was a phrase Washington or Paine or Locke or somebody used to use that Monroe picked up on. I'll keep scrounging around to see if I can find another source.

Where did you find Tim? Did they have any more?

I'm afraid all the subculture catch phrases I've kept track of over the years are really metaclique catchphrases, and not widely relevent.

"Drunk the Kool-Aid" seems like a common liberal and center phrase to describe true-believing rightists, esp. neo-cons. Unlikely to appear in mainstream print though. I think liberals aren't as good at creating codes for some of the same reasons they've lost power---e.g. a lack of good, cohesive networks.

A tangentially related and annoying linguistic phenomena: the ironic appropriation of GWB's malapropisms morphing into sincere cutespeak along the lines of pasghetti. "The internets" being the most prominent example to me.

Saheli, re: the internets, I think there is TOTALLY a suite of code-words among the true web nerds that sort've ironically infantilize their deep dorkery -- "the interweb," "intarweb," etc. Using one of those shows you are too cool for even the information superhighway itself.

"Reality-based community" has become a clubby codeword like this, now.

Posted by: Carl Caputo on March 31, 2006 at 12:18 AM

Aha! "Blood and Treasure" in a 1774 resolution of the Continental Congress. The game's afoot.

Within engineering circles, you'll often hear the word "nontrivial" thrown around. This is the codeword for "impossible", and it's used because no one wants to be the person who has to tell their boss that something is impossible.

I haven't heard it recently (guess why!) but the phrase "speak truth to power" had a lot of currency in and out of the academy a few years back. I first remember coming across it in Edward Said, but then I heard Henry Kissinger use it on TV.

Best guess on "blood and treasure": it's a phrase that was used a lot in early America, especially by presidents (Washington, Adams, Monroe, Lincoln, etc.), and got picked up by historians -- now used mostly by hard-bitten realists and neocons.

The ultimate source remains a mystery. I was trying to see if it was from the Bible, but when I googled "blood and treasure" + "King James" I found this "Protest Against the Treaty of Ryswick", which, in addition to being seventeenth century, is in Latin!

At first I thought "Sanguini non magis" was the key phrase, but as it turns out, "magis" means more; "Opibus" is probably "treasure," which means I haven't yet found a Latin catchphrase like "e pluribus unum", "sic semper tyrannus," etc. The hunt for an ultimate Latin source has run aground, mostly because I don't really understand the case system. Or Latin.

This phrase is like the rabbit hole that just keeps going:

I Cannot sufficiently admire the Industry of a sort of Men, wholly out of Favour with the Prince and People, and openly possessing a separate Interest from the Bulk of the Landed Men, who yet are able to raise, at this Juncture, so great a Clamour against a Peace, without offering one single Reason, but what we find in their
Ballads. I lay it down for a Maxim, That no reasonable Man, whether Whig or Tory (since it is necessary to use those foolish Terms) can be of the Opinion for continuing the War, upon the Foot it now is unless he be a Gainer by it, or hopes it may occasion some new Turn of Affairs at home, to the Advantage of his Party; or lastly, unless he be very ignorant of the Kingdom's Condition, and by what Means we have been reduced to it. Upon the two first Cases, where Interest is concerned, I have nothing to say: But as to the last, I think it highly necessary, that the Publick should be freely and impartially told what Circumstances they are in, after what Manner they have been treated by those whom they trusted so many Years with the Disposal of their Blood and Treasure, and what the Consequences of this Management are like to be upon themselves and their Posterity.

-- Jonathan Swift, The Conduct of the Allies, and of the Late Ministry, in Beginning and Carrying on the Present War. Printed in London, 1712

And further:

We have driven away the hereditary tyranny of the house of Stuart, at the expense of much blood and treasure, in hopes of enjoying hereditary liberty, after having shaken off the yoke of kingship; and there is not a man among us who could have imagined that any person would be so bold as to dare to attempt the ravishing from us that freedom which cost us so much blood and so much labor.

-- "Against Richard Cromwell," by Sir Henry Vane, 1659.

It's in Aristophanes' Lysistrata, in the Manifesto of the Women of Athens:

You men contribute nothing;
You have wasted our blood and treasure;
You have squandered the surplus your predecessors amassed, the ancient treasure from the Persian Wars though you swore to hand on the homeland not less, but bigger and better;
Because of you we risk destruction and defeat;
And all you can do is grumble;

But of course it's impossible to tell the provenance of the phrase -- the translator could simply have used that more modern wording b/c it correspondends very nicely to what the Greek was getting at, etc.

This phrase is like the rabbit hole that just keeps going:

Why, some might even call this a good example of cyberhypercavicunicucunctatalinkus.

We would need to see the original Greek of the play, Rob, but that translation of Lysistrata is pretty suspect. It's part of the "Lysistrata Peace Project," and refers to itself "Translated, adapted, and abridged, but not bowdlerized." It also includes such modern colloquialisms as "bottomless bank account," "You Athenians got the war fever," "homeland security," and the admittedly Aristophenean "boner."

A better classical source might be Demosthenes's famous oration "On The Crown," which includes this passage:

... I who knew that from the earliest time until the day of my own mounting the platform, our country had ever striven for precedency and honor and renown, and expended more blood and treasure for the sake of glory and the general weal than the rest of the Greeks had expended on their several interests?...

Still, though, this is a 1906 translation, when the phrase was still in hot popular and literary currency, so we would have to compare it to the Greek. (Well, not we, preferably, but someone who knows Greek.)

And it still wouldn't explain why the term only seems to pick up in English around the middle of the 17th century -- there's nothing that seems to be like it in Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, or earlier political figures, but right around the time of Cromwell, it shoots up like a weed, in one parliamentary bill and address after another. (Usually regarding Ireland. When someone says "blood and treasure," they're almost talking about the expenses of empire.)

Lysistrata = duly discredited.

One of my initial Google searches was "blood and treasure" + "kipling"... but obviously it predates him. So who were the earlier scribes of empire?

The Greek doesn't say blood and treasure. That translation was very free and changes even who is speaking in the original text. There's no "manifesto of women" in the play.

kai gar andras espher™,
tois de dust?nois gerousin ou metesth' humin, epei
ton eranon ton legomenon papp™ion ek t™n M?dik™n
eit' anal™santes ouk antespherete tas esphoras,
all' huph' hum™n dialuth?nai proseti kinduneuomen.

Posted by: Steve on March 31, 2006 at 01:38 PM

Yeah, there's nothing like the "manifesto of women" in the original text of Lysistrata. It's a speech given by the leader of the women that goes like this:

I pay my share; for I contribute MEN: But you miserable old fools contribute nothing, and after squandering our ancestral treasure, the fruit of the Persian wars, you make no contribution in return. And now, all on account of you, we're facing ruin.
-- Charles T. Murphy, trans.

Okay, so this is what I've been doing with my afternoon:

One of the more influential sources of "blood and treasure" is Edward Gibbon, who uses the phrase at least three times in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776):

Carthage, destitute of defence, opened her gates to the conqueror, and Africa was exposed to the rapacious cruelty of a slave, obliged to satisfy his unrelenting master with a large account of blood and treasure. (Vol. 1, Ch. 7)

The successive steps of the elevation of Constantine, from his first assuming the purple at York, to the resignation of Licinius, at Nicomedia, have been related with some minuteness and precision, not only as the events are in themselves both interesting and important, but still more, as they contributed to the decline of the empire by the expense of blood and treasure, and by the perpetual increase, as well of the taxes, as of the military establishment. The foundation of Constantinople, and the establishment of the Christian religion, were the immediate and memorable consequences of this revolution. (Vol. 1 Ch. 14)

The edifices of Justinian were cemented with the blood and treasure of his people; but those stately structures appeared to announce the prosperity of the empire, and actually displayed the skill of their architects. (Vol. 2 Ch. 40)

But there are plenty of sources earlier than Gibbon -- the use of the phrase by Adams, Jefferson (in the rough draft for the Declaration of Independence. among other places), Washington, Franklin, Thomas Paine, and the Continental Congress (above) all suggest that this was part of the contemporary political parlance. (It also figures in the later Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates.)

The 17th-century English parliamentary history is more interesting. One notable place it occurs is in the Act for the Settlement of Ireland, whose preamble reads:

Whereas the Parliament of England, after the expense of much blood and treasure for suppression of the horrid rebellion in Ireland, have by the good hand of God upon their undertakings, brought that affair to such an issue, as that a total reducement and settlement of that nation may, with God's blessing, be speedily effected...

... before going on to describe how all Irish lands now belong to England and Catholics need to pledge loyalty to the commonwealth.

In general, the phrase pops up in a lot of parliamentary papers in the age of Cromwell. Here's a Declaration of Parliament from 1646. And another petition from 1649. Most of these are pleas to consider the suffering of people in the war. But, as the Act for the Settlement of Ireland already shows, after Cromwell takes power, the phrase is usually used in justification of war, especially at the outreaches of empire.

John Lilburne overheard Cromwell himself use the phrase, in this context:

Lt. General Cromwell (I am sure of it) very loud, thumping his fist upon the Council table, til it rang again, and heard him speak in these very words or to this effect; I tell you, Sir, you have no other way to deal with these men, but to break them in pieces; and thumping upon the Council table again, he said, Sir, let me tell you that which is true, if you do not break them, they will break you; yea and bring all the guilt of the blood and treasure shed and spent in this kingdom upon your head and shoulders; and frustrate and make void all that work, that with so many years' industry, toil and pains you have done, and so render you to all rational men in the world as the most contemptiblest generation of silly, low-spirited men in the earth, to be broken and routed by such a despicable, contemptible generation of men as they are; and therefore, Sir, I tell you again, you are necessitated to break them.

Crazy shit. And there's more.

Wow. That's an even more evocative phrase than "blood and treasure" alone -- "the guilt of the blood and treasure shed and spent."

(P.S. I seriously feel like I've retroactively failed Internet Research 101 for posting that Lysistrata link. Good lord.)

I should say a little bit about the context of that Cromwell quote (for which I've finally found a stable web link here.

Lilburne, who purportedly heard Cromwell say this, was a leader/fellow-traveller of the Levellers, who (at least purportedly) wanted to continue Cromwell's revolution against the monarchy by eradicating the entire social class system of England. After they wrote the "England's New Chaines Discovered" pamphlet, Cromwell and co. rounded their spokespeople up and put them all on trial. Lilburne, who was both eloquent and popular, was acquitted by jury, but fell in and out of good relations with Cromwell and his government, and spent most of the rest of his life imprisoned or in exile.

It's quite possible that Cromwell never actually used the phrase: Lilburne himself had used it originally in the pamphlet for which he'd been arrested, although it's quite striking if he were to put his own words in the mouth of his enemy, and arguing towards the exact opposite conclusion. It's Lilburne himself that Cromwell wants to break. "The guilt of the blood and treasure shed and spent" is Cromwell's argument in justification of torture.

The earliest mention of "blood and treasure" yet: a House of Commons document from 1644:

The Expressions, of adhering to the House of Commons in the Endeavours of promoting the publick Good, they have been demonstrated by Action, in Times of greatest Difficulty; wherein the City hath spent their dearest Blood, and vast Sums of Treasure, omitting no possible Supplies of Persons and Purses.

In their most seasonable Desires, Offer, and Promise, they now make (never to be forgotten by the House of Commons) they manifest, their Affections cannot admit of no Decrease; which are great Encouragements to this House to persevere in their Endeavours and Resolutions desired: Wherein, by the Blessing of Almighty God, they will persist, to their utmost Hazard of their Lives and Fortunes, against the greatest Discouragements, until the Affairs of the Church, and Commonwealth, receive such a happy Conclusion, as all good Men desire, and pray for.

I found this last one using the full text search feature at British History Online. I also found an earlier document, which doesn't use "blood and treasure", but the language is so different that it might reveal why this term first seems to appear during the English Civil War of the 1640s; before that, Parliament just didn't talk in the same way.

From the House of Commons Journal of 1604:

And although your Majesty, more seeking to enrich your Treasure with the Hearts and Minds of us your Subjects, than with the Money and Treasure of our Purses, have lately, out of your abundant Grace, prevented our concluding to present you with a Subsidy of Crowns and Coin, being but a Blossom of the fruitful ever-bearing Tree of our abundant Love, Loyalty, and Duty (which we sooner shall leave to live, than leave unperformed) yet give us leave (of all other most worthy to be beloved Sovereign) not only to present you with our humble and dutiful Thanks, but also to present you with Five Subsidies, of far more precious Price and Worth: 1. The first consisting of many Millions of affectionated Hearts to love you: 2. Of Number of loyal Minds to obey you: 3. Of as many zealous Spirits to pray for you: 4. Of as equal proportioned Hands to fight for you: 5. And with the Treasure of the whole Kingdom to supply you; which the World shall both feel and know, when, where, and against whom whatsoever, your Majesty shall be pleased to dispose and command us. This we profess, protest, and present, neither out of servile Fear, nor base Flattery, both hateful to a King so absolute, wise, magnanimous, and gracious; but out of our endless Loves, Duties, and Loyalties, whereunto Death only, and nought else but Death, shall be of Force to give End.

You can totally tell the whole time these guys are thinking, "I can't believe we have to give this asshole our money." Isn't that awesome?

P.S.: I also wrote a professor of mine who works on the English Renaissance to ask him if he knows anything else about it or has any ideas about where I could find more information. I may try to turn this into a paper.

Hot shit! From Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedie (1592):

My late ambition hath distaind my faith,
My breach of faith occasiond bloudie warres,
[325] Those bloudie warres haue spent my treasure,
And with my treasure my peoples Hitblood,
And with their blood, my ioy and best beloued,
My best beloued, my sweet and onely Sonne.
O wherefore went I not to warre my selfe?
The cause was mine I might haue died for both:
My yeeres were mellow, his but young and greene,
My death were naturall, but his was forced.

Kyd's play was one of the most popular plays in the English Renaissance -- it's said to be the first revenge tragedy, and a huge influence on Hamlet. It's not necessarily a definitive or final source, but it's definitely noteworthy, and the first thing I've been able to find expressing anything like this prior to 1640.

Get off me, bitches! :-)

I actually had to regoogle that line from the Spanish Tragedies to make sure it wasn't some kind of wacky/ironic/over-my-head April Fools joke. :-)

Wow, I was only gone for a few days and you guys really outdid yourselves on the dork-o-meter. How about filling in some blanks over here. Also, if you can't find a stable web link to an original source, you can always make it so.

Peter, please. Nobody uses Wiktionary.

Wikisource though... hadn't seen that. Very cool.

In general I agree, no one uses Wiktionary, but people are still adding to it at a pretty good clip, so I think it has potential. I was more thinking that it is a good place to store the scholarship that you've collected so that the next person who Google's this will find something helpful.

First of all, the next person who Googles "blood and treasure" is going to find, or If they find this stuff anywhere, I'd rather they found it on Snarkmarket than Wiki-anything.

Also, maybe I'm just being selfish, but "a good place to store the scholarship" is a journal I can put on my CV. I'm serious about getting this published. I've gotten more excited about this than any research I've done in a long time.

Oh, and just to boggle your minds? While you all were perhaps doing something to advance civilization this weekends, I kept working the PC and the archive. The ultimate source for the phrase and the idea -- while not an exact match --is probably Petrarch. Petrarch, motherfuckers! That's fourteenth century, if you don't know.

From the Trionfi della Morta (Triumph of Death):

Dopo l'imprese perigliose e vane,
e col sangue acquistar terre e tesoro,
vie pił dolce si trova l'acqua e 'l pane,
e 'l legno e 'l vetro che le gemme e l'oro.

(After all these, wherein you winning lose
Treasures and territories dear bought with blood,
Water and bread hath a far sweeter close,
And gold and gem gives place to glass and wood.)

Trans. by Mary Sidney, c. 1595. Not strictly literal, but sangue and tesoro speak for themselves.

Okay Tim, I would love to read a line or two about how you actually pursued this research. Like... that shiz is in Italian. What gives? How did you find it?

I wasn't sure what you meant by "turn this into a paper" but fair enough if that's your plan. Still, wikisource...

And I second Robin; care to lay it on us how/where you found things in the various stages of your quest? I didn't get much farther than checking OED...

I didn't find Petrarch's Trionfi directly -- I found Edward Dyer's fragment of a translation in The Prayse of Nothing (1585). Then I found Mary Sidney's translation, and the Italian original.

Early on, I just did searches in Google, and then Google Print. For turning the corner around to Thomas Kyd and finally Petrarch, I have to give props to EEBO (Early English Books Online), a database of early print literature in English.

It was a huge help to be able to use the boolean operator NEAR. By searching "blood NEAR treasure", as opposed to "blood AND treasure" or "'blood and treasure'", I was able to get quality hits that didn't necessarily use the exact phrase "blood and treasure", or the phrase in exactly that order. I wish Google supported it.

Sweet, thanks for the tips. NEAR is hella money. I have been wanting Google to offer more precise searching (RegExp please) for years now, but people who know what they're talking about tell me that it's impossible due to the way Google stores it's internet archive. Still, it seems like it would be possible to mash something up that would get the first 20 Google results for a simple search and then actually retrieve the text of the pages and run RegExps on that...

Postscript: I've been dumbfounded by your work, Tim. Good show. I just wanted to note that this thread reminded me very much of this book. Only I'm not quite sure whether Tim is the professor or the madman. :)

Hey, how about answering a lady's question--where did you find Tim, and are there any more there? ;-)

Tim, if I was in charge of hiring academics, be high on the list. Sadly, no such gig. But good show!

We found him at Michigan State.

There used to be more, but their bloodlines were all thinned by Viking raiders.

Aw, shucks, Saheli. I'm blushing. :-$

The blood and treasure research train rolls on. I've got three classical pseudo-sources (in Livy, Cicero, and Plutarch) that don't say the phrase but something related to it. I've done crazy etymological research on different Latin and Greek words. I went down this whole tangent with this other classical dictum, "money is the sinews of war." And I just found a beautiful letter by Petrarch where we writes (if my Italian isn't totally mistaken) that we need to be more stingy with blood, that it needs to be as expensive as treasure.

I've got a seminar lined up to present the research in the fall, and when I'm done tying up loose ends, I'm going to prepare it for publication -- hopefully before the summer's out.

spacer image
spacer image