Saturday, November 24, 2018

Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Continuing my series of shrubs in late November! Actually this one deserves to be called a tree, just about.

Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), growing on the eastern slope of Cley Hill near Warminster, on the chalky soil it likes best.

The berries are said to be mildly toxic, so not a jam opportunity...

Not to be confused with the red-then-black berries of Alder Buckthorn (also somewhat toxic) or the orange berries of Sea-buckthorn (edible and very useful).

After diligent searching I managed to find some leaves still clinging on.

In Sweden, buckthorn is called getapel, i.e. goat-apple. According to Den virtuella floran, this is because the leaves are somewhat similar to crab-apple, and the inside of the bark is fibrous and reminiscent of goat-hair. 


The word used is "getragg". "Ragg" is one of those Swedish words, like "ris", that has no precise equivalent in English. It is an animal-hair word, that is, it embodies the insight of people that lived closely with animals,  that those animals require their own set of terms: that one doesn't simply or always transfer analogous and even homologous terms from the human arena, such as "hair", but may instead use fleece, coat, fur, mane, pelt... "Ragg", used especially of goats, wolves, elk, musk-ox, seems to connote bristly, wiry, twisted, perhaps shaggy, or sometimes woolly...). [Its earliest appearance in the SAOB comes from our old friend Olaus Petri, i.e. Master Olof...]

Once such a word as "ragg" is established, it can then be used of humans too, but always with a beastly connotation. For example, of one's own unkempt beard, implying that it needs a good tidy-up. 

The idiom "av samma ragg" is equivalent to English "of the same stripe". You could call it dismissive collectivization; such terms are often used in politics. "The PC brigade", "and the like", "of the same ilk", "of that persuasion"... (I was going to say, "politics of the pubby sort", which of course would be a great example of dismissive collectivization in its own right.)

The implication of all these idioms is that what can be lumped together under a single label is not worth taking seriously. Individuals who fit the label are already under deep suspicion of not thinking for themselves; moreover -- to speak legally -- they're subject to precedent because they fit into a known category, and hence are very vulnerable to the dismissive adverb "just". ... Just naysayers, just snowflakes, just whingers... Case closed!

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