Notes from the 39th century on the perils of partial evidence

Some may know that I occasionally receive scholarly papers from the 39th century.  Unfortunately it is impossible for me to reply, and consequently I see some curious errors made about 20th century America because of the limited survival of evidence to that period.

Scholars at that period write in a stylised and archaic form of English, which they understand is used in our day by the most important political and ecclesiastical figures.  This they learn from the remains of a Guide to plain English which reached them.  It is a little unfortunate that they misunderstood the thrust of some of the statements.  They call this awkward style “Gibberish”, as they understand from the Guide that this is what every politician tends to speak in public.

The paper that has come before me is incomplete, but discusses a curious feature of 20th century US society, from impeccable references. 

At this period every American citizen seems to have owned a donkey, and it seems to be understood that the animal is kept close by at all times.  There are copious references in the literature to this. 

In a ballad entitled Stone Sun, listing various pleasures, the line occurs: “I’m gonna dress my ass in the latest fashion.”  From this we learn that the donkeys were dressed in some manner, and that the status of the owner would depend on the degree to which the donkey was kept attired in the latest fashions. 

In the fragmentary play “Total Recall” by Arnold Blackegg, the line “Get your ass to Mars” appears; the hero must take the animal even in his space-craft.  It must be admitted that it is unclear how this could have been practical in the supposed space-missions of the period, and is one argument for considering all these to be fictional.

The animal was clearly very important.  In another play, the hero invites the villain scornfully to “kiss his ass”.  It must be presumed that this reflects some ceremony not otherwise known to us.  Later one of the players states his intention to “kick the ass” of someone else.  A similar idea appears in “I am going to  get medieval on his ass,” presumably indicating harmful intentions.

People of low status might sell their donkey.  Studies of the term “sell your ass” have tended to suggest that in fact outright sale was not involved, even then; but rather a rental agreement.  Only the most degraded would do this, it seems, but that it did occur is agreed by all who have written on the subject.

However archaeological examinations of American tenement blocks reveal a total lack of facilities to keep this essential animal.  Despite the lack of literary evidence, therefore, we must presume that only those who had already sold their ass could work for major corporations and live in large cities.  Whether they recovered their donkey on retirement is unknown.

6 thoughts on “Notes from the 39th century on the perils of partial evidence

  1. Very funny! I didn’t expect to lol while reading material from this site. I rarely find anything funny any more.

  2. I don’t think that historical knowledge is a weak thing; rather that some are a little too willing to prefer theory to data. Thus in my skit above I imagine scholars rejecting definite testimony to the space programme because of the purely illusory idea that the astronauts would have to take their donkeys with them!

    The little gem you reference seems to have the same objective; poking fun at the certainty with which some scholars multiply hypotheses without evidence.

    In general I feel that the humanities would benefit from somewhat greater rigour in handling evidence.

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