Palatine boors swarming into our settlements

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Benjamin Franklin, "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.", 1751 [emphasis added]:

23.  In fine, A Nation well regulated is like a Polypus; take away a Limb, its Place is soon supply'd; cut it in two, and each deficient Part shall speedily grow out of the Part remaining. Thus if you have Room and Subsistence enough, as you may by dividing, make ten Polypes out of one, you may of one make ten Nations, equally populous and powerful; rather, increase a Nation ten fold in Numbers and Strength.

And since Detachments of English from Britain sent to America, will have their Places at Home so soon supply'd and increase so largely here; why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

24.  Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.

There are some alternative facts in that passage, such as the notion that "the … Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion". And some apparently internal contradictions, such as the observation that "America (exclusive of the new Comers) [is] wholly [tawny]", coupled with the final support for "so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red". (Unless "Red" here means "white men with red faces"?)

Those "Palatine boors" were presumably farmers from the Palatinate, in what's now Germany. So there's a potential problem with the idea of citing Franklin in support of current White House views on strong immigration control — from Wikipedia:

Donald Trump's paternal ancestry is traceable to Kallstadt, a village in the Palatinate, Germany.


  1. Palatine boors swarming into our settlements • Zhi Chinese said,

    February 4, 2017 @ 7:11 pm

    […] Source: Language Palatine boors swarming into our settlements […]

  2. Vance Maverick said,

    February 4, 2017 @ 8:11 pm

    I suspect the "red" is the proverbial color of lips, blushing, etc. on those sufficiently pale to begin with. Or in the line quoted in "Mismeasure of Man", Charles White: "Where, except on the bosom of the European woman, two such plump and snowy white hemispheres, tipt with vermilion"? This is distasteful stuff — Googling that last line got me links to Stormfront.

  3. D.O. said,

    February 4, 2017 @ 9:03 pm

    At least he didn't call them terrorists…

    It's interesting also that the Pennsylvania Dutch didn't quite assimilate into generic white American unlike later waves of the immigration. I didn't hear that anyone nowadays thinks it is a problem, but lots of people are afraid of purported non-assimilation of Latino and Muslims.

  4. Bloix said,

    February 4, 2017 @ 9:14 pm

    "Red" means red Indians. There was a quirk of 18th century racism among some intellectuals who viewed the Indians as a wild but noble race, far superior to Africans and Asians. Franklin called for a "perpetual alliance" with the Iroquois Confederacy, and imagined that there would be an independent Indian nation in the Great Lakes region.

  5. Lazar said,

    February 4, 2017 @ 9:22 pm

    @Bloix: But he contrasted red with tawny, after writing that the natives of America were all the latter.

  6. Andrew Usher said,

    February 4, 2017 @ 10:10 pm

    It does not seem Franklin was making any serious policy proposal here, just making some (what he thought of as) scientific observations. And, frankly, I don't understand what he thought of as a 'swarthy complexion' – certainly no group of Germans, I suppose, is 'tawny' in the same sense as the native Americans.

    But the first thing that stuck out to me was his using 'polypes' (!) as the plural of 'polypus' (which has the same ending as 'octopus'). I don't know where that could come from – misremembering his Latin? Oh, and I hope everyone silently said 'boor' to rhyme with 'tour'!

    k_over_hbarc at

  7. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 4, 2017 @ 11:37 pm

    What a save in the final sentence, wow. Now when will Herr Von Clownstick, et. al., gain that kind of perspective…

  8. Thomas Rees said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 12:03 am

    Lewis and Short has polypus as second declension.

  9. Gwen Katz said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 8:51 am

    An excellent citation for anyone who doubts that race is a social construct.

  10. JJM said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 9:23 am

    Your blog is increasingly testing the patience of this foreigner.

    You are perfectly free to demonstrate your displeasure with your new president and his policies of course but I wish you would start a separate political blog to do it in.

    Offering a steady stream of anti-Trump postings thinly disguised as language-based discussions has become quite tedious.

    [(myl) You are welcome to take advantage of our standing offer to refund twice your subscription fee in cases of less than complete satisfaction.]

  11. Rose Eneri said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 9:24 am

    What do BF's first words mean, "In fine"?

  12. Matthew Edney said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 9:33 am

    "In fine" = in short, precisely. ("fine" = precise, exact")

    "Boor" derives, according to the OED, from Low German bûr or Dutch boer, meaning a peasant, husbandman, or farmer. So Franklin was being at once literal and figurative with "Palatinate Boor" — they were boorish Low German farmers!

  13. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 9:38 am

    Rose Eneri: It's Latin for "in the end".

  14. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 9:42 am

    Matthew Edney: The Palatinate (die Pfalz) is in southwestern Germany; nothing "Low German" about it.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 9:52 am

    "In fine" — somebody needs to adjudicate between Matthew Edney and Coby Lubliner.

  16. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 10:23 am

    I first encountered "in fine" in Robinson's poem "Richard Cory", and I guessed wrong about the origin. The OED would like to help. Leaving out the citations except the last,

    P1. in (†the) fine.
    Formerly also: †at fine. Cf. AFINE adv.
    [Compare Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French en fin (also en la fin) in the end, at last, finally, definitively, completely (1119; French enfin), and the Anglo-Norman, Old French, and Middle French forms listed at AFINE adv. In later use (in form in fine) chiefly after classical Latin in fīnē.]

    a. In the end; at last. Now rare.

    b. In conclusion, in sum; finally; (also) in short. Now somewhat formal.


    2009 Pratiyogita Darpan Oct. 734/3 In fine, the issue of medium of instruction in our educational institutions must be balanced.

  17. Sarah said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 12:41 pm

    JJM: this foreigner on the other hand finds it quite entertaining. And of course you don't have to read every posting…

  18. Rodger C said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 12:48 pm

    classical Latin in fi:ne:

    (The length marks aren't coming over in copy-and-paste.) Surely in fi:ne.

  19. DaveK said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 1:01 pm

    I strongly suspect Franklin was having fun here. He would not have been talking about polishing up America to make it more visible to Martians and Venusians if this was a serious policy discussion. It seems like the same kind of humor Swift was writing about the same time (Compare the last sentence to the end of A Modest Proposal)

    [(myl) As someone who has always admired Franklin, I hope you're right.]

  20. hector said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 2:09 pm

    I'm with DaveK. Calling the French and Swedes (!) swarthy, being concerned with the opinion of superior beings from other planets, confining whiteness to the English and the Saxons — Franklin was satirizing the partiality that is "natural" to humankind.

    I remember thinking that his Autobiography was one of the strangest books I had ever read. It was very hard to know when he was being sincere and when he was pulling your leg, or when he was doing both at the same time. "Emulate Jesus and Socrates."

  21. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 2:44 pm

    I've seen 'in fine' used in verse, in contexts where it has to rhyme with 'shine', etc. While there are various ways of saying Latin 'in fine' – it could be either 'in feenay' or 'in finey' – I think the second vowel would always be sounded.

  22. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 2:52 pm

    Whether intended ironically or not, the "Palatine boors" paragraph apparently caused Franklin (a politically ambitious fellow) enough problems with the significant ethnic-German portion of the colonial Pennsylvania electorate that it was often omitted in new printings of the (quite popular at the time) essay during his own lifetime. I couldn't tell from my online source for that point whether the "black or tawny" discussion was likewise omitted, or left in as, unlike the Pfalz-bashing it did not upset any material number of Pennsylvania voters. It should perhaps be noted that a rather important bit of context for the "black or tawny" discussion is that virtually all immigration from Africa to North America in the 1750's was involuntary, so favoring restrictions on or elimination of the immigration of additional Africans was in context functionally the same as favoring restrictions on or elimination of the slave trade, and vice versa.

  23. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 2:56 pm

    Rodger C: I know nothing about vowel lengths in Latin, but if you have a correction, this page shows links for mailing "content comments" to the OED.

    Was Franklin's "Polypus" a starfish? I don't think octopuses regenerate like that.

  24. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

    To answer my own question, Franklin seems to have been talking about an anthozoan such as a sea anemone or coral polyp or a hydrozoan, judging by the OED. The OED doesn't mention or give any examples of "polypes" as the plural.

  25. Andrew Usher said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 3:45 pm

    Thomas Rees:

    Yes, 'polypus' second declension, so the plural could be 'polypi' – though I'd probably write 'polypuses'. 'Polypes' would come from the third declension if the singular were 'polypis' (pron. same as 'polypus' for many Americans today, and perhaps in Franklin's time as well; the weak vowel merger doesn't seem to have changed much since the first good descriptions of GA). But the ending is etymologically the same as 'octopus', as 'polypes' seems as much a blunder as *'octopes' would be.

    Indeed it's hard to tell just how serious Franklin is being (as in much of his writing), which is why I confined my comment to say that he was not making a policy proposal. However, that may not be very informative given that the US had effectively no restriction of immigration by Europeans then and for a long time afterward. Thus I don't think his writing, however it was meant to be taken, to have any present relevance.

    [(myl) In 1751, the "United States" was 38 years in the future, and policies about immigration, if any, were presumably decided on a colony-by-colony basis. My impression is that there were no significant restrictions during the mid-18th century, but I could be wrong. But presumably William Penn's sons, the proprietors of the Pennsylvania Colony in 1751, had at least technically the right to exclude or expel Germans if they had wanted to do so.]

  26. David Morris said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 3:52 pm

    Did Franklin simply mean 'farmer' or did he intend the pejorative meaning? (or, as Matthew Edney states, both)

  27. Adrian Morgan said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 6:06 pm

    Until comparatively recently, I did not know that the word "swarthy" referred, in theory, specifically to complexion. If you learn the meaning from the way it is used in (mainly old) books, you will conclude that it means something like "intimidatingly foreign". For example, almost invariably a character described as swarthy is male, and typically a muscular male at that. Clearly there is a prototype for "swarthy" that encompasses far more than just skin colour.

  28. Joseph C. Fineman said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 6:49 pm

    I agree with DaveK & hector: Franklin was having fun.

    It appears from Fowler's MEU that the "-pus" in "polypus" represents Greek "pous" (foot), so that the plural ought to be "polypodes"; the classical Latin plural "polypi" must originally have been a blunder. The analogous mistake "octopi" was made within English & so, according to Fowler, is below the salt. I do not know how much Greek Franklin knew, but "polypes" only compounds confusion.

  29. NatShockley said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 7:41 pm

    I think Vance Maverick is right – I'm fairly sure that "lovely White and Red" refers to what is sometimes described as the "strawberries and cream" complexion, not uncommon in England: pale skin with a rosy blush to the cheeks (in the healthier, younger exemplars at least).

  30. Paul Kay said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 7:45 pm

    I take Jim's challenge seriously, so here's a serious response. I think it is appropriate for a blog dedicated to language to challenge Trump's habitual, public, passionate — and now as President, official — lying. A society can't function well, especially a democratic society, if there is not general confidence in the veracity and probity of official speech. This is not about grammar but it is about language; the essential subdiscipline of semantics is based squarely on the notion of truth. We linguists should do what we can to keep truth alive in our public discourse.

  31. NatShockley said,

    February 5, 2017 @ 8:04 pm

    More evidence that "White and Red" did refer to an ideal kind of English complexion, also known as the "sanguine complexion":

  32. ardj said,

    February 6, 2017 @ 4:23 am

    @Adrian Morgan
    More OED: Of a dark hue; black or blackish; dusky
    first citation 1591 Shakespeare "Two Gent": Silvia … Shews Iulia but a swarthy Ethiope
    and cf. 'swarty': 1572
    and ref. to 'swarthiness': quality of being swarthy; duskiness; darkness of colour or complexion
    1577: The ripeness whereof is deemed by the swarthinesse and the softnesse of the berrie
    and other cfs

  33. ajay said,

    February 6, 2017 @ 12:24 pm

    I've seen 'in fine' used in verse, in contexts where it has to rhyme with 'shine', etc. While there are various ways of saying Latin 'in fine' – it could be either 'in feenay' or 'in finey' – I think the second vowel would always be sounded.

    I think you underestimate just how weirdly educated Brits can (mis)pronounce Latin. "A priori" should be "ah pree-o-ree", going by what I learned in Latin class, but you'll normally hear it as "Eh pry-oar-rye".

    And, for example, Flanders and Swann cadged a rhyme by having "Eurydice" rhyme with "sub judice" – when the correct version should be "soob you-dee-kay".

    Then there's "bona fide", "affidavit", "alias"…

  34. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    February 6, 2017 @ 12:59 pm

    ajay: I'm well aware of the old English pronunciation of Latin, as in 'eh pry-oar-eye': that's what 'in finey' was meant to represent. But final e's are always still sounded: 'sub ju-di-see', not 'sub ju-dice'; 'bona fidey', not 'bona fide' (rhyming with 'hide'). And so on.

  35. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 6, 2017 @ 2:00 pm

    "Bona fide" does indeed rhyme with "hide" (final e silent in both) for many AmEng speakers and for at least some BrEng speakers (my evidence of the latter point is Nick Lowe's 1979 hit "Cruel to Be Kind," in which it rhymes with "don't coincide.") That's not true in my experience for "sub judice" (where the final e is pronounced), but "bona fide" is used by a broader range of AmEng speakers, whereas "sub judice" exists in AmEng only in the marginalized lexical ghetto of the professional jargon of a specific subculture.

  36. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 6, 2017 @ 2:14 pm

    I note that Franklin, whatever one might think of his rhetoric, does make an empirical prediction about language use, viz. that if certain circumstances present as of 1750 continued unabated, the Anglophone population of Pennsylvania would be "Germanize[d]." That seems in hindsight not actually to have happened (although it took a long time for the ethnic-German population of Pennsylvania to be Anglified, and some minority fraction of it remains incompletely Anglified even unto this present day), so the scientific question, is seems to me, comes down to whether that historical result was because (a) Franklin's empirical prediction was inaccurate (and figuring out why it was inaccurate could illuminate broader issues of what actually are the objective social/political/demographic preconditions for language shift in one direction or another); or (b) subsequent immigration to Pennsylvania (perhaps in part because of Franklin's cri de coeur) had an Anglophone:Teutonophone ratio sufficiently high to prevent the demographic preconditions necessary for Franklin's prediction to come to pass.

  37. ardj said,

    February 6, 2017 @ 2:40 pm

    I have re-read your comment several times, with varying reactions. Finally I think that you are wrong. Not only for the reasons advanced elsewhere, that language is important, and its use or misuse at the apex of the state is a concern for those who care about language – and I suppose you also care about language, or would not be here. I found the frequent corrections to charges of Obama’s egoism in these columns a bit wearying, but I could understand some of the reasons for it, even if he was not ‘my’ president (nor could I fault the arguments presented here).

    But as a foreigner myself (in this context, though of course we are all such in several senses), I think you are wrong to cavil about the doings, and not merely the language, of this so-called president appearing here with some frequency.
    The behaviour of someone who appears to be a silly, self-obsessed, blustering, insecure bully in a position to cause chaos through the world is sure to alarm anyone who is not locked into their own little world of fantasy, be it the success of Brexit, the remaking of the Polish nation or whatever. If you can regard even comments on his language as tedious, maybe you are missing the jokes, such as they are.

    I am sorry to introduce what is to an extent an overtly political statement myself, but I do not see how else to deal with your objection. I will quite understand if this comment is removed.

  38. Roger Lustig said,

    February 6, 2017 @ 3:22 pm

    @Cobey Lubliner: indeed, the Palatinate is about as far from Low German as one can get. Just south of there, in Alsace–that's Alemannisch country!

    On the other hand, "low-income-German" might work. Palatine immigration to the US started early and remained strong for well over 150 years, relative to that from other parts of Germany. Entire towns migrated, while others took up collections to send off as many of the young folks as possible. Too many armies passing through, plus a hopelessly fragmented land-ownership situation (not fully resolved until the 1970s!) made this a model
    "good place to be from."

  39. KeithB said,

    February 6, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

    Re: Trump
    Besides, where else would you would discuss the fact that today at McDill AFB he said:
    "To these forces of death and desiccation, America and it's allies will defeat you. We will defeat them."


    [(myl) Charles Pierce quoted it that way, but the actual audio clearly has the expected "death and destruction" rather than the more poetic "death and desiccation":


  40. Rodger C said,

    February 7, 2017 @ 8:09 am

    @Roger Lustig: Hence some of us live surrounded by people with distinctly Palatinate names like Barger, Harshbarger, and Yinger.

    @KeithB: Obviously he expects the muslin terrace to drag us all off into their howling deserts!

  41. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 7, 2017 @ 11:07 am

    I don't understand the comments on the pronunciation of "in fine". The OED says the form has been influenced by Latin. Are some people thinking the pronunciation has been influenced by Latin? There's no reason to think it has. I didn't quote it, but the OED gives only the normal English pronunciation, "Brit. /fʌɪn/, U.S. /faɪn/".

  42. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 7, 2017 @ 11:10 am

    J. W. Brewer: I agree about "bona fide" in America, and I'll add that I pronounce the first element of "vice-versa" as if it were a sinful habit or a kind of clamp. I do hear four-syllable "vice-versa" (with the "e" of "vice" as a schwa") more often than four-syllable "bona fide", though.

  43. Kenny Easwaran said,

    February 10, 2017 @ 10:36 am

    In addition to the obvious racist and nationalist stuff, it's also interesting for a modern reader to see Franklin praise the idea of "Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods". I think it's true that forests were seen as unproductive land that had to be cleared to be turned into farms to be of value. (Didn't some of the homestead acts require people to deforest the land in order to own it?)

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