Something in the water?

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During last night's vote on reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling, the official House Stenographer apparently decided to make a speech about Freemasons and had to be escorted out:

In any other context, this would just be sad and distressing. Against the backdrop of recent events in the capitol building, it's an occasion for dark political humor.

A week ago, xkcd was there first:


  1. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 9:41 am

    Can I download the sound file? I couldn't make out all her words and think a spectrographic analysis might help.

  2. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 10:03 am

    Candidates of the Anti-Masonic Party were elected to Congress in 1828 and at each of the five succeeding elections. The majority of the last set of Anti-Masonic incumbents were reelected in 1840 after realigning themselves with the Whigs, a switch which may have been motivated by pragmatic coalition-building concerns rather than any sudden change to a philo-Masonic position. Although I suppose even in those days it would have been desirable for a stenographer (or quill-pen equivalent) to appear non-partisan while on the job.

  3. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 10:14 am

    Reidy's speech wasn't the model of clarity, but I don't think she was actually accusing current Congressmen of being Masons or subservient to Masonry. I think she said that in fact our country was never "one nation under God" since the Constitution itself was written by Masons. With such a dim view of the Constitution itself, of course, one wonders why she chose that job. Maybe she wants to expose the system?

  4. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 10:30 am

    A somewhat tongue-in-cheek (or is that just what THEY want you to think?) journalistic investigation of Masons serving in Congress as of 2009 is here:

  5. D.O. said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 10:56 am

    Don't you worry — God has the plan for America.

  6. Jim said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

    [(myl) This was a gratuitously nasty comment (and essentially contentless) comment, which I would simply have deleted except that someone else replied to it.]

  7. Judy Wyatt said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

    Please speak for yourself. I appreciate the enthusiasm and comaraderie and contributions of J. W. Brewer and others who comment on LL. I learn new things here all the time.

  8. Chris C. said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

    The poor woman probably hadn't been paid for half a month and snapped under the stress of several very long and frustrating work weeks.

    Also, it's probably a bad idea to read Dan Brown when you actually work in the Capitol.

  9. Sili said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

    I'm surprised anyone can work in that environment without going completely bonkers. Good on her for holding out this long.

  10. Sybil said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 4:12 pm

    @Jonathan Gress-Wright:

    She actually says (as far as I can hear) that the Constitution would *not* have been written by Freemasons, so she does seem to be implying that there are Freemasons among the current Congress.

    (So she's apparently on the "Jefferson was not a Freemason" side of the debate…)

    I also sympathize with anyone who's had to work in that environment (with or without pay).

  11. D-AW said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

    @Sybil – I think the conditional goes the other way. I.e., to paraphrase: "Had it been a nation under God, the Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons, who go against God. But, as in fact it was written by Freemasons, therefore it is not a nation under God, and has never been. That is the great deception (and mockery) here"

  12. Rubrick said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

    I wonder if she'd been concealing secret anti-Masonic screeds in her transcriptions all along, which would make her a steganographer/stenographer.

  13. Sybil said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

    @D-AW: You could be right. I'm having a hard time making out her words on this audio. (As Jonathan G_W also said)

    OK, that makes more sense, as far as anything in this makes sense. She likes the Constitution, she thinks it would not have been written by Freemasons*, and she sees Freemasonry among the current Congress (or somewhere).

    *Even though it really was! ;)

  14. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

    Looking for something in the incident of specifically linguistic interest, it seems to me that, assuming the transcripts are accurate, one of the key sentences is "The greatest deception here is this is not one nation under God." As between "this is one nation under God" and "this is not one nation under God," which did she mean is the deception and which the truth? I suspect the syntax here may have a misnegation and/or "no head injury too trivial to ignore" problem.

  15. Mr Punch said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 10:03 pm

    @Sybil – Jefferson was out of town at the time, in any case.

  16. SimonMH said,

    October 18, 2013 @ 2:59 am

    This is the sort of embarrassment that comes from taking primitive, sky-fairy legends too seriously.

    Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre,
    Au défaut d’un cordon pour étrangler les rois

  17. chris said,

    October 18, 2013 @ 9:23 am

    Also, it's probably a bad idea to read Dan Brown when you actually work in the Capitol.

    It's definitely a bad idea to think that Dan Brown's books are based on reality, regardless of where you work.

    I don't see why you couldn't read him for entertainment if you like that sort of thing, though.

  18. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 18, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

    J. W. Brewer: I don't take that as a misnegation. I understand it as "The greatest deception here is this is not one nation under God [although Congress has falsely said it is]".

  19. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 18, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

    Compare the following in-the-wild examples: 1) "SATAN'S GREATEST DECEPTION IS THAT HELL IS NOT REAL. IT IS!!!" (allcaps in original); and 2) "His [in context maybe also Satan's?] greatest deception is that their negative thoughts and opinions about you even matter at all." I think those may have different intended polarity than the stenographer's claim. Perhaps it's just a confusing construction. The following (from a site called seems a little inelegant but by adding additional words is actually clearer about what is intended to be conveyed: "The Greatest Deception is that mankind has been falsely led to believe that the Gods could pose a threat to the very race they created." The only non-religious example that popped up in the first few pages of search results was from the sports section: "The Blazers opened the overtime by scoring four consecutive points against the Magic (12-22), whose greatest deception is that the team has played good basketball during its current nine-game losing streak." I frankly find that one harder to parse than the UFO-related one. (Who is the deceiver and who the deceived? Is it supposed to be self-deception by a lousy team?)

  20. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    October 18, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

    I agree with JWB that, interpreting Reidy's words with the rules of formal English, she is ostensibly saying that we are deceived to think that this is not one nation of God, and therefore in reality this IS one nation under God. Of course, this is completely the opposite of the sense she is trying to convey: the whole point of her speech is that in reality this is NOT one nation under God, and that we are deceived to think otherwise. So I would definitely file it under the class of misnegation/"no head injury too trivial"/etc.

  21. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 20, 2013 @ 12:11 am

    I agree that when interpreted literally, what she said was the opposite of what she meant, but I don't think it was the result of getting confused about negatives, like "no head injury too trivial to ignore". It looks to me as if she just left out an important part of the sentence.

  22. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 20, 2013 @ 12:25 am

    A parallel example, not that it proves anything about why Reidy said what she said:

    "Of course, Icarus ignored his father, flew too high, and fell to his death into the sea below. The deception is that this myth does not hold true today. You’ve been warned by your parents not to fly too high. Just get a good stable job and you’ll be fine.

    "Well guess what? The sun that melted Icarus’ wings has been destroyed by our new, connected economy. So fly as high as you like. "

    Some hits can be understood as "The deception is [revealed by the fact] that…"

    "The deception is that we think we're deceived. But we are not deceived." [Footnote.]

    "The deception is that they are not thinking biblically. How does the Bible define and use the word Israel? Israel is not a geographic location." [Footnote. Yes, the Ten Lost Tribes are the ancestors of "the Celto-Saxon peoples (Caucasian race)."]

    Although those aren't analogous to Reidy's statement because they don't say the opposite of what they mean, they're similar in that her statement too can be understood as "The greatest deception here is revealed by the fact that…"

    (The deception here is that I moved the goalposts a bit.)

  23. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 20, 2013 @ 12:43 am

    One more try. Talking about a deception consists of these elements: People say X (evidence and discussion), but the truth is not-X (evidence and discussion). If a sentence starts "The deception is", we expect the complement to be X, the deceptive statement. In Reidy's sentence, the Icarus example, and the Israel example, the complement is another element of the deception. It strikes me as more of a misconnection than a misnegation of the multiplex negatio farblondiat type.

  24. Nathan Myers said,

    October 20, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

    The thing is, she's totally correct. The Constitution really was written by Freemasons and we really are not a nation Under God. She seems to lament only that she is on the losing team.

  25. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    October 21, 2013 @ 11:42 am

    Great examples, Jerry! Interesting idea about "misconnection": can any (other) syntacticians/semanticists weigh in on what's going on?

    It reminds of studying subordinate clauses of prohibition in Ancient Greek, where the embedded clause always contained a negative element. E.g. α҆παγορεύω τινὶ τὸ μὴ ποιεῖν, literally "I forbid somebody to not do (sth)", with the intended meaning "I forbid somebody to do/from doing something".

    It took me a while to understand this construction since the embedded negative seemed illogical. One helpful translation is "I forbid somebody lest he do something", though it's stilted. It seems that verbs of forbidding in English entail (presuppose?) a covert negation of the complement clause, but equivalent verbs in Greek require overt negation. Again, I'm not a semanticist, so someone else may be able to explain this better and how (if at all) it's connected to the misconnection cases.

  26. your follower said,

    October 23, 2013 @ 4:56 am

    I don't think reidy was actually accusing the Congressmen of being Masons or subservient to Masonry.

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