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Common Knowledge 8.1 (2002) 102-107

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Peace and Mind: Seriatim Symposium on Dispute, Conflict, and Enmity

Coming to Terms
The Matter of the Irish Bull Terrier

Vicki Hearne

Daisy is my darling. In America, the name Daisy is in a tradition as long as tradition can get here, and is a noble name for a noble individual of a noble race of dogs. Her kin are traditionally named Missy, Rosie, Annie. I usually call the group of breeds or races (to use a term from Darwin) in question "bull pups," after the first mention of them in American literature in my ken, Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." He there mocked the disorganized religions through which the knowledge of the dogs is partially passed on, but tenderly enough, and I greatly prefer "bull pup" to the various committee names that have arisen here and in the United Kingdom. These include American (Pit) Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and also, to the best of my knowledge, breed names from which the word bull has been entirely dropped (the Boston Terrier used to be called the Boston Bull Terrier). There are other breeds, such as the Airedale Terrier, that have a combat history, largely with raccoons, cougar, bear, and coyote, in my experience--but their breed name has somehow escaped infamy. The Airedale is known as a rough-coated, underground, black-and-tan, leggy bull pup who can do the soft shoe.

The bull pups are not the only ones whose names and histories have been distorted or simply fabricated in order that one nation or village or another might [End Page 102] lay claim to them, or else repudiate them. The dog we know in America as the German Shepherd was for decades known in England as the Alsatian Shepherd, and in France as the chien de berger d'Alsace, though Alsace-Lorraine has little if anything to do with the foundations and concepts of this kind of dog. Because the dogs were wonderful but everything German had of course to be purged, the dogs were kept but not the literary traditions by means of which they are rendered legible.

It is not only words and electrons that have histories and so cannot be defined.

It is not always the case that meaning is use. At the moment there is scarcely anyone in North America or Europe who is not familiar with the term "pit bull" or some other designation for the breed, such as American StaffordshireTerrier. There is also scarcely anyone who has a clue as to what those designations might mean. They have been used to refer to imaginary animals--dogs with locking jaws, dogs with double or triple jaws, or just "those kinds of dogs," meaning whatever collection of pathological fantasies the speaker has learned from the press and from murder mysteries and thrillers whose writers are informed by the same source. That is, the word, in those mouths, has no true meaning. It is the flagship word of a kind of collective schizophrenia sponsored by some very bad thinkers and by some crooks.

The expressions still have meaning in the mouths of people who really know the dogs.

Similarly with the word poetry. It is nowadays treated as a kind of mood music, and judged as a kind of mood music, decor for the soap-opera scenes of emotional life. (As opposed to the life of authentic feeling.) The numbers of people who know what poetry is are about the same as the numbers of people who know what the bull pups are. In most mouths, though, poetry means nothing. Nonetheless, the word has a life in the hands of people who know what poetry is, a life carried out where executives would never want to tamper.

The same is the case with the word Jew. Also the word Arab.

At the moment, in the case of all dogs, draconian laws and policies throughout the West have rendered most of the most exact and expressive terms for dogs unavailable...


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