Hobbesian choice

Erik Hoover grinchy at GRINCHY.COM
Fri Jan 28 22:11:09 UTC 2005


Your post reminds me, eggcorn-wise, that on today's NPR program
"Science Friday" I heard a caller "exult" the guest and host to spread
the word about avian flu.

Probably an overly sincere stumble but I exult you to add it to your
ongoing research.

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On Jan 28, 2005, at 3:40 PM, Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Hobbesian choice
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> In a letter printed in the NYT 1/28/05 (p. A20), John A. Viteritti
> asserts:
> -----
> In "Winning Cases, Losing Voters" (Op-Ed, Jan. 26), Paul Starr presents
> the Democratic Party with the Hobbesian choice of living by its
> convictions [AMZ: and losing votes] or compromising its principles in
> order to get more votes.
> -----
> At first i thought this was a malapropism ("Hobbesian" for "Hobson's")
> followed by a semantic extension, from 'no choice at all' to 'a bad
> choice, between two unacceptable alternatives'.  In any case, the
> expression was unfamiliar to me.  But then Google told me that the
> Hobbesian path was well trodden, especially in 2003.
> First, at
> http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-wood042103.asp
> there's a National Review piece (4/21/03), "Hobbesian Choice: An oral
> translation", by Peter Wood, which begins:
> -----
> MR. PAYTON: I think that decision which would say that we have to
> choose, would be a Hobbesian choice here.
> I _thought_ that's what I heard Mr. Payton said, but I had to wait for
> the transcript to be sure. John Payton is the lawyer who argued the
> University of Michigan's case to the Supreme Court in _Gratz_ v.
> _Bollinger_ on April 1.
> -----
> After some Payton-bashing, Wood gets around to asking: "... What in the
> world is a Hobbesian choice?"  He rejects the Hobson's choice
> interpretation, in favor of invoking the ideas of political philosopher
> Thomas Hobbes.
> Later that year, in July, the folks on STUMPERS-L coped with Hobbesian
> choices.  Here's our very own Fred Shapiro:
> -----
> On Wed, 9 Jul 2003, Sidney Allinson wrote:
>>> Wall Street Journal (via ProQuest Nat'l Newspapers - 1988 to
> present):
>>> Harbrandt, Robert F. "Letter to the editor:EDB goes against the
> grain"
>>> Wall Street Journal_, April 10, 1984.
>>> "EPA did not make a Hobbesian choice when they banned EDB."
>> Surely, the correct phrase is:
>> "HOBSON'S Choice."
> No, actually "Hobbesian choice" appears to be a legitimate term that is
> not a malapropism for "Hobson's choice."  It is used to mean a choice
> between brutish options, whereas "Hobson's choice" means no choice at
> all.
> -----
> At this point, though, "Hobbesian choice" hadn't been tracked back very
> far, though the reference to Hobson, a much less well-known person than
> Hobbes, pretty much has to date back to the actual Hobson's lifetime
> (c. 1544-1631, overlapping with Hobbes's, 1588-1679).  So I was still
> suspicious that Hobbes's name and ideas had gotten grafted onto
> Hobson's, a suspicion that was not allayed by a column (later in 2003)
> in which it's maintained that a choice between two bad alternatives
> *is* no choice at all:
> -----
> http://www.conspiracypenpal.com/columns/tar.htm
> "Tar Baby II" by Edgar J. Steele, 10/25/03, about G. W. Bush:
> George's current dilemma is a classic Hobbesian choice, which is no
> choice at all, the name of which derives from Thomas Hobbes' belief
> that man must choose between living in a state of nature (a life which
> is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short") or suffering under an
> arbitrary and absolute government (Thomas Hobbes, _The Elements of Law:
> Natural and Politic_, 1640).
> -----
> So, are these references to Hobbes just after-the-fact reworkings, or
> did someone devise "Hobbesian choice" independently of Hobson?  How far
> back has anyone gotten with "Hobbesian choice"?
> arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)

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