Melania totally stole ‘your word is your bond’ — in an act of cultural appropriation

Melania totally stole ‘your word is your bond’ — in an act of cultural appropriation
Image: YouTube screen grab (via ABC News)

Now I’ve heard everything.

I feces you not.  This hilariously delightful Slate article makes precisely the subject line’s demented case.

To summarize it: Yes, “your word is your bond” is an aphorism that has been in the traditions of Western civilization for millennia (which, as a personal aside, would include currency so recent that I heard it all my life; my father and grandfathers said it, quite as if it came naturally to them).

Sure.  But in 2016, it required the cultural mediation of “Black Talk” to communicate it to a European-immigrant model/wife/mother and her speechwriter.

Right.  I can only guess that there was this big black hole of cultural disjunction that happened sometime between 1842 and when the apparently youthful Ms. Waldman was born.  That black hole managed to wipe out all the cultural memories of the dominant European-derived culture of the United States, in such a way that no one of European descent learned “your word is your bond” from, you know, his parents.

I must be a specimen crying out for study.  If only my dad and grandpa were still here to explain themselves.  (Well, mine, and the ancestors of all the people I grew up with and have been around my entire life.  People from every race and background, in fact.)

I’m just reconstructing the argument here.  In 2016, see, Melania appropriated “your word is your bond” from Black Talk and its “word” locutions.  (Think: “Word” — as in, an expression meaning “That’s true.”)  Apparently, Melania de-ebonicized it in the appropriation; i.e., added the prosaic, proper-English “your,” so that it would sound like it came from white people.

You think I’m kidding.

Of course, word-bond equivalence—the idea of it, if not the precise phrasing deployed by Trump and Obama—reaches back centuries. The Book of Matthew and Numbers both contain passages in which one’s spoken vow becomes a sacred commitment. …

According to Rachael Ferguson, an ethnographer and lecturer at Princeton University, the principle “word is bond” allowed merchant traders in the late 1500s to make agreements legally binding before the advent of written pledges. When the London Stock Exchange needed a motto in 1801, it harkened back to that foundational promise of integrity with a Latin expression: dictum meum pactum.

By the 19th century, your word is your bond had ascended into the realms of moralistic cliché. In an 1842 “admonitory epistle from a governess to her late pupils,” for instance, the upstanding educator drills her charges: “Let it be said of you, ‘Your word is your bond.’ ”

But to utter this phrase in the 2016 United States is to invoke an entirely different history. As Geneva Smitherman recounts in Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner, yo word is yo bond represents a “resurfacing of an old familiar saying in the Black Oral Tradition.” It was popularized some time after 1964 by the Five Percent Nation, an Islamic group that stressed authenticity and self-knowledge alongside social progressivism. (The affirmation Word is born—a response kind of like Amen that indicates enthusiastic buy-in; also a Run DMC song—is thought to be a “result of the AAE pronunciation of ‘bond,’ ” writes Smitherman.)

There’s a lot more.

If you’re over 50, you can probably name the people in your family line who are responsible for you living by the expression “your word is your bond” — far enough back that we’d be getting awfully close to that magic year 1842, when there was that admonitory epistle.  Confusingly, this is most probably the case whether you’re black or white.  Either way, your ancestors learned the saying, spoken in ordinary English (or the language where they came from), for decades before anything that happened after 1964.

But none of that means Melania Trump could have come by the expression without detouring through Black Talk and an Islamic group that stressed self-knowledge and social progressivism.  I mean, it’s just ignorant, for all the people older than Ms. Waldman to think that their direct — near-universal — experience of cultural inheritance is authentic, when she’s here to tell us that what we think we remember is a lot of hooey.

We seem to have circled back around to the feces again.  So it’s probably time to move on.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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