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On the archaic salutation that caught Rahul Gandhi on the wrong foot

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Tanaji
Tanaji
Tanaji is the pen name of a not-so-young Indian who reads between the lines, likes logic, language and thought.

Current affairs serve to remind us that it would be a tall order for many of our youth to be much clued in on “English as She is Spoke”, of centuries gone.

No wonder then, that a patriotic Indian’s “I beg to remain your most obedient servant” may genuinely cause a stir in a young Indian chancing upon that archaic closing phrase.

Valedictions in English writing used to be formal and ornate – much more than we see now. The inspiration seemingly came from across the Channel. In French, ornate valedictions haven’t atrophied as much as in other linguas. The French Revolution, it seems, was ahead of its time (or, got the neck but spared the tongue?).

In modern French, “Nous vous prions d’agréer, Madame, Monsieur, nos salutations distinguées” is par for the course, wherein the humble speaker expresses hope that the Sir or Madam would be agreeable to receiving distinguished salutations.

(Reference: Calliop)

Here are further illustrations of questionable servitude. Samuel Johnson closing a letter to Lord Chesterfield in 1755:

“My Lord, Your lordship’s most humble, most obedient servant”

George Washington ends his letter to the then Earl of Buchan on 1st May 1792, thus:

“With sentiments of the truest esteem & consideration

I remain,

Your Lordship’s Most Obedient Servan⟨t⟩”

(https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-10-02-0208)

And today? We sign off with a “Yours Sincerely”, “Yours Truly”, and such. We write “Yours” rather unconsciously, not knowing that it is but an abbreviation. “Yours” stands for “Your Servant”. It used to be written with a raised “s” and has come to be abbreviated today as “yours”.

(Explained at https://www.bauer.uh.edu/parks/genealogy/parks_washington_letters.htm)

You might now opine that the matter of servitude is all perfect if the sentiment is mutual. Right; who are we to complain if Washington and the Earl are feeling cosy? However, a counter-example is what we have: in which no love was lost between Alexander Hamilton and his killer.

The Broadway musical “Hamilton” (2015) is based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, an American Revolutionary and one of USA’s Founding Fathers. Hamilton died in 1804 in a duel with one Aaron Burr, a political opponent who arranged to duel Hamilton to settle disputes in matters of reputation. In written correspondence between the two opponents, the closing lines always used to be: “I have the honor to be Your Obedient Servant”. (Hamilton let go of his chance to shoot, and was killed by
Burr).

The song from the musical includes those lines, and can be heard at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr-mO1o1uHk

Yours, I beg to remain. (Or Do I not ?)

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Tanaji
Tanaji
Tanaji is the pen name of a not-so-young Indian who reads between the lines, likes logic, language and thought.
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