How is "yeomanry" used in this context?
May 6, 2006 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Can someone explain a WF Buckley use of the word "yeomanry"?

Here is an excerpt from Buckley's review of Galbraith's The Culture of Contentment:

"It is fortunate for Professor Galbraith that he was born with singular gifts as a writer. It is a pity he hasn't used these skills in other ways than to try year after year to bail out his sinking ships. Granted, one can take satisfaction from his anti-historical exertions, and wholesome pleasure from his yeomanry as a sump-pumper. Indeed, his rhythm and grace recall the skills we remember having been developed by Ben-Hur, the model galley slave, whose only request of the quartermaster was that he be allowed every month to move to the other side of the boat, to ensure a parallel development in the musculature of his arms and legs."

I know what a yeoman is. And I am familiar with Yeoman Regiments. But I just don't get the nuance.
posted by zorro astor to Writing & Language (13 answers total)
It's like "doing yeoman's work" - it means, hard honest simple work.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:02 PM on May 6, 2006

A yeoman was a medieval farmer, someone who owned land, but wasn't rich enough to pay someone to work for him. Yeomen worked with their hands. Yeomanry in this sense is blue-collar labor.
posted by Hildago at 1:13 PM on May 6, 2006

So I guess I just recapitulated the definition for you even though I did read where you said you knew it. I guess I was thinking you were only familiar with the word in a military context.
posted by Hildago at 1:14 PM on May 6, 2006

"Diligent service at a blue-collar task." This is a sort of back-handed compliment by Buckley, saying that Galbraith worked hard, and performed well, at bailing out his "sinking ships," but that in the end his dedication could have been directed to more noble pursuits.
posted by Brian James at 1:22 PM on May 6, 2006

Yeah, laboring, in a figurative sense. It's also used in a pejorative way. I guess if you extend his analogy, writing what Buckley considers sound theory makes you a member of the gentry. The conservative Buckley is saying that Galbraith put wrote theses in his works (his "ships'), but then had to sump-pump the water out of his ideas it by defending his theories by:

waging war against men and women who had, under capitalism, made strides in the practice of industry and in promoting the common good. Galbraith denied them the tribute to which they were entitled.

Yeah, so any writing he did dismissing those that disagreed with him was just low-class laboring (yeomanry) on Galbraith's part. Nothing intellectual about it, he might as well be a muscle-headed BenHur that cares only about having even pecs, or something. Not a very clearly written idea on Buckley's part, I don't think.
posted by neda at 1:25 PM on May 6, 2006

Yeomanry isn't really pejorative, and doesn't seem to be so in this case. It's labor, but honest, good, dependable labor.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:54 PM on May 6, 2006

Yeoman's work is often, in fact, complementary, meaning exactly what CL says it does.

While Buckley may be calling his labour useless, he admires Galbraith for hhis diligence and hard work.
posted by bonehead at 2:33 PM on May 6, 2006

Thanks for the answers, all. I thought it might be a back-handed compliment--an upper class jab at someone of lower social rank perhaps.
posted by zorro astor at 2:46 PM on May 6, 2006

Buckley isn't upper-class, unless by "upper-class" you simply mean "rich." His father was an Irish Catholic lawyer, not exactly part of The Four Hundred.
posted by languagehat at 5:29 PM on May 6, 2006

G. did an honest and hard day's work trying to keep afloat a sinking ship (using sump pumps), but his view(s) are to no avail. Clever writing on Buckeley's part but I'll stick with Galbraith as having a wiser perspective in most matters than the conservative, who dismisses him with a compliment
posted by Postroad at 5:39 PM on May 6, 2006

I think it's a back-handed compliment, zorro. Buckley, drunk on his own cleverness, tries to pull intellectual rank. The terms sinking ships, sump-pumper, and galley slave make it clear that any admiration is condescension in disguise. IMO this treatment backfires.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:11 PM on May 6, 2006

WFB loves subtle putdowns, which he can back away from -- "I didn't really mean what think I meant, you vocabularly-deprived ignoramus."

He calls Galbraith's work "yeomanry" -- the equivalent of having a lower-class worker pump foul water from beneath the basement floor. He continues the metaphor by mentioning bilge water. While getting rid of it is useful and necessary, it obviously isn't in the same class as WFB's upper-class twittery.

Just WFB's inimitable nastiness.
posted by KRS at 6:21 PM on May 6, 2006

Keep in mind for context that Galbraith and Buckley were dear friends as well as rivals, to the point of vacationing together. Their public debates and written exchanges were delightful.
posted by LarryC at 6:30 PM on May 6, 2006

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