Evolution is the process that governs change in all dynamic systems, from biology to politics, economics and popular culture. Put another way, it is the driving force behind every dynamic system – every system that is not static. In nature and in life, one thing leads to another. That is the essence of evolution. Darwin’s grand insight on evolution of species may be the single greatest discovery in intellectual history. It is the glue and organizing principle that holds modern biology together. One cannot understand dynamic systems without understanding evolution.
As with Copernicus’ and Galileo’s conclusions about the solar system, evolution of species is not what many people wanted to hear. However, evolution of species is among the most strongly supported theories in science. Darwin’s observations made this clear. Then the fossil record was compiled, the theory being tested at every turn. As data accumulated, confirmation grew stronger. Biologists and other scientists in related fields started applying the theory successfully, further confirming the theory’s validity, based on its stunning track record in generating correct predictions. In recent decades, genetic science was developed, giving evolutionary theory’s detractors an opportunity to disprove the theory conclusively; instead, the theory correctly predicted what the genetic record would show.
Evolution of species is a simpler process than most people realize. Monkeys do not turn into humans – that is not how it works. Instead, a genetic change is introduced into a population. The successful new genes are replicated, and spread within the population. Over time, many genetic changes may occur. A sexually reproducing species is defined by the ability of female and male species members to reproduce with each other. This ability depends on sufficiently similar genetic patterns in the mating pair. With enough genetic differences between the two, they can no longer reproduce. By definition, that is when a new species has emerged.
By understanding how evolution works, we can strip away the magical thinking that long dominated the subject matter. Why do nearly all mammals have nipples, including males? Evolutionary theory answers that question by applying reason to known facts. Understanding the step-by-step process is necessary to a comprehensive understanding of species.
Many people do not realize that evolution is not limited to biology. All dynamic systems evolve. Dick Fosbury was a high-jumper who went over the bar face-up instead of face-down, as had always been done. When other high jumpers saw that his strategy succeeded, nearly every high jumper adopted the successful strategy. Advertisers may be reluctant to use a controversial strategy – until someone does it successfully. In politics, successful candidates are defined as the ones who win elections. When a strategy succeeds, others will use it. If it succeeds generally, it will come to dominate the political population. Unsuccessful strategies will become extinct. These phenomena are manifestations of social evolution.
Biological and social evolution are not exactly the same. Humans can exert conscious control over social evolution, in ways that we cannot do in biological evolution – at least not historically. Human institutions such as cultures “radically (alter) the relationship between natural selection and cognition.”
Just as the mechanics of biological evolution bring understanding to that field, so do the dynamics of social evolution bring understanding to that field. For example, many people argue for term limits for elected officials. However, if the behavior of elected officials is being driven by campaign funding, and by who is likely to help them in post-political careers, then term limits are not likely to make any substantial difference in their behavior; sure enough, where term limits have been tried, they do not appear to have achieved their intended purpose of making governments less corrupt. That is because the system’s key dynamics have remained the same. To induce elected officials to behave less corruptly, we would have to enact enforceable laws that strike at the dynamics of why politicians behave corruptly now. All the slogans and promises will not make the slightest difference until that occurs. This is another illustration of why magical thinking must be replaced by scientific thinking – in this case, thinking that adequately accounts for the relevant behaviors, and the evolutionary processes surrounding them.
Here too, this is not what the people who dominate politics in the United States want to hear. The system works very well for them. Far better it is for them to keep the carrot dangling in front of the public, so that “the people” can have something to chase. We have many of our political troubles because far too few people understand the evolutionary process. Our departure from conventional thinking on this point is this: systems of human interaction, including social and political systems, and systems of laws, will never achieve desired ends for the people at large, until the people thoroughly understand the evolutionary principle and its central importance in and to every dynamic system.
The principle is simple. Behaviors that succeed are replicated, and become prevalent within the population. Behaviors that do not succeed die out. To design sound and effective systems of laws, this principle must be clearly understood, and kept firmly in mind; however, that alone is not enough. The centrality of evolution in driving dynamic systems must also be clearly understood, so that policy makers and the public are not distracted by bright shiny objects that bear no relation to the relevant behaviors; and people must be constantly on guard for pandering, because that has proved to be a successful political strategy far too often. Most likely, it will remain so until the people at large gain a clear of understanding of what evolution is, and how it works.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- John A. Long, The Rise of Fishes: 500 Million Years of Evolution (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).
- George W. Barlow, The Cichlid Fishes: Nature's Grand Experiment In Evolution (Basic Books, 2000).
- Gene S. Helfman, Bruce B. Collette, Douglas E. Facey and Brian W. Bowen, The Diversity of Fishes: Biology, Evolution, and Ecology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009).
- K.J. Willis and J.C. McElwain, The Evolution of Plants (Oxford University Press, 2002).
- Wilson N. Stewart and Gar W. Rothwell, Paleobotany and the Evolution of Plants (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
- David Grimaldi and Michael S. Engel, Evolution of the Insects (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
- Donald R. Prothero, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters (Columbia University Press, 2007).
- Brian Switek, Written In Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place In Nature(Bellevue Literary Press, 2010).
- Robert Carroll, The Rise of Amphibians: 365 Millions Years of Evolution (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).
- Donald R. Prothero and Scott F. Ross, The Evolution of Artiodactyls (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).
- Kenneth D. Rose, The Beginning of the Age of Mammals (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).
- Donald R. Prothero, After the Dinosaurs: The Age of Mammals (Indiana University Press, 2006).
- Donald R. Prothero, Horns, Tusks, and Flippers: The Evolution of Hoofed Mammals (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
- Jordi Agusti and Mauricio Anton, Mammals, Sabertooths, and Hominids: 65 Million Years of Mammalian Evolution (Columbia University Press, 2002).
- Alan Turner and Mauricio Anton, Evolving Eden: An Illustrated Guide to the Evolution of African Large-Mammal Fauna (Columbia University Press, 2004).
- Kenneth D. Rose, The Rise of Placental Mammals: Origins and Relationships of the Major Extant Clades (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).
- Ivan R. Schwab, Evolution's Witness: How Eyes Evolved (Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Andrew Parker, In the Blink of an Eye: How Vision Sparked the Big Bang of Evolution (Basic Books, 2003).
- T.S. Kemp, The Origin and Evolution of Mammals (Oxford University Press, 2005).
- Peter S. Ungar, Mammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution, and Diversity (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).
- J.G.M. Thewissen and Sirpa Nummela, eds., Sensory Evolution on the Threshold: Adaptations in Secondarily Aquatic Vertebrates (University of California Press, 2008).
- Alan Walker and Pat Shipman, The Ape in the Tree: An Intellectual and Natural History of Proconsul (Belknap Press, 2005).
- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (John Murray, 1859).
- Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is (Basic Books, 2001).
- Nick Lane, Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009).
- Ernst Mayr, Evolution and the Diversity of Life: Selected Essays (Belknap Press, 1976).
- Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Free Press, 2009).
- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 3rd Edition, 2006).
- Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004).
- Richard Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene (Oxford University Press, 1999).
- Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Belknap Press, 2002).
- Stephen Jay Gould, The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould (W.W. Norton & Co., 2007).
- Niles Eldredge, Reinventing Darwin: The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory (Wiley, 1995).
- Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True (Viking Adult, 2009).
- J. Maynard Smith, The Theory of Evolution (Cambridge University Press, 1993).
- E.N.K. Clarkson, Invertebrate Peleontology and Evolution (Springer, 4th Edition, 1992).
- Ernst Mayr, Systematics and the Origin of Species from the Viewpoint of a Zoologist (Columbia University Press, 1949).
- Julian Huxley, Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (Harper and Brothers, 1942).
- Theodosius Dobzhansky, Genetics and the Origin of Species (Columbia University Press, 1937).
- J.B.S. Haldane, The Causes of Evolution (Longmans, Green & Co., 1932).
- John F. Hoffecker, Landscape of the Mind: Human Evolution and the Archaeology of Thought (Columbia University Press, 2011).
- Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures (Random House, 2020): “This book may not be a psychedelic — and unlike Sheldrake, I haven’t dared to consume my copy (yet) — but reading it left me not just moved but altered, eager to disseminate its message of what fungi can do.”
JOURNALS on BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION
- International Journal of Organic Evolution
- Journal of Evolutionary Biology
- International Journal of Evolutionary Biology
- Journal of Human Evolution
- BMC Evolutionary Biology
- Genome Biology and Evolution
- Journal of Evolutionary Biology Research
- Evolution and Human Behavior
- Andrew F.G. Bourke, Principles of Social Evolution (Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Robert Trivers, Social Evolution (Benjamin Cummings, 1985).
- Robert Trivers, Natural Selection and Social Theory: Selected Papers of Robert Trivers (Oxford University Press, 2002).
- Steven J. Pope, The Evolution of Altruism & the Ordering Of Love (Georgetown University Press, 1995).
- Brian Skyrms, Evolution of the Social Contract (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
- Robert Axelrod, The Evolution Of Cooperation (Basic Books, 2006).
- John Andreas Olsen and Martin van Creveld, eds., The Evolution of Operational Art: From Napoleon to the Present (Oxford University Press, 2010).
- John Simpson, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary (Basic Books, 2016): “John Simpson joined the dictionary in the mid-1970s, in the era of the Supplement, which was overseen by the New Zealander Robert Burchfield. Simpson worked his way up, and by the time he retired in 2013 he was chief editor.”
- John McWhorter, Words On the Move: Why English Won’t – and Can’t – Sit Still (Like, Literally) (Henry Holt & Company, 2016): “McWhorter first staggers you with a glittering analogy, and then, once you are off-guard, he bombards you with so many (brilliant) examples that resistance is both useless and out of the question.”
- Richard W. Bailey, Speaking American: A History of English in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2012): “ . . . Bailey argues that geography is largely behind our fluid evaluations of what constitutes “proper” English.”
Histories of biological evolutionary theory:
- Ernst Mayr, One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought (Harvard University Press, 1991).
- Michael Ruse, The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw (University of Chicago Press, 1979).
- Peter J. Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea (University of California Press, 1992).
- Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (1839).
- Carl Zimmer, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea (Harper Collins, 2001).
- Marlene Zuk, Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011): explaining “not only hos insects do what they do, but why”.
Histories of social evolution:
- Robert N. Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic Age to the Axial Age (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011).
- Jay Bahadur, The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World (Pantheon Books, 2011): “ . . . buccaneering has evolved into a very modern activity, complete with night vision goggles, GPS units and even investment advisers”.
- David Sloan Wilson, The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time (Little, Brown & Company, 2011): the evolutionary biologist describes how he applied evolutionary principles to changing Binghamton, New York, one block at a time.
- Harry Petroski, The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts – From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers – Came to Be as They Are (Vintage, 1994).
- Sylvia Nasar, Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius (Simon & Schuster, 2011): on the evolution of modern economic thought.
- Tim Alberta, American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump (Harper, 2019): “ . . . it’s a fascinating look at a Republican Party that initially scoffed at the incursion of a philandering reality-TV star with zero political experience and now readily accommodates him.”
Documentary and Educational Films
- Evolution: What Darwin Never Knew
- PBS documentary: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea; Great Transformations; Extinction; Evolutionary Arms Race; part 5; The Mind’s Big Bang; What About God?
- Biological Evolution: What It Is, and What It Isn’t
- How Evolution Works
- Introduction to Evolution and Natural Selection
- Ken Miller explains evolution
- How Life Started on Earth
- How did life begin?
- The origin of life
- origin of life
- Prokaryotes (single-celled organisms)
Evolution of eukaryotes (multiple-celled organisms):
- Where Did Eukaryotic Cells Come From?
- The Evolution of Multicellular Life
- The Evolution of Aerobic Organisms and Eukaryotic Cells
- Origins of Eukaryotes
- The first major transition in evolution
Evolution of fungi:
- Fungal Evolution
- Fungus: The 3rd Kingdom
- How Mushrooms Changed the World
- Sequence all the fungi!
- Mushrooms, Evolution, and the Millennium
Evolution of plants:
- Plant Life
- Plant Evolution
- How Did Plants Evolve?
- Evolution of Flowering Plants (Angiosperms)
- The Revolution in Plant Evolution
Evolution of insects:
Evolution of invertebrates:
- Animals Without Backbones: The Invertebrate Story
- (12-part series)
- (27 videos)
- The Neglected Majority: Using Invertebrates to Study Evolution, Phylogeny and Biogeography
Evolution of vertebrates:
Evolution of animals:
Evolution of fish
Evolution of arthropods:
Evolution of tetrapods:
Evolution of reptiles:
Evolution of birds:
Evolution of mammals:
- The Evolution of Whales
- The Walking and Swimming Whale
- And the Mammals Laid Eggs
- From Reptile to Mammal
Evolution of primates:
- Ape to Man
- The Great Apes: The Baseline for Human Evolution
- Origins of Genus Homo
- Southern Africa and Origin of Homo
- The First Human
- The Last Neanderthals
- Homo Erectus Versus Homo Sapiens
- The Evolution of Humans
- Primate Evolution with Neil DeGrasse Tyson
- M.C. Escher, Metamorphosis III (1967-68)
- Octavio Ocampo, The Evolution of Man
- Georgia O'Keeffe, Apple Family II
Film and Stage
- Inherit the Wind, a masterpiece about the Scopes trial; the film is packed with important personal and social themes but the intellectual combat over the subject of evolution provides the most gripping moments
- Mon Oncle D’Amerique, a comedy about understanding people through evolution and neuroscience
- Pickpocket: this “character study of a cocky young criminal who becomes so entranced by the act of picking pockets that he literally can't stop himself” illustrates the principle of social evolution on the individual level
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Just as no single organism demonstrates evolution, neither does any single work of music. Demonstrating evolution in music requires presentation of a collection of musical works over time. The processes of musical evolution are remarkably similar to those of biological evolution; the core difference is that the musical idea replaces the gene, and as a result musical evolution can be directed. A musical form develops, then a new idea is introduced. As that idea is developed, the musical form changes in character. Eventually, a new form may begin to take shape. And so forth. We will explore just a few examples of evolution in music.
Blues: The blues, with its distinctive form, began in the American South and could be seen as comfort music for troubled souls in troubled circumstances. As African-Americans migrated into the cities, so did the blues, taking root, most notably, in Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, Memphis, Mississippi, the Delta and New York; each of these branches took on its own character, each spawning its own offspring, in Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, Memphis, Mississippi, the Delta and New York. Some blues singers, such as Olive Brown, “Empress of the Blues”, transcended any one blues tradition, probably because her roots were in several of them. An excellent compilation tracing the developmental history of the Blues is available. Excellent written histories of blues music are also available.
Jazz could be said to begin in New Orleans with Dixieland music but it also has much of its root system in the blues. Its developments have included hot, swing, cool, be-bop, funk, straight-ahead, free, avant garde, modal and fusion.
Though the String Quartet has an evolutionary history before Haydn, he developed the form as we now recognize it. Follow its evolutionary progression from a prototype through representative works from various composers:
- Allesandro Scarlatti (composed early 1700s)
- Franz Xaver Richter (composed early-mid 1700s)
- Vincenzo Manfredini (composed mid-1700s)
- Franz Josef Haydn (1763-75)
- Franz Josef Haydn (1799)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1790)
- Georges Onslow (composed 1806-1833)
- Arriaga (ca. 1820)
- Gaetano Donizetti, known mainly for his operas, composed eighteen string quartets early in the 19th
- Louis Spohr (composed 1807-1857)
- Franz Schubert (composed 1812)
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1825)
- Norbert Burgmüller (commpsed 1825-1835)
- Felix Mendelssohn (composed 1829-1847)
- Robert Schumann (composed 1842)
- Max Bruch (1859-1860)
- Johannes Brahms (three quartets, 1870s)
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (composed 1871-1876)
- Charles Gounod (1895)
- Bedřich Smetana (1876-1883)
- Edvard Grieg (1878)
- Alexander Borodin (1881)
- Arthur Foote (1893)
- Alexander Glazunov (composed 1882-1930)
- Jean Sibelius (1909)
- Carl Nielsen (composed 1888-1919)
- Cesar Franck: String Quartet in D Major, M9 (1889–90)
- Claude Debussy: String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10, L85 (1893)
- Antonin Dvořák (1895)
- Alexandre von Zemlinsky (composed 1893-1936)
- Ralph Vaughan Williams (1898, 1944)
- Camille Saint-Saëns (composed 1899, 1918)
- Maurice Ravel, String Quartet in F Major (1903)
- Kurt Atterberg (1906-1908)
- York Bowen (1918-1919)
- Arnold Bax (composed 1918-1936)
- Josef Bohuslav Foerster, 5 string quartets (1888-1959)
- Darius Milhaud (composed 1912-1950)
- Paul Hindemith (composed 1915-1945)
- Heitor Villa-Lobos (composed 1915-1957)
- Bohuslav Martinů (composed 1918-1947)
- Darius Milhaud (1912-1949)
- Alois Hába (composed 1919-1967)
- Alexandre Tansman (composed 1922-1956)
- Arthur Bliss (three quartets, composed 1914-1950)
- George Anthiel (composed 1925-1948)
- Hilding Rosenberg (composed 1920-1957)
- Pavel Haas: String Quartet No. 2, "From the Monkey Mountains" (Z opičích hor), Op. 7 (1925)
- Henry Cowell (1936)
- Sergei Prokofiev (composed 1930, 1941)
- Walter Piston (composed 1933-1947)
- Elizabeth Maconchy (composed 1933-1984)
- Bela Bartók (composed 1896-1939)
- William Alwyn (1953, 1975)
- Samuel Barber: String Quartet in B Minor, Op. 11, H88 (1936)
- Miecczysław Wienberg (a/k/a Vainberg) (composed 1937-1987)
- Dmitri Shostakovich (composed 1938-1974)
- Benjamin Britten (1941, 1945, 1975)
- Giacinto Scelsi (composed 1944-1974)
- Vagn Holmboe (composed 1945-1989)
- Alberto Ginastera (composed 1948-1973)
- Leon Kirchner (composed 1949-1967)
- Robert Simpson (composed 1951-1987)
- Einojuhani Rautavaara (composed 1952, 1958)
- George Rochberg (composed 1952-1978)
- Peter Maxwell Davies (composed latter 20th century)
- Hayden Wayne (composed latter 20th century)
- György Ligeti (composed 1954, 1968)
- Alfred Schnittke (composed 1966-1983)
- Gloria Coates (composed 1966-1999)
- David Matthews (composed 1970-1990s)
- George Crumb, Black Angels (1971)
- Henri Dutilleux: String Quartet, "Ainsi la nuit" (Thus the Night) (1976)
- Morton Feldman (1979)
- Daniel Asia: String Quartet No. 2 (1985)
- Henryk Górecki (composed 1988 and 1990)
- John Corigliano (1995)
- Carl Czerny (2000)
- Georg Friedrich Haas (2016)
The symphony has an equally rich evolutionary history and development, owing to the large number of voices available to the composer: for example, a string quartet cannot employ a mallet and a wooden box to strike a tragic blow, else it would no longer be a string quartet. This richness allows the composer, as Mahler put it, to “embrace everything,” much as the human mind draws on its rich evolutionary history to think symbolically, imagine everything and begin to understand nature. Two composers stand out for their advancement of the symphonic form: Beethoven vastly expanded and enriched it, and Mahler deepened it and extended its reach.
- Franz Joseph Haydn (1761)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1764, composed at age eight)
- Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1778)
- Carl Friedrich Abel (1785)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1770)
- Ludwig van Beethoven’s first symphony is mainly an extension of Mozart’s work (1801)
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1802)
- Felix Mendelssohn (1824)
- Franz Schubert (1826)
- Robert Schumann (1841)
- Niels Gade (1843)
- Johannes Brahms (1855-76)
- Antonin Dvořák (1865)
- Anton Bruckner (1866)
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1872)
- Gustav Mahler (1893-96)
- Sergei Rachmaninoff (1906-07)
- Carl Nielsen (1916)
- Howard Hanson (1922)
- Arnold Bax (1922)
- Alan Hovhaness (1936)
- Samuel Barber (1936)
- Dmitri Shostakovich (1941)
- Arthur Honegger (1942)
- Bohuslav Martinů (1942)
- Aaron Copland (1946)
- Vagn Holmboe (1950)
- Robert Simpson (1962)
- Roger Sessions (1967)
- Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (1993)
- Compilation of modern symphonies
Be glad your nose is on your face, / not pasted on some other place, / for if it were where it is not, / you might dislike your nose a lot.
Imagine if your precious nose / were sandwiched in between your toes, / that clearly would not be a treat, / for you’d be forced to smell your feet.
Your nose would be a source of dread / were it attached atop your head, / it soon would drive you to despair, / forever tickled by your hair.
Within your ear, your nose would be / an absolute catastrophe, / for when you were obliged to sneeze, / your brain would rattle from the breeze.
Your nose, instead, through thick and thin, / remains between your eyes and chin, / not pasted on some other place— / be glad your nose is on your face!
[Jack Prelutsky, “Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face” (1984)]
. . . human thought, in changing its form, was about to change its mode of expression; that the dominant idea of each generation would no longer be written with the same matter, and in the same manner; that the book of stone, so solid and so durable, was about to make way for the book of paper, more solid and still more durable. In this connection the archdeacon’s vague formula had a second sense. It meant, “Printing will kill architecture.”
In fact, from the origin of things down to the fifteenth century of the Christian era, inclusive, architecture is the great book of humanity, the principal expression of man in his different stages of development, either as a force or as an intelligence.
When the memory of the first races felt itself overloaded, when the mass of reminiscences of the human race became so heavy and so confused that speech naked and flying, ran the risk of losing them on the way, men transcribed them on the soil in a manner which was at once the most visible, most durable, and most natural. They sealed each tradition beneath a monument.
The first monuments were simple masses of rock, “which the iron had not touched,” as Moses says. Architecture began like all writing. It was first an alphabet. Men planted a stone upright, it was a letter, and each letter was a hieroglyph, and upon each hieroglyph rested a group of ideas, like the capital on the column. This is what the earliest races did everywhere, at the same moment, on the surface of the entire world. We find the “standing stones” of the Celts in Asian Siberia; in the pampas of America.
Later on, they made words; they placed stone upon stone, they coupled those syllables of granite, and attempted some combinations. The Celtic dolmen and cromlech, the Etruscan tumulus, the Hebrew galgal, are words. Some, especially the tumulus, are proper names. Sometimes even, when men had a great deal of stone, and a vast plain, they wrote a phrase. The immense pile of Karnac is a complete sentence.
At last they made books. Traditions had brought forth symbols, beneath which they disappeared like the trunk of a tree beneath its foliage; all these symbols in which humanity placed faith continued to grow, to multiply, to intersect, to become more and more complicated; the first monuments no longer sufficed to contain them, they were overflowing in every part; these monuments hardly expressed now the primitive tradition, simple like themselves, naked and prone upon the earth. The symbol felt the need of expansion in the edifice. Then architecture was developed in proportion with human thought; it became a giant with a thousand heads and a thousand arms, and fixed all this floating symbolism in an eternal, visible, palpable form. While Dædalus, who is force, measured; while Orpheus, who is intelligence, sang;—the pillar, which is a letter; the arcade, which is a syllable; the pyramid, which is a word,—all set in movement at once by a law of geometry and by a law of poetry, grouped themselves, combined, amalgamated, descended, ascended, placed themselves side by side on the soil, ranged themselves in stories in the sky, until they had written under the dictation of the general idea of an epoch, those marvellous books which were also marvellous edifices: the Pagoda of Eklinga, the Rhamseion of Egypt, the Temple of Solomon. [Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris, or, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Volume I, Book Fifth, Chapter II, “This Will Kill That”.]
From a purely literary point of view, few studies would prove more curious and fruitful than the study of slang. It is a whole language within a language, a sort of sickly excrescence, an unhealthy graft which has produced a vegetation, a parasite which has its roots in the old Gallic trunk, and whose sinister foliage crawls all over one side of the language. This is what may be called the first, the vulgar aspect of slang. But, for those who study the tongue as it should be studied, that is to say, as geologists study the earth, slang appears like a veritable alluvial deposit. According as one digs a longer or shorter distance into it, one finds in slang, below the old popular French, Provençal, Spanish, Italian, Levantine, that language of the Mediterranean ports, English and German, the Romance language in its three varieties, French, Italian, and Romance Romance, Latin, and finally Basque and Celtic. A profound and unique formation. A subterranean edifice erected in common by all the miserable. Each accursed race has deposited its layer, each suffering has dropped its stone there, each heart has contributed its pebble. A throng of evil, base, or irritated souls, who have traversed life and have vanished into eternity, linger there almost entirely visible still beneath the form of some monstrous word. Do you want Spanish? The old Gothic slang abounded in it. Here is _boffete_, a box on the ear, which is derived from _bofeton; vantane_, window (later on _vanterne_), which comes from _vantana; gat_, cat, which comes from _gato; acite_, oil, which comes from _aceyte_. Do you want Italian? Here is _spade_, sword, which comes from _spada; carvel_, boat, which comes from _caravella_. Do you want English? Here is _bichot_, which comes from _bishop; raille_, spy, which comes from _rascal, rascalion; pilche_, a case, which comes from _pilcher_, a sheath. Do you want German? Here is the _caleur_, the waiter, _kellner_; the _hers_, the master, _herzog_ (duke). Do you want Latin? Here is _frangir_, to break, _frangere; affurer_, to steal, _fur; cadene_, chain, _catena_. There is one word which crops up in every language of the continent, with a sort of mysterious power and authority. It is the word _magnus_; the Scotchman makes of it his _mac_, which designates the chief of the clan; Mac-Farlane, Mac-Callumore, the great Farlane, the great Callumore41; slang turns it into _meck_ and later _le meg_, that is to say, God. Would you like Basque? Here is _gahisto_, the devil, which comes from _gaïztoa_, evil; _sorgabon_, good night, which comes from _gabon_, good evening. Do you want Celtic? Here is _blavin_, a handkerchief, which comes from _blavet_, gushing water; _ménesse_, a woman (in a bad sense), which comes from _meinec_, full of stones; _barant_, brook, from _baranton_, fountain; _goffeur_, locksmith, from _goff_, blacksmith; _guedouze_, death, which comes from _guenn-du_, black-white. Finally, would you like history? Slang calls crowns _les maltèses_, a souvenir of the coin in circulation on the galleys of Malta. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume IV – Saint-Denis; Book Seventh – Slang, Chapter II, Roots.]