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“Transportation and Revolt” also explores the etymologies of certain words which contain double meanings evocative of the book’s broader thesis. These words include:
Today this term tends to refer to an obstructionist act during an political assembly. It appears to have dual etymological origin in the Dutch “vrijbuiter” (a freebooter or pirate) or the Middle English “flibutor” (a fly-boatman, or canal boat pilot).
This Chinese term (洋泾浜) means, roughly, a pidgin-like imitation of something. During the 19th century, it referred to a canal which separated the walled old city of Shanghai from the English and French Foreign Concession districts. Literally the term meant the “Foreign Boundary Creek” or the “Ocean-Flowing Stream.” The term also referred to a go-between argot used along the city’s docks, between Chinese and Western sailors. During the Taiping Rebellion, especially in 1853, the Yanjingbang canal became an important space of subversive mobility for smuggling arms to Taiping rebels holed up in the walled city.
This term referred to casual dock labor in New York City during the early 20th century. Its origin is highly obscure. One possible origin is the Chenango Canal in upstate New York, which became defunct during the 1870s. Another possible origin is the sabotage of the USS Chenango in New York Harbor during the American Civil War. In 1919 the New York bomb squad captain Thomas Tunney blamed the harbor’s “chenango” workers for terrorism around the port.
This Dutch word can mean to “to suppress” (as in, to suppress a riot) and “to fill in” (as in, to fill in a canal). Thus, the Eel Riot which took place on Amsterdam’s Lindengracht (Linden Canal) in 1886 – sparked by new laws regulating the Amsterdam working class’s use of the city’s canals – was “gedempte” (suppressed). And so too, shortly thereafter, was the canal itself, which was “gedempte” (filled in).
Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, in their 2000 book “The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic," talk about “pidgin” communication among sailors as crucial in the formation of a multinational and multilinguistic proto-proletarian political conscious in the Atlantic space-economy of the 18th century. But where does that word, “pidgin," come from? Like "Chenango," its origin is obscure. The English "pigeon” has been proposed (either for the pigeon’s pidgin-like chirps or for its potential use as a domesticated message mover) – so has the Hebrew “pidjom” (barter); the Yayo word “pidian” (people); the Portuguese “ocupacao” (business); and the “pequeno portugues” spoken in colonial times by the coastal peoples of Angola.
The central metaphor of Linebaugh and Rediker’s book, the hydra, similarly tempts an association between oppositional politics and anarchic mobility: “hydra” can refer to a many-headed monster, or to water.
The Sanskrit “naga” can refer to a many-headed serpent, or also (according to some dictionaries) an elephant. However, unlike the hydra, the naga does not appear to have a metaphoric history of symbolizing anarchy. Still, the formal similarity to the hydra, and the double-meaning of elephant, may be more than mere coincidence.
In modern parlance, "to mule” means, roughly, to smuggle – especially by using one’s own body as the vehicle. The term appeals to a longstanding association between mules and smugglers (discussed in Chapter I of Transportation and Revolt). The term “mulatto” is perhaps alluding to this association as well (the mulatto as one who "traffics” blood across racial boundaries) and to the peculiar biological condition of the mule, as the offspring of a horse and donkey.
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A visual I like which never made it into the final draft: