Okay, this “to the gates of Hell” stuff has got to stop.
You heard him today. John McCain started this linguistic disaster, but I was hoping it met the pyre with his preznitial campaign. But no, there’s Vice President Biden up there today:
They should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice. Because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside.
John McCain used similar language in 2007, regarding Osama bin Laden.
“We will do whatever is necessary,” McCain said in a Republican primary debate. “We will track him down. We will catch him. We will bring him to justice and I’ll follow him to the gates of hell.”
McCain was criticized at the time for this statement. But not for the right reasons. Because what Joe Biden said about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant did not actually mean what Joe Biden apparently thought it meant.
And this observation can be documented all the way back to The Bard.
Twelfth Night is a wonderful holiday comedy that involves cross-dressing and music. Among its first spoken lines, in fact, is the famous “if music be the food of love, play on.”
I’m going to borrow here from Sparknotes so you don’t have to live through my own attempt to interpret Shakespeare:
In the garden of Olivia’s house, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria—along with Fabian, one of Olivia’s servants—prepare to play their practical joke on Malvolio. Maria has written a letter carefully designed to trick him into thinking that Olivia is in love with him. She has been spying on him and knows that he is now approaching. She drops the letter in the garden path, where Malvolio will see it. She exits, while the three men hide among the trees and shrubbery.
Malvolio approaches on the path, talking to himself. He speaks of Olivia: it seems that he already thinks it possible that she might be in love with him. He is deep in a fantasy of what it would be like to be Olivia’s husband and the master of her house. He would have power over all the other servants and even over Sir Toby. Sir Toby and the others can’t help jeering at Malvolio’s pride from their hiding place, but they do it softly so that he will not overhear them and realize that they are there.
Malvolio spots the letter lying in the garden path. He mistakes Maria’s handwriting for Olivia’s, as Maria has predicted, and Malvolio thinks that the letter is from Olivia. Apparently, Maria sealed the letter with Olivia’s sealing ring to make the letter look even more authentic. To Sir Toby’s pleasure, Malvolio decides to read it aloud.
The letter is addressed to “the unknown beloved” and contains what seems to be a riddle about love (II.v.92). It suggests that the writer is in love with somebody but must keep it a secret from the world, though she wants her beloved to know about it. The first part of the letter concludes by saying that the beloved’s identity is represented by the letters M.O.A.I. Malvolio, naturally, works over the message in his mind until he has made it mean that he is the beloved (he notes, for instance, that all four of the letters appear in his own name). Sir Toby and the rest laugh at him from behind the bush.
Once he has convinced himself that Olivia is in love with him, Malvolio reads the second half of the letter. The mysterious message implies that the writer wishes to raise Malvolio up from his position of servitude to one of power. But the letter also asks him to show the writer that he returns her love through certain signs. The letter orders him to wear yellow stockings, “go cross-gartered” (that is, to wear the straps of his stockings crossed around his knees), be sharp-tempered with Sir Toby, be rude to the servants, behave strangely, and smile all the time. Jubilantly, Malvolio vows to do all these things in order to show Olivia that he loves her in return.
After Malvolio leaves, Sir Toby remarks that he “could marry this wench [Maria] for this device. . . . And ask no other dowry with her but such another jest” (II.v.158–160). Maria then rejoins the men, and she, Sir Toby, and Fabian have a good laugh, anticipating what Malvolio is likely to do now. It turns out that Olivia actually hates the color yellow, can’t stand to see crossed garters, and doesn’t want anybody smiling around her right now, since she is still officially in mourning. In other words, Malvolio is destined to make a great fool of himself. They all head off together to watch the fun.
Maria asks if it worked; Sir Toby Belch indicates that it did. She fills the gang in about the yellow stockings and crossed garters and how much Olivia will hate them. This impresses Sir Toby Belch, who says: “To the gates of Tartar, thou most excellent devil of wit!”
In English? “I’d follow you to the gates of Hell.”
Sir Toby Belch is saying he respects these efforts to humiliate a common foe and that he considers Ms. Maria to be a worthy leader.
This is hardly the message our elected leaders should be broadcasting about ISIL.
But it’s what it means.
And remember. The dude wielding the knife spoke English. English English.
Bet he had a great laugh over Biden’s statement.
And yes. I admit it. I just like typing the name “Sir Toby Belch.”
And see, look. They use the expression correctly in Outpost 3: Rise of the Spetsnaz.
This is a film that was released in 2013 and has yet to rate a Rotten Tomatoes score and has an audience approval number there of 35 percent.
And even the writers of this piece of shit can use the phrase “to the gates of Hell” in its proper context.
I wish I could find more examples of this etymology, though I think when you can reference Shakespeare to support your point, you’re doing okay. But since Biden’s speech is current events and all, it’s rather dominating the search engines.
Just, for rat’s sake, can we stop pooping all over the English language?
That’s not what that means. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what you are meaning to say. GRRRRRRRR.
- Lita Ford: “Eddie Van Halen is The Les Paul of Today’s World” (Van Halen News Desk)
- America is slowly—but surely—becoming a nation of tea drinkers (The Washington Post)
- Mute the Messenger (Texas Observer)