H.B.C. The letters stand for Hudson ’s Bay Company, the current name for an enterprise that began life as the “Company of Adventurers of England tradeing into Hudsons Bay,” to use the title and spelling in the royal charter. These stalwart adventurers received their charter from Good King Charles II in the year of our Lord 1670.
Trappers, traders, and indigenes who often had no choice but to deal with the monopoly and with the not-always-honest factors of H.B.C. posts had their own interpretation of those HBC initials: Here Before Christ.
The so-called Hudson’s Bay Hymn Book was a bit of brusque irony from the days of the fur trade in northern Canada, when the factor of a trading post would record in a ledger (the hymn book in question) the debt owed to the company by trappers going out on the line to see and collect the fur-bearing animals caught in their various and nefarious traps. If they had a record of bringing back to the post good commercial fur, the company would provision their trip by lending to these trappers the value of goods taken against the value of furs brought in later.
An HBC post at Athabasca Landing, Alberta
Factor and Moose Factory
What precisely in seventeenth century North America was an HBC factor? It is only fitting that an agent noun like factor (for such a noun is so called in English grammar) should signify an agent, one who transacts business for another, either for a commission based on sales or for a salary. The factor in charge of a trading post of the Hudson 's Bay Company controlled not only the business of the post but was the steward charged with care of the company's surrounding territory. The factor often functioned as a policeman, and in many cases was a stern and unforgiving constable, soundly hated by both local aboriginal people and by white and Métis trappers.
Hudson's Bay trappers ca. 1880
The noun entered Middle English as factour, borrowed from Middle French facteur, itself from Latin factor ‘maker’ or ‘doer,’ ultimately from the Latin verb facere ‘to make, to do.’
Origin of The Motto of HBC
Pro Pelle Cutem
Chartered in 1670, the Hudson ’s Bay Company selected its official motto shortly thereafter. The 17th century writer of this motto was actually acquainted with literature in Latin, and so the motto reverberates with a satisfying Latinity not found in recently fabricated Latin mottoes, such as the clunky unLatin stamped on Order of Canada medals.
Pro pelle cutem echoes a phrase from the Book of Job in the Vulgate: pellem pro pelle. In Job 2:4 God and Satan chat about how best to tempt the piety of the ever-faithful, never-blaspheming Job. God proclaims Job an upright man. But Satan chuckles, adding “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” This is truly an outrageous source for the self-serving motto of a fur company with a centuries-long tradition of greed and rapacity!
Another possible influence on the writer of the Hudson’s Bay Company motto was the Roman satirist Juvenal who in his Satires 10.192 has “pro cute pellem” ‘a hide in place of a skin.’ But this citation seems a mere coincidence of similar words being used. Although most reference texts say the HBC motto means ‘a skin for a skin’ a better translation takes into account the generality being expressed, where—as in many languages of the world—the singular may suggest general plurality. The obvious meaning intended by the writer of the Latin was ‘hides for fur.’ Latin admits of this meaning. Why Canadian reference texts do not says more about their lack of Latin than the original motto-writer’s skill. Sometimes an ironic translation is offered, viz. ‘animal skins at the cost of human skins’. While that may have historical validity, it is nonsense as a rendering of the Latin.
The Original HBC Charter
You may read the orginating charter from 1670 at the web address mentioned below. For now, here is the opening of the Royal Charter of the Hudson's Bay Company, presented so that a modern reader may imbibe the charterly richness of the optimistic 17th-century business English in which this parchment of incorporation is couched:
“CHARLES THE SECOND, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c. To ALL to whom these Presents shall come, greeting:
WHEREAS Our dear and entirely beloved Cousin, Prince Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria and Cumberland, &c. Christopher, Duke of Albemarle, William, Earl of Craven, Henry, Lord Arlington, Anthony, Lord Ashley, Sir John Robinson, and Sir Robert Vyner, Knights and Baronets, Sir Peter Colleton, Baronet, Sir Edward Hungerford, Knight of the Bath, Sir Paul Neele, Knight, Sir John Griffith and Sir Philip Carteret, Knights, James Hayes, John Kirke, Francis Millington, William Prettyman, John Fenn, Esquires, and John Portman, Citizen and Goldsmith of London, have, at their own great Cost and Charges, undertaken an Expedition for Hudson's Bay in the North-west Part of America, for the Discovery of a new Passage into the South Sea, and for the finding some Trade for Furs, Minerals, and other considerable Commodities, and by such their Undertaking, have already made such Discoveries as do encourage them to proceed further in Pursuance of their said Design, by means whereof there may probably arise very great Advantage to Us and Our Kingdom.
AND WHEREAS the said Undertakers, for their further Encouragement in the said Design, have humbly besought Us to incorporate them, and grant unto them, and their Successors, the sole Trade and Commerce of all those Seas, Streights, Bays, Rivers, Lakes, Creeks, and Sounds, in whatsoever Latitude they shall be, that lie within the entrance of the Streights commonly called Hudson's Streights, together with all the Lands, Countries and Territories, upon the Coasts and Confines of the Seas, Streights, Bays, Lakes, Rivers, Creeks and Sounds, aforesaid, which are not now actually possessed by any of our Subjects, or by the Subjects of any other Christian Prince or State.
NOW KNOW YE, that We being desirous to promote all Endeavours tending to the publick Good of our People, and to encourage the said Undertaking, HAVE of Our especial Grace, certain Knowledge, and mere Motion, given, granted, ratified, and confirmed, and by these Presents for Us, Our Heirs and Successors, DO give, grant, ratify and confirm, unto Our said Cousin Prince Rupert, Christopher, Duke of Albemarle, William, Earl of Craven, Henry, Lord Arlington, Anthony, Lord Ashley, Sir John Robinson, Sir Robert Vyner, Sir Peter Colleton, Sir Edward Hungerford, Sir Paul Neele, Sir John Griffith, and Sir Philip Carteret, James Hayes, John Kirke, Francis Millington, William Prettyman, John Fenn, and John Portman, that they, and such others as shall be admitted into the said Society as is hereafter expressed, shall be one Body Corporate and Politique, in Deed and in Name, by the Name of The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England, trading into Hudson's Bay, and them by the Name of the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England, trading into Hudson's Bay, one Body Corporate and Politique, in Deed and in Name, really and fully for ever, for Us, Our Heirs and Successors...”
A Hudson's Bay post at Sugluk Inlet in 1930
So ends our modest kayak paddle around the Hudson ’s Bay Company.
© 2012 copyright William Gordon Casselman
Reviews of my Book
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A Great New Review of My Latest Book!
October 26, 2011
Welcome to the Enchanted Forest
By WB Johnston
This review is about Bill Casselman’s latest e-book about words: Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A Word Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems (Kindle Edition)
“Wade Davis, lately of National Geographic, once described each living language as “an old-growth forest of the human spirit.” Once you decide to enter the kleptomaniacal woods of our mother tongue, what you need is more than a tour guide. This is no Disney-fied ‘keep-your-hands-inside-the-car-at all-times’, point A to point B, clear-cutting mining of language. You, here, are in the hands of Sir William of Cassel, a genuine shaman modestly posing as a simple lover of words.
In the best of the spiritual tradition, Bill is the shape-shifter who constantly leads you to all the places you need to find in your soul. Every page is a new country, an invitation to an excursion into the wonderland of rich connections with the myriad of sources of what so often we unthinkingly wield as a prosaic tool.
Pay absolutely no attention to anyone who tells you that this book is anything but pure gold. It’s simply not true, sadly, that all the world loves a lover. Particularly someone whose love is so boundless.
But Sir William is fearless. You don’t earn your keep as a medicine man if you have a thin skin. While I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could walk away from this book unmoved by its wit, its wisdom and the beautiful transparency by which the author celebrates the glorious romp of our almost unlimited linguistic exuberance, I have to sadly conclude that once in a while, you do meet someone who can’t see the forest for the trees, eh?
Read this book. Leave it on the sofa instead of the $%#!*$% TV remote. Maybe someone you care about will pick it up, even just for a moment, and fall in love with their heritage?
Leave it on your desk at work and trust that someone will riffle through it when you are out at lunch. Shamans are magicians of the highest order. The work of their hands and hearts is game-changing. Or, hey, put it on your Kindle and just feel comforted that you can wander back out into the forest with Bill even in the middle of a boring lecture.
(Casselman replies: Thank you so much, Dr. J., for the kudos.)
Jenni French of San Francisco, California writes on her blog “My Corner of the Universe” for March 19, 2011:
Casselman, Bill. Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A World Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.
“I admit it: I’m a word nerd. I love words: weird words, long words, obscure words, funny words. This book is right up my alley. With chapters like “Nautical Words,” “Creepy Words,” and “Edible Words,” I have enjoyed every page of this book.
And the author has quite a way with words, so I have found myself rereading many sentences in this book and slowing my progress through it.
My current favorite sentence is found in a discussion of dog hybrid breed names: “What a revolting concatenation of cutesiness and smarmy nomenclatorial treacle parading under the name of canine hybrid breed names” (19).
I’m sure I’ll have another favorite sentence in a day or two.
This book is just that good and just that entertaining.”
(Author Bill Casselman replies: “Thanks, Jenni!” )
Just a reminder that this book contains my ALL-NEW word essays, none of which are available anywhere else in print or online.
Cindy Lapeña on her blog “Creativity Unlimited” of July 19 ,2011, writes:
Posted by mimrlith in 365 Things to Look Forward to.
Tags: 365 things to look forward to, books, reading
19. Starting a book
To a certified bibliophile like me, a.k.a. bookworm, one of the most exciting things to look forward to is to start reading a new book. In fact, sometimes the prospect of starting to read a new book is so exciting that I have to hurry to finish the book I am currently reading, just so I can start a new one.
If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a book, especially if it promises to be a good one. Of course there are certain books I just won’t touch or be seen with, but at the risk of being hung by my thumbs by fans of such literature, I will not mention any genres in particular. . .
Seeing a book with a title that totally captivates me, like Where a Dobdob meets a Dikdik (yes, that is a book title!) has me so worked up, I just can’t wait to dive in. I imagine all sorts of deliciously fancifully outrageous words with a title like that. Is it obvious? I just love books on words. You won’t believe how many dictionaries I own. Or books on lexical oddities and other lexical explorations. Yes, I am a logophile of sorts. I love the new words I pick up from new books. I relish finding out the meanings of all manner of words and phrases and expressions. What could be more fun?”
(Replies author Bill Casselman: Please scroll to bottom of page or click here to link to a free seven-page preview of my book, Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Dear Mr. Casselman,
A search for the origins of an improbable-looking word, paraprosdokian, led me to the first piece of your prose I have had the pleasure of reading, “The Bogus Word Paraprosdokian & Lazy Con Artists of Academe.” I have just placed an order for Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik, Canadian Words & Sayings, and As The Canoe Tips, and will add more of your titles as I finish these.
I have just retired from a 40-plus year career in book publishing, the last thirty years spent as director/editor of a number of university presses, attempting to sort the genuine writers from the “Lazy Con Artists of Academe.” Sad to say, the latter have so over-bred the former that I could no longer see the rare gem in the avalanches of offal that daily swamped my office and desk. I visited your website and spent far too long there; it was a pleasure to meet a real writer through his work.
. . . I revisited the paraprosdokian page, and have finally quit laughing again at “Casselman’s Conclusion.” You were not unkind to the “profligate prof-lets.” During my years as an acquisitions editor, in rejection letters I often quoted Prof. Moses Hadas, classicist at Columbia University, who wrote a young scholar in response to having been sent the prof-let’s first book, “Thank you for sending me your book. I will waste no time reading it.”
I know I will enjoy your books. Keep up the good work.
University of New Mexico Press, among others
Hundreds of links to more of my word entries are available below.
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