Some years back, I delved deeply into the history of the Sholes (‘QWERTY’) keyboard layout, and became fascinated by the myth that QWERTY became ubiquitous because it was superior to all competition (a claim that was famously made by a couple of economists ideologically bound to the concept of the supreme power of the free market). I wrote a post that, in closing, referred to King Canute, and the popularly held belief that he was a fool.
Needless to say, since then I have encountered numerous references to this poor maligned king; the most recent being brought to mind by Martin Lack’s recent attempts to get the prevaricating peer to admit that he’s been talking bullshit for years. In one of his recent pieces of misinformation, his Lordship invoked, as climate deniers tend to do, the name of Canute in a reality inversion that is symptomatic of all their drivel.
Now, I’m no scientist. But there’s one thing I have learnt from my own attempts in recent years to split the signal from the noise, and that is that when you make a claim, you need to back it up by reference to authoritative sources. And although personally convinced of Cnut’s greatness, until today I’ve not actually tried to track down ‘the truth’.
As it turns out, both the official website of the British Monarchy and the UK Parliament website agree with my understanding of history: far from being a fool who believed he could command the sea to do his bidding, Cnut the Great was a very wise man who tried to demonstrate to his subjects that he could do no such thing.
(It was allegedly Christian humility which made him reject his courtiers’ flattery by demonstrating that even he could not stop the waves; later hostile chroniclers were to claim it showed madness.) [Source: official website of the British Monarchy]
King Cnut (Canute) famously attempted to control the waves of River Thames from the site of his royal palace to show his nobles that he was not omnipotent [Source: UK Parliament website]
The similarities between the attempts of free market fundamentalists to prove the ‘superiority’ of the QWERTY layout and those of climate change deniers to invert reality in support of their delusions never ceases to amaze me.
Oh, and in case you’re interested, yes, I do still type on a Dvorak layout, quite happily, thank you 🙂