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conspiracy: an etymology

Everyone knows that when it comes to the analyzing the English language, there’s really only one way to impress your professor: whip out a copy of the OED; find some archaic usage of a word that no one understands or cares about; and explain why said usage was so horribly significant for buccaneers and sea dogs during the Age of Exploration.  For instance: did you know that the word “felch,” in Queen’s English, used to mean “to pay respects to your neighbor,” as in, “Oh, Dearest, seeing as how we just moved into this tidy little hamlet of Waldenshire, wouldn’t it be best to go and felch the Smiths in the cottage next door?”  You probably didn’t and if you did you should go felch yourself.

With that in mind, let’s turn the power of the OED to our subject at hand: the word conspiracy.  In our day and age, conspiracy is bandied around carelessly to convey a plethora of meanings.  Some use the word conspiracy to refer to those things we consider as warning signs sent to us from aliens – things like the Great Pyramids, crop circles, Stonehenge, or Watergate.  Others use the word conspiracy as a gender-friendly alternative for “the Man,” even though we all know that anybody who is capable of bending regular Joes over and giving it to them hard up the ass must be a man (and probably also an ex-con, at that).   

Many also often use conspiracy as a scapegoat for their own shortcomings.  When your friend says, “Man, I just failed Computers and the Law: it must be a conspiracy!” what he really means to say is, “Jesus, I am the stupidest motherfucking kid at Yale!”  Similarly, if that guy in your Physics section wonders out loud, “Hey, is there some conspiracy going on or why won’t Kathy hook up with me?” he is actually trying to say, “I’m sorry, I have very poor personal hygiene.”

But from whence did this term really originate?  Glancing into the pages of the OED, it will come as no great shock to many of you to learn that that humble word conspiracy has its roots reflected directly in its acoustic appearance: Khan’s Piracy, referring obviously to those days when the great and mighty warlord of the noble Mongol race and stately pleasure dome Kublai Khan ranged savagely throughout the land, a piece of raw mutton dripping blood in one hand and a Mongol sledgehammer cum backscratcher in the other, all in a never-ending intergalactic quest to destroy Captain Kirk and the starship Enterprise.  In those days, wherever one went in East Asia, he found only two things: bootleg copies of “I Feel for You,” and also Khan’s Klingon warships, a vast fleet spread across the Pacific to rape and pillage – mainly to rape – nearby Asiatic states.  This included a daring but failed invasion of Japan in 1281, where his forces were repelled by the cast of Samurai Champloo, including the voiceover actors.  

References to Khan’s Piracy overflow in ancient records of the time, but the OED lists two salient examples.  The first, a little-known haiku from the Lo Mein-shi, goes as follows:

     Moon reflects on pond.
     Birds chirp.  My ass is still sore
     from Khan’s Piracy.

The second example is, of course, a now-classic dialogue from the treasured warrior’s tale The Annals of Sesame Chicken:

Kirk: Khan, you blood sucker! You're going to have to do your own dirty work now. Do you hear me? DO YOU?!?
Khan: Kirk. Kirk, you still alive my old friend.
Kirk: Still, old, friend. You've managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.
Khan: Perhaps I no longer need to try Admiral.
(The Genesis device is beamed to Khan's ship)
Kirk: Khan. Khan, you've got Genesis, but you don't have me. You were going to kill me, Khan; you're going to have to come down here. You're going to have to come down here!
Khan: I've done far worse than kill you. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her. Marooned for all eternity, in the center of a dead planet. Buried alive. Buried alive.
Kirk: KHAN!..... KHAN!

And so it was from these humble origins that the word conspiracy came into modern usage.  Those interested, of course, can follow the OED’s record on through the centuries, when the term was used by savvy courtiers in coded messages to their liege lords, as in “My Lord, is that Khan’s spear I see?” to mean “Hey, pants tent, dude,” or, moving on to more modern ages, the time when a phonetically-challenged prison guard misinterpreted the word and started off that fine tradition we now know and celebrate as a “Cons’ Pee Race.”  In the end, no matter what fine facts we might find, the overarching message to be gotten is quite clear: Spock gets reborn in the next movie, so your whining, bitch.

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