On the Public Highway of Grammar · Michael A. Johnson

The first book to treat the interrelatedness of grammar and sex in the medieval period in any real depth is Jan Ziolkowski’s 1985 Alan of Lille’s Grammar of Sex: The Meaning of Grammar to a Twelfth-Century Intellectual.[1] Ziolkowski’s core argument remains indisputable: because grammar was understood to have a strong ethical dimension in the Middle Ages, and because grammar was thought to mirror Nature, however darkly, it provided an ideal metalanguage for theologians interested in defining Christian sexual orthodoxy, an increasingly urgent concern for Alan’s contemporaries. In this short archival vignette I revisit the oft-discussed scene in the Roman de la Rose in which Genius excommunicates the sodomites, highlighting a seldom-acknowledged intertext, John of Salisbury’s defense of the language arts, the Metalogicon. Not only are sodomy and grammatical error imagined to be co-extensive, but they are also metaphorized in the same way as deviations from a public highway, a metaphor that may or may not have originated the viatical straight/perverse opposition still in use today, but one that should be looked at critically in either case.

Continue reading



Inspired by two sessions at the Forty-Ninth International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in 2014 (“#;()@?”:—*!” and “Strange Letters: Alphabets in Medieval Manuscripts and Beyond”—the two most tweeted-about panels that year!), a hundred scholars have come together to form the Grammar Rabble.

The Grammar Rabble are interested in alphabets, punctuation, and other fundamentals of grammatica, both premodern and modern, and what sorts of thought and affect emerge from the contemplation of these fundamental linguistic materials.

We are excited by how much thinking and feeling can be done with, say, the letter J, or a colon, or an ampersand—and we want to explore and enjoy their microcosmographical and infraordinary possibilities.

We are in the process of proposing sessions for the next congress and devising other plans.

Our Facebook group is the best place to interact with us and to find out more about us (and to join us!), but we are also active on Twitter and Tumblr.