March has not yet brought spring, with the Mid-Atlantic cowering under a fresh White Doom From Above warning for tomorrow and Monday, but already the mangling of the name of the patron saint of Ireland is well advanced.
Every year on Twitter, @paddynotpatty undertakes the Sisyphean labor of demonstrating to multitudes apparently impaired by drink that the diminutive of the saint's name is Paddy, not Patty, having derived from the non-anglicized Padraig.
And every year the correction is greeted with braying denial, frequently with the unassailable riposte "This is America."*
So if you really think you're on familiar terms with the fifth-century bishop** and keen to display your synthetic Irishness, you might mange to refer to St. Paddy and not display that you are what the Irish call an eejit.
For the moment, I am more interested in exploring the meaning of that "This is America" response.
At one level it is a cry of independence. This is the New World, the City on a Hill, having shed the shackles of Europe's history and all its obsolete conventions. We are Americans and we are no longer in thrall to stuck-up sticky-beaks from the other side of the water, thank you very much.
At a deeper level, it is also an expression of how we value our innate and constitutionally guaranteed rights to our convictions and the free expression thereof. With Paddy vs. Patty, as with evolution, climate change, and any number of other matters, the rights enumerated in the Constitution and floating in its penumbra can be effectively reduced to this summary: This is America, and my ignorance trumps your information. This is the authentic American exceptionalism expressing itself.
Blessed St. Smithwick, preserve us.
*You would think that some of them might be dimly aware of the derogatory term paddy wagon, the van in which the police cart off Irish laborers who have drunk up the weekly paycheck and become disruptive of public order, the etymological link to the nickname clicking into place.
**Who was Romano-British rather than Irish, but let that pass.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun