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Activities in bedchambers in Europe, hushed mutterings in palace corridors in its capital cities concerning potential brides or assumed slights by flighty rulers who were quick to have their egos piqued had implications and ramifications thousands of miles away. (The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan · 2016)

I think the meaning of the phrase above is that some deals decided secretly or privately in Europe had implications thousand of miles away such as Americas or India.

But I cannot figure out what assumed slights means in the context, especially the meaning of word "slights".

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  • Yes, I did. Slight means, as noun, 1. an act or instance of slighting 2. an instance of being slighted, in Merriam Webster's.
    – Mankak
    May 9, 2022 at 10:02
  • Still, I fail to understand it.: assumed slights.
    – Mankak
    May 9, 2022 at 10:27
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    @MichaelHarvey: I think the implication is that both the slighting and the being slighted are activities carried out by "flighty rulers", since they probably wouldn't know or care what anyone else except people in their "peer group" said anyway. Those rulers are effectively trading insults (real or imagined, dished out and received), so the word order doesn't seem particularly "odd" to me in this exact context. May 9, 2022 at 10:51
  • ...actually, reading more carefully, the reference is to hushed mutterings ... by flighty rulers. I guess the preposition could have been from or of (inter alia?), but by still looks good to me. May 9, 2022 at 11:07
  • @FumbleFingers Actually I would read it "activities, mutterings, or assumed slights...had implications thousands of miles away". It isn't a very well-written sentence. Basically, it's trying to summarize European court politics. I probably would have used "perceived" instead of "assumed". Flighty rulers with easily piqued egos perceived slights where none were intended.
    – ColleenV
    May 9, 2022 at 14:56

2 Answers 2

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"...assumed slights by flighty rulers who were quick to have their egos piqued had implications and ramifications thousands of miles away"

A "slight" is an insult. Insults can be hidden or implied rather than obvious. For example "you're really stupid" is an obvious insult, but "you're not the sharpest knife in the drawer" or "you're two sandwiches short of a picnic" (got to love English!) is less obvious. In the statement, overly-sensitive rulers are assuming that they've been insulted when that might not have been the case, and their own egos won't allow that to pass unpunished, hence the implied consequences – maybe one ruler says something innocuous that another one interprets as an insult and declares war, so soldiers in the rulers' countries thousands of miles away end up dying.

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The central word here is "slight," meaning small in amount or degree.

To be slighted means to be treated as if one were small or unimportant, which would be a grave offense to a ruler, as those folks tend to have a generally inflated sense of self.

To further break down "assumed slights by flighty rulers who were quick to have their egos piqued,"

  • "Assumed slights" - literally imagined insults but with a heavy connotation of someone looking to find insult where none exists
  • "Flighty rulers" - People who have immense power but who might act foolishly, especially jumping from cause to cause or passion to passion
  • "Quick to have their egos piqued" - Pique can mean generally interest but it can also mean specifically being angry, especially being angry about your status and perceived status. That's how I would read it here.

So that sentence could be shortened to "Sex, rumors, and fragile egos among the ruling class have outsized implications in world events."

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