Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'A' faciendum

The 'A' must be made

Apparently, approximately 3/5--a distinct majority--of my students believe that they 'make' their grades, e.g. "I made an 'A' on that exam."

Out of construction paper? Thin air? It must be some sort of miraculous process; would that I knew the secret of grade making. And yet somehow they are all 'making' lousy grades...

It must be a Southern thing, although it doesn't appear to be universal down here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You are now my unfriend

Actually, that would be a new coinage. I don't believe that the adjectival nominal form has made it into the dictionary yet, but the verb "to unfriend" has been announced as Oxford's Word of the Year for 2009. Ah, the joys of Facebook neologisms. We may even need a neologism to define this specific category of neologisms. Any suggestions?

Among the others, I have seen 'sexting' cropping up with increasing frequency, but I believe my favorite is 'funemployed.' I have seen first hand the benefits of funemployment, and they seem, well, pretty fun. And "tramp stamp" is so 2004. Other favorites?

On a much less modern note, the English word 'friend' is historically interesting. It is one of the last remaining traces in Modern English of the old present participal suffix (along with 'fiend') so productive in Latin, where it appears as -ent (e.g. nom. sing. dicens [<*dic-ent-s], gen. dicentis). It comes to us through Germanic in which the suffix was largely lost. Thus it was, originally, 'the loving one.'

UPDATE: Stupid Blogger thought the above notation was a faulty HTML tag and cut my post. It has now been restored in full (though too late for GReader to pick it up, unfortunately).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's in a paper, anyway?

Does it seem strange to non-classicists that this bizarre, five line passage (from Tacitus' Agricola, chapter 12) can serve as the basis for a 20-some page paper? Well, it does to me anyway:
fert Britannia aurum et argentum et alia metalla, pretium victoriae. gignit et Oceanus margarita, sed subfusca ac liventia. quidam artem abesse legentibus arbitrantur; nam in rubro mari viva ac spirantia saxis avelli, in Britannia, prout expulsa sint, colligi: ego facilius crediderim naturam margaritis deesse quam nobis avaritiam.

Britain bears gold and silver and other metals—the value of its conquest. The ocean also produces pearls, but they are dusky and of bluish hue. Certain men believe that some technique is absent in the collectors; for in the Indian Ocean,the pearls are pulled out of the rocks still living and breathing, whereas in Britain, are collected just as they are expelled: I, for my part, would more easily believe that the natural quality of the pearls is lacking than our greed.
Also, I am on a quest for a highly-technical, possibly extant term which, if it exists, would be the term in structural engineering for, more or less, 'the point at which the force would cause a structure to collapse in the absence of a support.' Suggestions are welcome (with credit given! hmm? hmmmm?).

Sunday, November 8, 2009


You all are watching football, because that's the only good thing to do on a Sunday afternoon (It sure beats reading Tacitus, at least). Therefore, you probably just saw the NCIS episode teaser. And heard this:
"He's as close to invisible as I've ever seen!"
That is all.

The Wicked Stepmother

We are all familiar with the wicked stepmother character in fairy-tales (Cinderella, etc.). While the Brothers Grimm, those famous collectors of tales (and linguists!), surely had some hand in it, this representation of the stepmother seems to have much wider traction.

There exists already very early in the Greek tradition the concept of a proverbially cruel stepmother. By the time of Hesiod, the stepmother (μητρυιὴ) has distilled, essentially, into a single word formula for cruelty. In the conclusion of Works & Days (822-28):
Αἵδε μὲν ἡμέραι εἰσὶν ἐπιχθονίοις μέγ' ὄνειαρ·
ὄρνιθας κρίνων καὶ ὑπερβασίας ἀλεείνων.

Some days are a great benefits to men on earth,
But others are indifferent, harmless, bringing nothing at all.
Someone praises one kind of day, but few understand them.
Sometimes a day is a stepmother, sometimes a mother.
He is fortunate and blessed of men, who
knowing all these things, works on, guiltless in eyes of the gods,
discerning omens of flight and avoiding transgressions.
The juxtaposition of the mother (μήτηρ) establishes a polar relationship, i.e, cruel : caring. But this minor contextualization is unnecessary for Aeschylus in the 5th century (PB 725-27):
ἐχθρόξενος ναύτῃσι, μητρυιὰ νεῶν.

Salmydessa is, the jagged jaw of the sea,
A hateful host for sailors, the stepmther of ships.
A pan-Indo-European theme? Even broader? I need to do some more investigating.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Italo-Celtic Hypothesis

As I mentioned in the last post, I wrote a series of short papers--essentially exercises in comprehension and mental processing. The first concerns the proposed unity of the Celtic and Italic branches of the Indo-European language family prior to their separation into distinct language branches (cf. Indo-Iranian) This hypothesis is based on a number of shared innovations (and, perhaps, retentions), some of which are unique to Celtic and Italic. The paper is a brief examination of the evidence. An excerpt from the introduction:
The Italo-Celtic hypothesis, an Indo-European subgroup uniting Italic and Celtic into a single entity, has, since its inception in 1861 (Lottner Kuhns Beiträge 2.309 ff.), sufficiently intrigued generations of scholars as to gain a kind of cyclical immortality. This sort of immortality is not without death; on the contrary, the theory has perished many times,1 but has always been resurrected—including, notably, by Cowgill 1970 from Watkins 1966.2 The principal appeal of this and other theories of subgrouping lies in their contribution toward the resolution of a question fundamental in Indo-European studies, as framed by Watkins: “wie es eigentlich gewesen?” (1966: 29). An intermediate Italo-Celtic subgroup, existing in the vast temporal grey space between Proto-Indo-European and its relevant end-points, i.e., the daughter languages of the separate Italic and Celtic subgroups, provides valuable insight as to the process.
For the interested, the entire paper can be found here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

mutetur et resurgat

May it be changed and rise again.

My long absence from blogging has been no accident. I found the rigidity of this blog’s self-imposed form and function off-putting, and was thus disinclined from using it as it should be (and hopefully shall be) used: as an open, easily accessible record of my thoughts, usually sketched in broad and indefinite strokes as, indeed, they tend to occur.

I was nudged back to De Grypis by three episodes in particular. The first was my encounter with the reflections of Chris Blattman, Yale development economist and one of my favorite bloggers, upon his two-year blogiversary. He recalls economist Dani Rodrik’s notion of his blog as academic memory (with Google), and agrees wholeheartedly. Rodrik, in fact, wrote:

[O]ne of the unexpected scholarly benefits of having a blog is that it is like keeping an intellectual journal. You get an idea, you jot it down in your blog. Some months later, you vaguely remember having had the idea and you google your own blog to recover it. I am not kidding: I google my own blog all the time...

I can well-appreciate his sentiment. Many are the hours of frustration I have spent groping for an idea which, only just yesterday (or two hours ago, or two minutes ago) so clear and comprehensible, has slipped beyond the reach of memory, especially of late. These are, at best, wasted hours and, at worst, wasted ideas.

A second episode really brought this home. In my research on an unrelated topic, I came across a linguistic analysis of a particular speech in the Iliad which may reinforce certain suggestions I made in a paper from my undergraduate days. Now that 2007 idea was developed into a full paper (misguidedly, perhaps—it was not received warmly by the instructor). I have that paper saved on file and so, if I choose, I may reinvestigate my initial claims in light of new evidence. But there are many ideas which do not end up in the permanent record; they are jottings in the margins of texts, little notes in the recesses of notepads that, neglected until the time comes for a full-scale paper, may be at that point inaccessible. These notes will find their natural home in a blog.

The third episode consists of the recent series of short papers I have written for a general class on Indo-European languages. These assignments require one to distill complex, far-reaching concepts--often treated at length in article, monograph, or book—into a brief 3-4 page paper. The process itself is immensely helpful in understanding the material, and the ideas extracted, boiled-down to their essentials, are suddenly seem more applicable in a wide set of contexts. They have certainly facilitated the strong conceptual framework that is integral to the study of Classics and even more so, Indo-European. Since the academic necessity of such papers that are, in fact, primarily mental exercises, will soon expire, I will turn to this blog—which, I believe, is an ideal platform.

The thoughts appearing here need not be fully developed or meticulously treated; such careful attention will be rare, as they are more useful to me as material for separate projects and, as it is likely, no more interesting (or perhaps, even less so) to my readers wholly fleshed out and with an eye for the particulars. Nor will I be bound to the limited domain of Classics, or even the more extensive domain of Indo-European studies. These remain my principal interests, a fact which will show in the frequency of subjects on which I will offer my thoughts.

Yet I would add that as I continue my studies, I have found that my observations outside my discipline can often be fruitful within it; at the very least, they tend to fuel the analytic thought-processes so vital to a thorough understanding of ancient languages and literature, inter alia. Moreover, the exercise of semi-daily writing should strengthen those prose composition muscles that might otherwise atrophy in the daily grind of a reading and translation heavy course load.

Please bear with me in these motives, for though generally selfish, they are not entirely so; it is my firm belief that these oft-fleeting notes will be more interesting to you than that which came before, and much more so than nothing at all.

I’m back.