Language without emojis

Clo S. of This Too Shall Grow went two weeks without using emojis and chronicled her experiment:

On the first day of my experiment, I was already worrying that I wasn’t warm enough, or wasn’t conveying my reactions well enough. On the second day, I missed using emojis. It hadn’t even been 48 hours, but the good stuff comes when you push through, so I kept at it. On the third day, finally, I started feeling good about this. I wrote:

“This is actually cool, I don’t know if I want to get back to emojis. Maybe I just needed to get the habit out of my system.”

No shit, Sherlock.

In the first few days, I did have to edit emojis out of my messages, as I was using them reflexively. During this experiment, I pondered about the importance of emojis to convey banter, being concerned that without them, I’d simply come across as mean.

I could probably do two weeks but it’d be tough and I’d worry if I was coming across as cold and distant. But if you asked me to stop saying “lol” and “haha” at the end of sentences? Big struggle. I was talking to a friend the other day who’d asked me how I was and we talked about how we used “lol” to cushion the blow of expressing less-than-pleasant feelings. It’s a crutch, for sure, and emojis add a certain flavour to our digital conversations, for good or bad.

Emoji related: Standards Manual’s new book dedicated to late 90s Japanese emojis

Zito Madu on learning French

This is now the third time I’ve covered Zito Madu on one of my blogs (see his features on Playrface and Sampleface). Here, he discussed his year of learning French in 2020:

Marseille is a beautiful city, as most cities by the sea and with ancient architecture, large churches and cathedrals tend to be (not to mention Le Corbusier’s city within the city). It seems like a place built for pictures, and it’s no surprise that there is an infinite number of pictures of it online from the prescribed tourist vantage points. Being in the city, though, I still felt the urge to document what I saw and add to that ever-growing collection of images depicting the city from an outsider’s perspective. I walked from Saint Charles station to Old Port, across Le Panier, through Cite Radieuse, to the Velodrome stadium, and then to the Notre-Dame de la Garde, taking all the necessary photos along the way.

The city is also known for its crime—people who heard I was going there offered advice not just on where to visit, but where to avoid. I walked around for days and looked at all those spectacles and spots engineered for a tourist to be amazed at, but I also went to those places that I was told not to go. It wasn’t so much an act of rebellion or thrill-seeking—Marseille is a city of immigrants, proudly so, and I figured that the people in those shunned places were probably people like me, only separated by luck and the cruelty of Western borders. It felt incorrect to think of a city as beautiful without seeing the people who make it possible, those who are often hidden away from the bubble of tourism.

I was right. Walking through those narrow streets in my black tracksuit, I fit the image of many of the people there. The problem was that I couldn’t speak to anyone. So I declared that I would learn French, because I wanted to live there, and I wanted to be with those people, to talk to, learn from, help, and suffer with them.

A few weeks ago, I posted about the romance of language learning and while there is a connection of love between the two, this is less an affair and more a deeper humanitarian love. Although the learning journey didn’t turn out how he wanted, that aim and passion for Marseille still remain and I wish him good luck in the future.

'Learning a new language is a lot like entering a new relationship.'

I’ve been learning Portuguese for the past 4 years and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. If it was a romantic relationship, it’d be my longest to date. Marianna Pogosyan used this love analogy in her piece for Aeon:

Learning a new language is a lot like entering a new relationship. Some will become fast friends. Others will hook their arms with calculus formulas and final-exam-worthy historical dates, and march right out of your memory on the last day of school. And then sometimes, whether by mere chance or as a consequence of a lifelong odyssey, some languages will lead you to the brink of love.

Those are the languages that will consume you – all of you – as you do everything to make them yours. You dissect syntax structures. You recite conjugations. You fill notebooks with rivers of new letters. You run your pen over their curves and cusps again and again, like you would trace your fingers over a lover’s face. The words bloom on paper. The phonemes interlace into melodies. The sentences taste fragrant, even as they tumble awkwardly from your mouth like bricks built of foreign symbols. You memorise prose and lyrics and newspaper headlines, just to have them at your lips after the sun dips and when it dawns again.

More on love and languages: Colin Jackson’s Welsh language journey, the Klingon language and its influence on modern culture, and love from a Black perspective.

Did the Ancient Greeks not have a word for 'blue'? Or is it a myth?

Blue is a cool colour (badum-tish!). But apparently, the Ancient Greeks didn’t know about it—at least, they didn’t have a name for it, so claims AsapSCIENCE in its video entitled Why The Ancient Greeks Couldn’t See Blue. I found it via Open Culture who also blogged about it in June under the title Why Most Ancient Civilizations Had No Word for the Color Blue and thought “wow, interesting!” But it appears it might not be strictly true.

The first red flag was this line:

“[…] blue doesn’t appear much in nature,”

Have you looked up lately? Or seen any of the blue flowers available on the planet? Then the comments took hold and critiqued the video a bit more. This from “Tom Neff”:

The Greeks had several words for blue: Kyaneos was dark blue and glaukos was light blue.

This article appears to have been substantially copied from a 2015 Australian Business Insider article.

Uh oh. A quick Wiktionary search throws up etymologies for the words “kyaneos” and “glaukos“:

kyaneos (κυάνεος), from κῠ́ᾰνος (kúanos, “dark-blue enamel”) +‎ -εος (-eos). According to Beekes, probably from Hittite (kuwannan-, “precious stone, copper, blue”), likely from Proto-Indo-European *ḱwey– (“to shine, white, light”) (compare *ḱweytós (“white”)).

glaukós (γλαυκός, “blue-green, blue-grey”). Uncertain origin. Barber reconstructs Proto-Indo-European *gleh₂w-ko-, noting that the root only appears in Greek (Homer, Aeschylus), but Beekes finds an Indo-European origin unlikely.

The more you read, the more you see that blue had lots of names and was very prestigious in ancient civilizations. I’d have expected Open Culture to do a bit more fact-checking and the video shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

Really hoping I’ve not been a hypocrite and spewed nonsense here so please correct me if any of this or the referenced links are wrong because I like to learn!

The etymological identity crisis of Arctic bears

A fascinating read about bears and the Arctic and how their etymological histories are based on anonymity and opposites. The link to the Slovak Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh where the below quote is from is dead so here it is from the Boing Boing article:

The Old Slavic people (the linguistic ancestors of today’s speakers of, e.g., Slovak, Polish, Croatian), Old Germanic people (the linguistic ancestors of today’s speakers of, e.g., English, German, Norwegian), and Old Baltic people (the linguistic ancestors of today’s speakers of Latvian and Lithuanian), who lived next to each other and interacted for many generations, came to believe that if you call the bear by his true name, he would hear and understand, and you would fail to catch him, or he would come to harm you. The bear was the only really dangerous animal in their woods. The original word artko was tabooed. Such beliefs about not calling prey and danger by their “true” names are not uncommon among hunters and people in general through the present.

And then there’s the etymology of the Arctic which basically means “the place of the bear” and Antarctica means the opposite of the place of the bear.

On the surface level, this makes for a rather literal and simplistic naming convention for the planetary poles. The Arctic, the place of the bear, has Polar Bears; Antarctica, the opposite of the place of the bear, does not have polar bears.

That all tracks. Until you remember that “bear” is just a placeholder name for That Big Furry Beast That We’re Too Scared To Mention. And so, the Arctic was technically named as the “place of the thing that shall not be named.” By extension, the name of Antarctica exists in direct reference to that signifier, which itself is a reference to something that shall not be named—literally, “the opposite of the place of the thing that shall not be named.”

I don’t know about you but I want to know what the bear’s real name is!

Cool word oddities and miscellany

I love interesting words and facts about them. Jeff Miller has 20 pages dedicated to them and they’re a joy to read if you’re an etymology fan. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • The Hungarian words újjáépítéséről (“about its reconstruction”) and újjáválaszthatóságáról (“about his/her re-electability”) have seven accent marks. Also in Hungarian alelölülő means “deputy chairperson” (lit.: “deputy fore-sitter”), although this is a made-up word that is not in use.
  • The name MUAMMAR KHADAFI has 32 variants according to the Library of Congress.
  • TWERK was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015. Research by the OED has found the term was first used in 1820 as a noun spelled twirk, meaning “a twisting jerking movement” or “twitch.” It then emerged as a verb by 1848 and the modern spelling was adopted by 1901.
  • An entire book that does not use the letter e, a novel titled Gadsby, was published in 1939.

Read the other 20 pages from here.

The Green Experience

Green is the colour of Kermit the Frog, Mike Wazowski, and two-thirds of Nigeria’s national flag. It’s associated with nature, fertility, tranquillity, money, good luck, health, movement, and ecology. It can also signify illness and envy. Grass is green, the Chicago River is green once a year for St. Patrick’s Day, many political parties are green. Great gardeners have green fingers, inexperienced ones might be greenhorns, and jealous ones might be green-eyed monsters.

Green is my second favourite colour behind red (sorry, blue, you’re in 3rd place now!) thanks to Sporting CP. Green is also a traditional colour in Islam, associated with paradise in the Quran.

A passage from the Quran describes paradise as a place where people “will wear green garments of fine silk.” One hadith, or teaching, says, “When Allah’s Apostle died, he was covered with a Hibra Burd,” which is a green square garment. As a result, you’ll see green used to color the binding of Qurans, the domes of mosques, and, yes, campaign materials.

via Slate

J. Milton Hayes’s “Yellow God” had a green eye (likely an emerald), Andrew Marvell’s “The Garden” said “No white nor red was ever seen / So am’rous as this lovely green.”, and D. H. Lawrence said the dawn was “apple-green”. Aliens are often green, little, and men for some reason.

The green room is where performers wait before they go on stage, there are at least 250 films in Letterboxd with “green” in the title including Green Book, Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, The Green Mile, and 17 films simply called Green.

Green and gold go together perfectly in a room and green Victorian tiles adorn many London Underground corridors (but not Green Park’s for some reason).

Judy Horacek and Mem Fox asked “Where Is The Green Sheep?“, Dr. Seuss wrote about Green Eggs and Ham, and Hemingway talked about the Green Hills of Africa (specifically East Africa). Kermit sang it ain’t easy being green, Tom Jones sang about the green green grass of home and Beyoncé gave us the green light (as did John Legend).

In art, you have Karel Appel’s The Green Cat, Lilian Thomas Burwell’s Greening, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Queen Green, and Jean Gabriel Domergue’s Green Park. There have been 3 green colours chosen as Pantone’s Colour of the Year between 2000 and 2021 (the most recent was emerald in 2014).

There’s a lot of love about green.

A compendium of interesting words

Marijn van Hoorn of marijn.uk has an ongoing list of really cool words, ranging from semi-common words like ‘zenith’ and ‘iridescent’ to obsolete terms like ‘zenzizenzizenzic’ and ‘psychopomp’.

Some of my favourites:

  • cephalophore (n) – A Christian saint depicted in artworks as carrying their own severed head.
  • eggcorn (n) – A reanalysis of a word or phrase for another that sounds similar and could be taken to have a similar meaning.
  • kakistocracy (n) – Rule by the worst and least qualified people.
  • nychthemeron (n) – A period of 24 hours, a day and a night.

Is DeepL the best Google Translate alternative?

When you need a quick translation, you turn to Google Translate. But it doesn’t always work the way it should. But there’s an alternative that TechCrunch claims is “as quick as the outsized competition, but more accurate and nuanced” than any they’d tried. It’s called DeepL.

About DeepL

Ever since the launch of DeepL Translator in August 2017, DeepL has been setting records for machine translation quality.

DeepL Pro, released in March of 2018, allows subscribers to unlock the full capacity of DeepL’s AI translation technology. DeepL Pro subscribers can benefit from an optimized web translator, integrate our algorithms into translation software, or build new apps and services with the DeepL API.

Let’s test an example. I’ve taken an original poem called Círculo Vicioso by Machado de Assis:

Bailando no ar, gemia inquieto vaga-lume:
– Quem me dera que fosse aquela loura estrela,
que arde no eterno azul, como uma eterna vela!
Mas a estrela, fitando a lua, com ciúme:
– Pudesse eu copiar o transparente lume,
que, da grega coluna á gótica janela,
contemplou, suspirosa, a fronte amada e bela !
Mas a lua, fitando o sol, com azedume:
– Misera ! tivesse eu aquela enorme, aquela
claridade imortal, que toda a luz resume !
Mas o sol, inclinando a rutila capela:
– Pesa-me esta brilhante aureola de nume…
Enfara-me esta azul e desmedida umbela…
Porque não nasci eu um simples vaga-lume?

Google TranslateDeepL TranslatorEnglish translation
Dancing in the air, an uneasy firefly moaned:
I wish it were that blond star,
that burns in the eternal blue, like an eternal candle!
But the star, looking at the moon, with jealousy:
I could copy the transparent fire,
that from the greek column to the gothic window,
she gazed, sighingly, at the beloved and beautiful forehead!
But the moon, staring at the sun, with bitterness:
Misera! had I that huge, that
immortal clarity, which all light sums up!
But the sun, tilting the rutile chapel:
This brilliant number aureole weighs me…
Put on this blue and immeasurable umbilicus …
Why am I not born a simple firefly?
Dancing in the air, a restless firefly moaned:
I wish it were that blond star
That burns in the eternal blue, like an eternal candle!
But the star, staring at the moon, jealous
If I could copy the transparent light,
That from the Greek column to the Gothic window
from the Greek column to the Gothic window, gazed, sighing, upon the beloved and beautiful brow!
But the moon, staring at the sun, with bitterness:
Misera! had I that enormous, that immortal
immortal clarity, which all light sums up!
But the sun, inclining the ruddy chapel:
This bright aureole of nume weighs me down…
Pities me this blue and unmeasured umbrella?
Why was I not born a simple firefly?
Dancing in the air, the firefly moaned restlessly:
– How I wish I was that blonde star,
That burns in the eternal blue, live an infinite candle!
But the star, gazing at the moon jealously:
– Who am I to copy the transparent light,
That from the Greek column to the gothic window,
Contemplated, sighing, forehead beloved and beautiful!
But the moon, gazing at the sun, sourly:
– Misery! Had I that huge, that
Immortal brightness, in which all live is summarized!
But the sun, tilting its shining chapel:
– This bright halo weighs down upon me…
This blue and unmeasurable umbrella sickens me…
Why wasn’t I born a simple firefly?

While neither translator could emulate the original English translation (which likely had its own artistic flair), they both did a good job. DeepL picked up “restless” in the first verse compared to Google Translate’s “uneasy” and in the word fitando, DeepL goes for “staring”, which is closer to the original “gazing”, while Google Translate chooses “looking” which doesn’t have the same feeling.

That said, there were some glitches with DeepL, for example duplicating the line “from the Greek column to the Gothic window”, and neither picked up the word misera translated to “misery” but that’s not the traditional translation so that makes sense.

Maybe a poem wasn’t the best example. Here’s a paragraph from a news story from Le Monde:

L’heure de la réconciliation entre la France et le Rwanda est-elle arrivée ? Vingt-sept ans après le génocide des Tutsi, qui a fait près de 1 million de morts entre avril et juillet 1994, on veut le croire au sommet de l’Etat français. Emmanuel Macron reçoit son homologue rwandais, Paul Kagame, lundi 17 mai, à Paris, en marge d’une conférence sur le Soudan et à la veille d’un sommet sur le financement des économies africaines. Les deux hommes « ont pris l’habitude d’échanger en anglais dans un climat de confiance, de sincérité et de respect »,précise un membre de l’entourage du chef de l’Etat. Au cours de sa visite, Paul Kagame doit aussi s’entretenir avec d’anciens officiers de l’armée française, dont le général Jean Varret, responsable de la mission de coopération de 1990 à 1993, qui s’était opposé à sa hiérarchie lors de la tragédie.

Google TranslateDeepL Translator
Has the time come for reconciliation between France and Rwanda? Twenty-seven years after the genocide of the Tutsi, which killed nearly 1 million people between April and July 1994, we believe him at the top of the French state. Emmanuel Macron receives his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, on Monday, May 17, in Paris, on the sidelines of a conference on Sudan and on the eve of a summit on the financing of African economies. The two men “have become accustomed to speaking in English in an atmosphere of trust, sincerity and respect,” said a member of the head of state’s entourage. During his visit, Paul Kagame must also meet with former officers of the French army, including General Jean Varret, responsible for the cooperation mission from 1990 to 1993, who opposed his hierarchy during of tragedy.Has the time for reconciliation between France and Rwanda arrived? Twenty-seven years after the Tutsi genocide, which killed nearly one million people between April and July 1994, people at the top of the French government want to believe so. Emmanuel Macron received his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, on Monday 17 May in Paris, on the sidelines of a conference on Sudan and on the eve of a summit on the financing of African economies. The two men “have become accustomed to exchanging in English in a climate of trust, sincerity and respect,” said a member of the entourage of the head of state. During his visit, Paul Kagame is also expected to meet with former French army officers, including General Jean Varret, head of the cooperation mission from 1990 to 1993, who had opposed his superiors during the tragedy.

For me, it’s a tie on that one. Google Translate’s first sentence felt more natural while DeepL’s “Tutsi genocide” vs. GT’s “genocide of the Tutsi” sounded better. DeepL’s “climate of trust, sincerity and respect” was better than GT’s “atmosphere of trust, sincerity and respect” as well as “opposed his superiors during the tragedy” vs. “opposed his hierarchy during of tragedy.”

Ultimately, this both use machine learning based on data that’s already out there and as language continues to change and evolve, it’ll be almost impossible to get things exactly right. But, for me, DeepL offers more nuance and less literal translations for words which is what you want as a human being.

Phrases to help you protect your mental health

For Grammarly, Devon Delfino wrote a great guide on language that can protect your mental health while you work from home or just talking to friends and family.

Social isolation. Work-from-home burnout. Public health-related stress. Political upheaval. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that mental health matters and has become a central issue for many. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily become easier to talk about.

Mental health awareness is one thing but we need more active behaviour to quash the stigmas and myths that surround mental health so those who need help can feel safe to talk about it (or not).

And if you need any alternatives to ableist terms, you can check that out too.

Wislawa Szymborska had the best writing advice

Polish essayist and Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska answered letters from people seeking poetry advice for Poland’s Literary Life. Here are some of the best bits:

To Heliodor from Przemysl: “You write, ‘I know my poems have many faults, but so what, I’m not going to stop and fix them.’ And why is that, oh Heliodor? Perhaps because you hold poetry so sacred? Or maybe you consider it insignificant? Both ways of treating poetry are mistaken, and what’s worse, they free the novice poet from the necessity of working on his verses. It’s pleasant and rewarding to tell our acquaintances that the bardic spirit seized us on Friday at 2:45 p.m. and began whispering mysterious secrets in our ear with such ardor that we scarcely had time to take them down. But at home, behind closed doors, they assiduously corrected, crossed out, and revised those otherworldly utterances. Spirits are fine and dandy, but even poetry has its prosaic side.”

To Esko from Sieradz: “Youth really is an intriguing period in one’s life. If one adds writerly ambitions to the difficulties of youth, one must possess an exceptionally strong constitution in order to cope. Its components should include: persistence, diligence, wide reading, curiosity, observation, distance toward oneself, sensitivity to others, a critical mind, a sense of humor, and an abiding conviction that the world deserves a) to keep existing, and b) better luck than it’s had thus far. The efforts you’ve sent signal only the desire to write and none of the other virtues described above. You have your work cut out for you.”

To Michal in Nowy Targ: “Rilke warned young poets against large sweeping topics, since those are the most difficult and demand great artistic maturity. He counseled them to write about what they see around them, how they live each day, what’s been lost, what’s been found. He encouraged them to bring the things that surround us into their art, images from dreams, remembered objects. ‘If daily life seems impoverished to you,’ he wrote, ‘don’t blame life. You yourself are to blame. You’re just not enough of a poet to perceive its wealth.’ This advice may seem mundane and dim-witted to you. This is why we called to our defense one of the most esoteric poets in world literature—and just see how he praised so-called ordinary things!”

To B.L. from the vicinity of Wroclaw: “The fear of straight speaking, the constant, painstaking efforts to metaphorize everything, the ceaseless need to prove you’re a poet in every line: these are the anxieties that beset every budding bard. But they are curable, if caught in time.”

To Zb. K. of Poznan: “You’ve managed to squeeze more lofty words into three short poems than most poets manage in a lifetime: ‘Fatherland,’ ‘truth,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘justice’: such words don’t come cheap. Real blood flows in them, which can’t be counterfeited with ink.”

Thanks to Zito Madu for tweeting this out (and check the rest of the thread for more great insights from the likes of Flannery O’Conner, Susan Sontag, and Jose Saramago. And the title is all his too; credit where credit’s due).

The Klingon language and its influence on modern culture #

Like any story worth telling, the history of the Klingon language begins with improvisation. Some reports—including the DVD commentary for Star Trek: The Motion Picture Director’s Cut—maintain the genesis of the language rests with James Doohan (who played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott on the original show) and the film’s associate producer Jon Povill. The two had a meeting where they established a few basic words the aliens would utter throughout the movie. Doohan recorded the words for veteran Trek actor Mark Lenard, who portrayed a Klingon captain in the film. Lenard transcribed the words phonetically and practiced them to nail the delivery of his lines in the film. Doohan and Povill didn’t develop the language further. That honorable duty befell another man who wouldn’t enter the picture until Wrath of Khan’s editing phase.

Enter legendary linguist Marc Okrand, the creator of the Klingon language.

(via Tedium)

See also: Triqqa Pli’c: a Pizza Hut advert for Klingons

Google celebrates the letter 'ñ'

Today’s Doodle artwork, illustrated by Barcelona-based guest artist Min, commemorates the consonant Ñ (pronounced “enye”). The only letter in the Spanish alphabet that originated in Spain, the Ñ is not only a letter but a representation of Hispanic heritage and identity as well.   

The Ñ’s story started with 12th-century Spanish scribes. While hand-copying Latin manuscripts, these scholars of the Middle Ages devised a plan to save time and parchment by shortening words with double letters. They combined the two figures into one and scrawled on top a tiny “n”—a symbol now known as a ”virgulilla” or tilde—to signify the change. Thus, “annus,” Latin for “year,” evolved into the Spanish “año.” 

When did 'damn' become a naughty word?

The folks at Grammarphobia were asked this question and this was the opening excerpt from their response (click the link in the title for the full version):

When the word showed up in Middle English in the 14th century, “damn” was a verb meaning to condemn. It wasn’t until the 16th century that “damn” was used profanely.

English borrowed the term from Old French, but the ultimate source is the classical Latin damnāre or dampnāre, meaning to damage or condemn. (In fact, “condemn” ultimately comes from the same Latin source as “damn.”)

In Middle English, according to Oxford English Dictionary citations, “damn” had three related meanings: (1) to doom to eternal punishment; (2) to pronounce a sentence; (3) to denounce or deplore.

See also: The origins of the “black sheep”