Whence this blog

It all began with Karen Chung’s answer to What did someone do that made you think they were really smart?

Karen most awesomely illustrated the scenario she described, with XKCD-style stick figure art.

Well, I exclaimed in comments. If she can do something so awesome, I can certainly do something half-arsed and attention-grabbing.

Some of this art will be done with mouse and Graphic Converter. (Think MS Paint.) Some will be done with stylus and MacBook Trackpad and Inklet—and GraphicConverter. Some will be done with my trusty LAMY safari pen. All will be devoid of perspective, chiaroscuro, detail, or any artistic sensibility.


Nick hides from Lyonel in a map of Australia

Context: Lyonel Perabo’s answer to What does your accent sound like in English?

In which Lyonel once again regaled us with his Mad Map Skillz:

I commented:

Your maps are awesome! Keep them up. In fact, I think I’ll start doing those as well…

Lyonel threatened appropriate retaliatory action, involving dead fish. To which I retorted:


You’ll never take me alive, copper! (Hang on, that’s the wrong mythos.)

Oh, and:

Lara will not eat green beans or aspic

Context: Lara Novakov’s answer to What was the worst meal that you ate out of politeness?

Lara declared her dislike of пихтије/πηχτή (aspic), which she said she dislikes even more than бораније/φασόλια (green beans).

We had some banter on this, which I ended up rendering in art:


And who am I to disappoint…

Beth Murray vs Maisie Williams

The thread that keeps on giving.

Context: Beth Briony’s answer to What does your accent sound like in English?

Annika Schauer, she who once loaned Jimmy Carter an alarm clock, responded:

You sound like Arya Stark! hahahahahahaha

Whereupon I value-added:


cc Beth Briony: preconception, going in: She must sound like Jessie J. It’s a dead cert. I will not go in thinking of Maisie Williams. Do not think of an elephant, do not think of an elephant…

… But yeah. Arya Stark it is.

(Checks Wikipedia: Maisie Williams.) Bristol? But Arya doesn’t sound like a pirate, and Beth’s from the Saff East, not the Saff West…

… I’ve got it! You guys go to the same dialect coach! Go on, fess up!

Is there a difference in using the subjunctive “να” vs using “πρέπει να”?

Slight. As with Are να and ας translated identically when used with a first person plural verb in Modern Greek?, it’s mostly a nuance thing:

  • ας φύγουμε: “let’s leave, how about we leave”: pretty weak sauce, gentle prodding
  • πρέπει να φύγουμε: “we must leave”, strong implication that this is an external imposition
  • να φύγουμε: “we should leave”: it’s by default a command, and the implication is that there is no external imposition to do so, it’s because you want it. It can be a suggestion, but it’s not as weak sauce a suggestion as ας.

Did postal censors ever add personal notes to the recipients, in the mail they censored?

OP here. I know a circumstance where it’s happened, and why; I was curious whether it was really a one-off.

Ludovik Zamenhof, son of a czarist censor, invented Esperanto, and maintained a voluminous international correspondence in Esperanto throughout his life.

When WWI started, everyone’s mail in the Russian Empire was subject to censorship, and Zamenhof’s was not going to be an exception. So an Esperantist had to be found to censor Zamenhof’s mail overseas.

Now, the Esperanto community is reasonably small, and it would be unlikely for an Esperanto-speaking censor in St Petersburg not to be familiar with the recipients of the mail. And given the good feelings between Esperantists, it’s not that surprising that the censor, Efstafeyev (sp?), would add in the margins his own curt little greetings to the recipients.

If you’re going to have your mail censored, that’s probably as good an arrangement as any.

Predictably enough, it didn’t last. Soon enough, Efstafeyev apologetically adds the marginal comment that from now on, all correspondence with Zamenhof has to be in a mainstream language like German or French. His superiors presumably thought the arrangement a bit too cozy…

(So when Zamenhof was trying for his translation of the Bible to be published in England, he had to write in French—and he couldn’t mail the manuscript at all: it was only possible to send it out of Warsaw after the war, and Zamenhof’s death: De Kembriĝo ĝis Edinburgo – 20 jarojn por la Esperanta Biblio (1).)

Are υπάρχει and είναι used the same way in Modern Greek?

Not quite.

In the existential sense that you’re using, είναι ένας άνθρωπος means “it is a man”, and υπάρχει ένας άνθρωπος means “there exists a man”. The latter sounds as formal and logical in Greek as it does in English, though I think it is more widely used than English as an interrogative or negative. The former is pretty much an answer to a question, and presupposes that the context is known; for example, it would make sense as the answer to “who’s there?”

(Oh, and using the indefinite article is always a red alert for translationese: it really doesn’t get used that much in Greek.)

The idiomatic rendering of “there’s a man”, introducing their existence out of the blue, is neither: it’s έχει [έναν] άνθρωπο, “it has a man” (cf. French il y a, and Portuguese tem). So when a diver first saw the shipwreck with the Antikythera mechanism, he exclaimed: κάτω έχει ανθρώπους και ζώα σπαρμένους, “there are men and animals sown [= scattered] down there”: «Κάτω έχει ανθρώπους… σπαρμένους».

In formal Greek, you can use υπάρχω with a predicate, to indicate a person’s previous appointment: Ο κ. Πετσάλνικος που υπήρξε αρμόδιος υπουργός όταν ξεκίνησε η προδικασία της υπόθεσης “Mr Petsalnikos, who “existed” [served as] the responsible minister at the beginning of the litigation” (Ο Καλατράβα του Κορυδαλλού). But that’s journalese, not natural Greek: υπάρχω does not normally take predicates.