Splitting off complaints about Quora into a new blog

There’s a lot of complaining about Quora in this blog. I’m going to be putting more personal stuff in this blog, so I’ve decided to hive off Quora criticism into a new blog, The Insurgency. I’ll be forwarding existing posts from here into the new blog.

Why is that people in UK do not share food? I am from India and have been 3 weeks in London. I have observed that people do not share their food with colleagues or friends in the office or in the restaurants/canteens.

Dansby Parker is almost there with his answer.

As with many cultural differences, this one comes down to Politeness theory. In many cultures, like India and Greece, good social behaviour involves breaking down the boundaries between people you like, such as friends. Sharing a table involves that, and sharing food at the table makes that even clearer. That is called positive politeness.

The land of the British where you find yourself is a land of negative politeness. That means that good social behaviour involves respecting the boundaries between people. That includes the notions of privacy and space, which you must find so puzzling to hear among your English friends. It also includes keeping your food to yourself.

It’s OK, OP. I feel your pain. We Greeks call them cold-arses behind their back. 🙂

What would make you follow me?

This is my general flowchart as to what makes me follow people.

I will not follow you if:

  • You have zero answers
  • You have more than 10k followers. (It used to be, more than 1k followers.) You can find what I think of superstar Quorans on my blog; the question has already been deleted, so I won’t link from here. But in summary, I’m less likely to have a two-way interaction, and more likely to be frustrated with them.

I will definitely follow you if:

  • You post interesting things in areas of my core interest. Pretty much guaranteed if you post on: Greek, Greece, Classics, Historical Linguistics.
  • You come up in my feed a number of times, in different topics. That’s the universe sending me a sign. It’s happened several times.
  • We interact in comments, and we end up having good banter.

I will likely follow you if:

  • You are good friends with one of my Quora besties.
  • You come recommended from one of my Quora besties.
  • You post interesting things in areas of my near-core interest. That includes Linguistics, Turkey, Albania, Australia, Classical Music, Quora.
  • You post extremely interesting things, in areas of my not quite core interest. That can range from theology to British politics. There are people I’ve followed on the strength of one post, but it was an extraordinary post.

I may follow you if:

  • You are witty. Not as core as other criteria, but I appreciate it.
  • You follow me, though that’s not as strong a criterion as it used to be. After all, I’m followed from three times as many people as I follow.

What is your favourite march or anthem?

When I was in university doing computer science (because that’s how old I am), I had a Dutch lecturer, Tobias Ruighaver (now retired). At the end of his course, I arranged the Dutch national anthem Wilhelmus for the instruments I had handy (violin, bassoon, me singing), and someone else presented him with some Heineken.

The Dutch national anthem is a beautiful, solemn, glorious thing, with masses of historical depth, and it’s stuck with me since. I posted on it extensively on my now defunct blog: Animadversions on the Dutch and the Greek National Anthems.

I’m William of Nassau,
My blood is Dutch.
I’m true to my country
beyond death’s reach.

A prince out of Orange,
free, unafraid:
my word is my bond to
the king of Spain.

What is your favorite proverb from your culture or country? What country is it from?

I did a rich assortment of off-colour Greek proverbs over at Nick Nicholas’ answer to What are some weird expressions?

A tuthree more off-colour sayings. Which I’ve actually tried to use in English, with decidedly mixed results.

  • Τα μεταξωτά βρακιά θέλουν και επιδέξιους κώλους. Silk undies require agile arses. One must be equipped to handle the challenge one undertakes.
  • Η γρια η κότα έχει το ζουμί. The old hen makes the [best] broth. Mature women are sexually satisfying.
  • Από της μυλωνούς τον κώλο μην περιμένεις ορθογραφία. From the miller’s wife’s arse, one expects no orthography. If someone is uncouth, they will act accordingly.
    • There’s some just-so story associated, of how the miller’s wife sat on some flour, and her assprint left an omega in a context where an omicron was expected.

Some sayings on Greek impulsiveness:

  • Κάλλιο γαϊδουρόδενε παρά γαϊδουρογύρευε. Better to tie up the donkey than to go looking for the donkey. One should take precautions and think ahead.
  • Του ρωμιού η γνώση έρχεται ύστερα. A Greek’s knowledge comes later (attributed to Turks). Turks think that Greeks do not take precautions and think ahead.
  • Όπου ο Θεός δε δίνει γνώση, δίνει ποδάρια. Where God does not grant knowledge, he grants feet. If one does not take precautions and think ahead, one ends up running around playing catch-up instead.

A lovely couplet on someone making no sense, that my uncle used to use at me:

  • Από την Έμπαρο κρασί, κι από τη Βιάννο λάδι/ κι από το Μυλοπόταμο ένα σακί κρομμύδια. Wine from Embaros, oil from Viannos, and a sack of onions from Mylopotamos.

And maybe the best meta-proverb ever, in Tsakonian:

  • Τουρ οργήνιε του γέρου να νίνερε, του πφούντε σι να μη σι νίνερε. Hearken to an old man’s counsels—not his farts.

What has been the general outline of your intellectual evolution over the years?

Habib le toubib, what a tough question this is. There’s a reason I’ve put it off so long.

  • I had some run up of development from 10 to 15, including teaching myself Latin, reading high school Greek literature anthologies, and working out calculus.
  • Tried to be religious, gave up around 15, though still retained cultural affection for Orthodoxy.
  • Much of my intellectual breadth, I picked up between 15 and 23. That includes music, language learning, literature, literary criticism, basics of history.
    • That’s the time you have the time to learn. That’s the time you want access to a good library or three. (One with books in it.) That’s the time you learn more than what your lecturers teach you.
    • It helped that I didn’t particularly care about engineering, so I had some spare intellectual energy to devote.
  • From 23 to 28, I was laser focused on being a linguist. I gained an encyclopaedic knowledge of much Greek dialect.
  • I wrote linguistics papers intermittently from 28 to 36. That was wonderful in some ways, working through problems. In other ways, it was immensely frustrating: I really didn’t have much of an audience.
  • From 36 on, I’ve had a day job outside of university. In some ways I’ve atrophied away from it; Quora came up at the right time. Making a point of exposing myself to new stuff.
  • Stopped reading around 35. The interwebs have destroyed my ability to focus on extended prose. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.
  • I was a fairly unreflective leftist in my youth, socially and economically. I’ve become more centrist economically, and have made my peace with the Market. I think I am more moderate socially, but that’s actually more about acknowledging my conservative roots than about my actual attitudes.

Was that the kind of thing you were after, Habib?

What do you think of the Glaswegian accent?

Ah, an utterly unscientific survey on Scottish accents.

I find Scottish accents sexy.

I find Glaswegian accents unintelligible and sexy.

Taggart was a formative experience in my upbringing. For years, I’d imitate him picking up the phone:

Halloo! Thes ez Tahghaghrt! … Whü?!

Is pronunciation speed a meaningful feature when discussing languages?

I don’t know that this has really attracted the interest of typologists, though I’m happy to be corrected. The phonologist I used to work for as a research assistant was considering writing an article, comparing the speed of newcasts, but I don’t think he went ahead with it.

I think the impression we have that Spanish is faster than Swiss German is real; but Roger Hughes is quite right that there will be extensive variation, not just between speakers, but also between registers, genres, and emotions. It’d be averageable, and measurable especially within the same genre (which is why my boss wanted to use newscasts). But I haven’t noticed it becoming a thing with linguists.

The real distinction linguists make, as Roger also points out, is syllable-timed vs stress-timed languages, which is a phonological, not a quantifiable phonetic attribute. That one actually surfaces a lot here on Quora.

How did the surname “Featherstonhaugh” get its completely unintuitive pronunciation?

Not getting an answer online, or in Patrick Hanks’ The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland .

I do get this from Wells, J. C. (2000), Longman Pronunciation Dictionary: Odd pronunciations of proper names – examples: there are four recorded pronunciations of Featherstonhaugh:

/ˈfɛð ərst ən hɔː/ (Featherstonhaw)

/ˈfiːst ən heɪ/ (Feestonhay)

/ˈfɛst ən hɔː/ (Festonhaw)

/ˈfæn ʃɔː/ (Fanshaw)

Let’s us out Feestunhay, which is something else going on, presumably dialectal. We have fɛðərstənhɔː > ˈfɛstənhɔː , eliding the second syllable. So now we need to get from Festonhaw to Fanshaw.

John Gragson’s answer to How did the surname “Featherstonhaugh” get its completely unintuitive pronunciation? is pretty damn ingenious, and I commend him for it. But there’s one factor it misses. It’s just a hint in Hanks’ dictionary, under the entry for Featherstonhaugh: “the surname is often pronounced Fanshaw and may have been confused with Fanshawe.”

Fanshawe is a distinct, equally old surname, deriving from fane ‘a temple or church’ and shaw, ‘a small wood or grove’.

So Festonhaw, which is the recorded shortening of Featherstonhaugh, was somehow garbled further to something like Fesnaw or Feshnaw, as John argues. And then—rather than appeal to a vowel shift (which seems somewhat random) or the phonotactic familiarity of shn vs nsh—we can just say that the garbled Feshnaw sounded so similar to the preexisting surname Fanshawe, that people just conflated the two surnames in speech.

But not in writing. After all, the conflation in pronunciation did not entitle any Fanshawes to any Featherstonhaugh estates.

So the absurd pronunciation of Featherstonhaugh as /ˈfænʃɔː/ has a really simple explanation. They’re not actually trying to say Featherstonhaugh. They’ve switched it to a completely different, easier to pronounce surname, and they aren’t admitting it.