Will we ever decode Linear A or Cretan Hieroglyphs?

We can actually read Eteocretan language, because it’s in Greek characters; and we even have enough bilingual text that we know the Eteocretan for ‘cheese’. And we still can’t make head or tail of it.

A lot of Linear A and Linear B characters are shared, which means we can guess at the pronunciation of some of it; but that does not buy us much.

We would need a definite association with a pre-Hellenic language that we know in detail (just as we had with Linear B and Greek), or a bilingual text dating from the Minoan heyday. Myself, I’m not seeing it happening.

At least we now have a stable repertoire of signs in Cretan hieroglyphs—something we didn’t have when I was a lad.

And I’m still not convinced that the Phaistos Disc wasn’t a board game.

When did the Myceneans overthrow the Minoans, and what was the cultural role of the Minoans since? When did the Minoans disappear eventually?

  • When did the Mycenaeans overthrow the Minoans? ca. 1400 BC.
  • When did the Minoans disappear eventually? The last archaeological site displaying Minoan cultural features indicates 1000 BC. The Eteocretan language, which may be a continuation of Minoan (by default, I’d assume it’s likely), survived down to the third century BC.
  • What was the cultural role of the Minoans since? When the Mycenaeans subjugated the Minoans, they were a subjugated underclass, which preserved at least some of its culture. The memory of Minoan overlordship of Greece seems to have been preserved in the myth of the labyrinth (a pre-Hellenic word), which involved Athens paying tribute to Cnossos.

Minos – Wikipedia

Doubtless there is a considerable historical element in the legend, perhaps in the Phoenician origin of Europa; it is possible that not only Athens, but Mycenae itself, were once culturally bound to the kings of Knossos, as Minoan objects appear at Mycenaean sites. [citation needed]

Minoan civilization – Wikipedia

[After the 1450 BC eruption of Santorini] The palace in Knossos seems to have remained largely intact, resulting in its dynasty’s ability to spread its influence over large parts of Crete until it was overrun by the Mycenaean Greeks.

Minoan palace sites were occupied by the Mycenaeans (who adapted Linear A Minoan script for their own language) around 1420–1375 BC. Their language, a form of Greek, was written in Linear B. The Mycenaeans tended to adapt (rather than supplant) Minoan culture, religion and art,continuing the Minoan economic system and bureaucracy.

Knossos remained an administrative center until 1200 BC. The last Minoan site was the defensive mountain site of Karfi, a refuge which had vestiges of Minoan civilization nearly into the Iron Age.

Karfi – Wikipedia

When the warlike mixed group conventionally referred to as Dorians arrived on Crete from the Peloponnese after ca 1100 BCE, archaeological reconstructions suggest that they would have found the Minoan people living along with the Mycenaeans, surviving as an underclass. No doubt the Minoan language continued to be spoken by the peasants, though inscriptions, now in Linear B, were all in a form of Greek associated with a Mycenaean upper class (BBC). The Dorians seem to have driven the local people up into the hills; the latest towns with Minoan material culture are in more and more inaccessible places, one of the largest and most extensive settlements being at Karfi, high in the Dikti Mountains. At this high, remote, ancient, and sacred site a fragment of Minoan civilization survived intact for about 400 years after the occupation of Knossos.

That takes us up to 1000 BC.

Eteocretan language – Wikipedia

Eteocretan /ˌiːtɪoʊˈkriːtən, ˌɛt-/ (lit. “true Cretan”, from Greek ἐτεός, meaning ‘true’ + Cretan) is the non-Greek language of a few alphabetic inscriptions of ancient Crete.

In eastern Crete about half a dozen inscriptions have been found which, though written in Greek alphabets, are clearly not Greek. These inscriptions date from the late 7th or early 6th century down to the 3rd century BC. The language, which is not understood, is probably a survival of a language spoken on Crete before the arrival of Greeks and may or may not be derived from the Minoan language preserved in the Linear A inscriptions of a millennium earlier. Since that language remains untranslated, it is not certain that Eteocretan and Minoan are related.

What is the longest word in any language?

The longest literary word is in Sanskrit, and was listed in the Guinness Book of Records back when it was worth a damn, and before it turned into a picture book. I bought the book it featured in, and wrote about it here: What is the longest word of Sanskrit?

Sanskrit’s very own monsterpiece comes in the Varadambika Parinaya by Tirumalamba. This blog post has cost me 30 bucks, but I have bought the edition of the poem:

  • Suryakanta. 1970. Varadāmbikā Pariṇaya Campū of Tirumalāmbā. Volume 79 of Chowkhamba Sanskrit studies. Varanasi: Caukhambā Saṃskṛta Sīrīj Āphis.

Tirumalamba is one of the few women writers in Sanskrit, writing in the early 16th century; the work is a Campu, a mixture of prose and verse, on the marriage of her contemporary king Achyuta Deva Raya. On the literary merits of Tirumalamba’s work, I’m not competent to speak, so I won’t; if anyone from Karnataka finds this and wants to chime in, they’re welcome to. If you do go googling for the text, btw, look for Tirumalamba, and not Varadambika Parinaya: there are lots of little annoying spelling variations for the book title.

Our word comes in pp. 18–19, in the chapter on the Tuṇḍīra country (aka Thondaimandalam in Tamil Nadu, of which the capital is Kanchi). The chapter reads:

“On the way, he passed through the Tuṇḍīra country.”

The chapter takes up 130 lines of English translation.

The reason it takes up 130 lines is, “the Tuṇḍīra country” is preceded by 25 accusative adjectives, and followed by three more.

Those adjectives, in turn, take up several lines, and correspond to one or two sentences each in English. One or two LONG sentences.

The monsterpiece, which is only first among equals, is adjective #12. It’s full of hyphens, so to my disappointment, I’m not going to destroy all the browsers in the world after all. I have taught myself enough Devanagari to type the word in, along with its translation and commentary.

I’m attaching a gif just in case, but after some initial confusion I think I did OK. The bad typography of the original was in fact helpful: the little gaps left between the vowels and consonants meant I could actually eyeball where the vowels were. The Unicode tables are missing one ligature of the edition (ङ्ग, which should look like a dotted ड्ग).

[CUT AND PASTE NOTE: Look at my original blog post: the Quora editor mangles the ligature.][EDIT: Oops—Quora actually gets the ligature right on my computer; YMMV]

So, the Tuṇḍīra country is, among other things:



In it, the distress, caused by thirst, to travellers was alleviated by clusters of rays of the bright eyes of the girls [142]; the rays that were shaming the currents of light, sweet [143] and cold water charged with the strong fragrance of cardamom, clove, saffron [144], camphor and musk and flowing out of the pitchers [145] (held in) the lotus-like hands of maidens (seated in) the beautiful water-sheds, made of the thick roots of Andropogon muricatus [146] mixed with marjoram, (and built near) the foot, covered with heaps of couch-like soft sand, of the clusters of newly sprouting [147] mango trees, which constantly darkened the intermediate space of the quarters, and which looked all the more charming on account of the trickling drops of the floral juice, which thus caused the delusion of a row of thick rainy clouds, densely filled with abundant nectar.

142. Lit. ‘their’; in the Skt. passage the noun बालिका has already occurred.
143. Lec. var. मधु-रस-शोतल for मधुर-शोतल.
144. पाटल also means the trumpet flower, but as a rule, saffron is the companion of camphor and musk in Sanskrit literature.
145. Galantikā means a pitcher and is so called because water flows out of it (गलत्यम्थोऽरुयाः गलन्तिका).
146. लवुलय —roots of Andropogon muricatus, commonly known as khas. Huts made of the sweet scented roots of Andropogon muricatus (khas ki taṭṭis) are a regular luxury in the summer season throughout India.
147. कन्दलत् in the fourth line goes with माकन्द-तरु in line 6. This custom of spreading cloth in front for a distinguished personage to treads upon still exists in India and is practiced on both formal and informal occasions. But now-a-days the colour of this cloth is not white but red. It starts from the entrance gate of a hall or a canopy and leads right up to the dais. पाकारि Lit. ‘the enemy of Pāka’, i.e. Indra.

What is Quora’s policy on adding images and videos to answers?

A2A Susan Bertolino, and I don’t like it that the A2A attribution is gone.

A historical approach to this question:

With reference to the current Quora policy, Quora’s answer to What is Quora’s policy on adding images and videos to answers?, and its history:

Any changes (to my knowledge) are prospective and not retroactive.

As of 11/2016, the following were banned:

  • Memes
    • From other posts from Quoradom, images need not be captioned to be considered memes, they just need to suggest the catchphrase and not be directly illustrative of the post. E.g. both of the following count as memes:

  • Include a humorous or graphically violent image or video that isn’t helpful to someone interested in learning the answer to the question
    • The second Dr Evil picture would be caught by this rule too.
  • Include a sexual image on a question without an adult topic.

2016–04–01: The ban of graphically violent images, and the clarifying paragraph on when they could be used, was added.

The following types of image were also banned until 2016–11–18, and are thus no longer banned. See https://www.quora.com/log/revisi…

  • “text-as-picture” images: an image where a quotation, sentence, or list of words has been converted into an image for the purpose of highlighting / visually emphasizing the language.
  • Infographics.
    • The former exceptions to this policy were: Original diagrams and infographics created by Quora users; third-party infographics and diagrams that (1) are clearly very helpful to the answer and (2) are not visually weighted to text-as-picture.
    • The third-party infographics ban used to be prosecuted aggressively, and famously Xu Beixi was banned for 6 months for refusing to comply with it.
  • Image-only and video-only answers.

Questions can be answered entirely with video, or video can be used to supplement written answers.

The following exceptions to bans were removed on 2016–11–18, and thus are likely now considered banned:

  • Answers to questions that specifically ask for meme pictures, images, or videos.
    • … OK, that’s worrying.
  • Tweets
    • A lot of tweets of course are just glorified memes. Now that tweet embedding has been enabled, it remains to be seen how this will be enforced.

What does “not for nothing” mean?

Contra the other two answers here, “not for nothing, but” is indeed used, as Urban Dictionary defines it, as a hedge. It is in fact a verbal tic of Aaron Sorkin’s that drew attention through its overuse on The West Wing: Inside Aaron Sorkin’s Brain, Sorkinisms II: Not for Nothing. Most famously in the dialogue between Josh and Joe Quincy, where Quincy says “Not for nothing, but those you are trying to reach won’t understand that joke, and those who do you already have.” (And I still have trouble understanding what Sorkin meant by that.)

Not For Nothing: After two huff and puff answers about how this is not proper English, this definition is offered:

If I recall correctly, “not for nothing” is used when you’re about to say something
that the other person will probably disagree with. Typically, you’re offering advice
that’s prefaced with “Not for nothing..but etc, etc.”

As another poster commented, after Josh/Quincy was cited:

Yes I saw that too. Funny because Leo said “Not for nothing…” on last week’s late night West Wing re-run. I guess they’re going to have all the characters say it sooner or later.) Could it mean maybe: I’m not saying this with any ulterior motive (as in “not for anything), but.. Or I have nothing to gain in saying this but…
That’s the sense I have, but maybe not. And I didn’t understand Josh’s joke either.

See also What does “not for nothing” mean?, which differentiates the “not for nothing, but” Sorkin idiom from Jack London’s earlier usage (“Not for nothing had he been exposed to the pitiless struggles for life”), which other answerers seem to be presupposing.

Should Quora have a feature allowing users to upvote, comment on or otherwise validate a user’s profile bio?

Unlike other answerers to this question, I heartily approve of social use of Quora, including clever profiles. (How many kidneys was it you said you have again, Hayley?)

But I’m quizzical about upvotes or comments on them. There’s no precedent for that kind of thing on social media that is not embarrassed to call itself social media. Since the profile is a self-expression, it is problematic to approve or disapprove of it: that is irrelevant to whether the profile is a self-expression or not. And attaching a comment chain to a profile would very quickly get derailed.

I’d have thought the less obtrusive thing to do is to compliment the writer on their clever profile the first relevant opportunity you get. In a PM, if they have messages enabled. Or in a comment.

Or even (as I’ve done here) with an answer. 🙂

I recently reread Jack London’s “White Fang” and noticed the phrase “not for nothing” therein. Where did that phrase originate?

Jack London’s example, as usage in What does “not for nothing” mean?, is:

“Not for nothing had he been exposed to the pitiless struggles for life in the day of his cubhood, when his mother and he, alone and unaided, held their own and survived in the ferocious environment of the Wild.”

Note that this is quite distinct from the contemporary American idiom “not for nothing, but…”, discussed in Nick Nicholas’ answer to What does “not for nothing” mean?, and so overused by Aaron Sorkin in The West Wing.

In its literal reading, “not for no reason = for a very good reason”, it is understatement, litotes, of the kind you might expect of classicising or even classical authors. And indeed, Elyse Bruce’s Idiomation blog (Not For Nothing) traces it back through Robert Louis Stevenson, to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (ii.5):

An they have conspired together, I will not say you shall see a masque; but if you do, then it was not for nothing that my nose fell a-bleeding on Black-Monday last at six o’clock i’ the morning,falling out that year on Ash-Wednesday was four year, in the afternoon.

She further identifies that Plautus used an equivalent phrase in Aulularia iv.3:

It was not for nothing that the raven was just now croaking on my left hand.

But the Latin is Non temere est quod corvos cantat mihi nunc ab laeva manu: “it is not random that…” So Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, which she got Plautus’ quote from, was substituting a Latin expression of litotes with a familiar English expression of litotes.

How do I search in the dictionary for the Ancient Greek verb υφηιρειτω?

Well, you could go to a morphological analyser of Ancient Greek, type in the word, and see what comes out. Such as morpheus on Perseus, or the other offshots of morpheus publicly available, or the subscription only variant of morpheus that I worked on for thirteen glorious years at the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, before my contract was terminated last year.

Or… you could get a refresher from Dr Nick in how Ancient Greek verbs work.

The structure of Ancient Greek verbs is as follows—where * means optional:


The (preverb +) root is what you’re after in the dictionary.

The preverb is a chain of one or more prepositions, and you’ll recognise them pretty quickly. In this case, ὑφ- hyph-. Occasionally, what looks like a preposition is actually part of the verb, but not today. So you take off the hyph-; and because hyph– is what happens when hypo– precedes a word with a rough breathing, you leave the /h/ behind: ἡιρείτω hēireitō. Can I use the iota subscript please? ᾑρείτω.

You will have worked out that there is no verb hēireō in the dictionary. Now, a reduplication is a repetition of the first consonant of the root, followed by an /e/. That’s not the case here. So we try out hēi- being an augment. (And remember that the augment acts as the equivalent of the reduplication, if the verb starts with a vowel.)

The thing about long diphthongs, those things with iota subscripts, is that they are rare in Greek roots in general; and they are dead giveaways of augments on short diphthongs. So ᾑρείτω hēireitō is an augmented form of αἱρείτω haireitō. Yes, the long version of hai– should have been hāi-; but remember from your Greek historical linguistics: Proto-Greek ā regularly went in Ionic and Attic to ē.

So we’re left with hyph– + haire-. The verb you’re looking for is ὑφαιρέω ‘to take under = take away underhand, steal’. This is the imperative “let him steal”, although that ending looks present, not perfect…