When did the Greeks start using Arabic numerals, and what numerical system preceded it?

16th century, though they were aware of the Arabic system from the 14th century. It was preceded by Milesian numerals, which were universal by the 1st century AD; before that, they used variants of Attic numerals.

See Nick Nicholas’ answer to Did ancient Greek scholars ever adapt Roman numerals? for more detail of Arabic numeral adoption.

What is your favourite topic to write answers on, on Quora?

That vague and interstitial domain known as Cultural Studies.

It’s an area I have very little formal training in, and have lots of opinions about. Because I have little formal training, I am forced to think hard about whether my speculations stand up to scrutiny, and I put extra effort into structuring an argument. That, I find very enjoyable.

I enjoy writing about stuff I am actually trained in, as well. But that’s not nearly as challenging.

What do very popular non-Top Writers think they’d need to change in order to become Top Writers?

Well, Kyle, you did A2A me. I think you must have had some idea what you were going to get in response.

Seems like most of these writers don’t actually care much about getting the designation.

Eeyup. And let me not launch into another jeremiad about The Quill. Let me instead link to someone else’s very good jeremiad about The Quill: Lance LaSalle’s answer to Are you disappointed in the March 2017 Top Writer announcements?

I know my worth, and so do the users I interact with. I don’t need a jacket or a buffet to tell me so. Especially a jacket or a buffet from as unresponsive and capricious an organisation as Quora has shown itself to be.

But if they were to engage in a bit of self-evaluation,

Oooh, them’s fighting words, Kyle. 🙂

what do they think they’d have to do differently in order for the selection team to include them?

I’ve heard a rumour that people who don’t get The Quill actually contact Quora staff to ask them that.

It’ll be a frosty day on the Acheron before I do so. (Assuming there even is a selection team, as opposed to an algorithm.) I don’t have to, mercifully; I have positive feedback from flesh and blood users, like Jennifer Edeburn, who has in fact helped me improve my writing through two suggestions: (a) provide more context and explanation; (b) tone down the venom.

Why yes, I have toned down the venom. You should have seen what I was writing a year ago.

What others have speculated about in this thread, which is already making me inch to use my block button?

  • Run-ins with Moderation. No. Two BNBRs in two years, both of them nonsensical tone-policing. There are in fact TWs who have been outright banned and unbanned before making The Quill. So it ain’t that.
    • I’d be violating BNBR if I named the respondent in this thread I’m now blocking, for his answer about it being all about moderation. Manifestly not the case.
  • Niche. Oh, I got niche, and an academic niche at at that. It doesn’t get more niche than Greek linguistics.
  • Community mindedness. Third parties have said how I go out of my way to make people feel welcome here. I topic gnome now and then; I even hit the Report button on occasion.
  • Write less on the humanities, and more IT. No. If Quora don’t value humanities stuff, that’s their problem. See also Sean Kernan’s answer.
  • Stop being critical of Quora, where such criticism is deserved. Is this a deal-breaker for The Quill? Apparently not: John Gragson has found himself with one. Will I stop being critical of Quora? No. John hasn’t, after all.

I don’t see what I need to change to get The Quill. Or at least, what I need to change, that I’d be prepared to change.

I’m not a fan of Feifei Wang’s writing, but there are times I find she truly hits the nail on the head; she did so with her answer here. (And even more so with her retort in comments. Seriously. Read it, and savour it.)

So did Jeremy Markeith Thompson. So did Jordan Yates. So did Gigi J Wolf. So did Michael Masiello.

So did Lance LaSalle:

I thought to myself, I thought: damn, if I have to change my writing style, (include less humor, for example, or make it a bit drier and more direct, and include some footnotes) than I really don’t want it. I got people to meet. Decisions to make. Cakes to bake, etc.

Quill-bearers, I’m happy for you. And I’ve congratulated all my friends who got a quill this year.

But I feel no envy towards you. I don’t feel that I’m missing out on anything. If it comes to self-evaluation, I’ll take Jennifer’s advice on how to write better, over a black box’s. And if it comes to having a drink with friends (with better quality nibbles than Quora appears to fork out for), just let me know when any of you come to Melbourne.

Any of you I haven’t blocked, that is… 🙂

What conclusions do you make based on which of your answers gets the most upvotes?

I’m sure I’ve seen variants of this question already.

I have not concluded that pictures matter; I use them sparingly, but they don’t seem to act as instant clickbait.

What I have concluded from upvotes—and these are fairly common conclusions—are:

  • Anything mentioning anything Indian gets lots
  • Anything mentioning American politics gets lots
  • Survey questions get lots
  • Fluffy banter-y answers get lots
  • Scholarly specialist answers don’t get lots…
    • … but they get more than you might think.


  • I’m not particularly fussed by which kinds of answers get the most upvotes. I’m not above gamification, but the upvote lotto is so random, it does not serve as an effective motivator for me.

Since the active and middle voices of the 2nd aorist forms of “to stand” are intransitive (ἵστημι – ἔστην vs ἐστάμην), are these forms synonymous?

James Garry’s answer to Since the active and middle voices of the 2nd aorist forms of “to stand” are intransitive (ἵστημι – ἔστην vs ἐστάμην), are these forms synonymous? This is the answer to this question. And my thanks, James.

What I’m writing here is an answer to a more general question: how much do active/middle voice distinctions matter? It’s an elaboration of Nick Nicholas’ answer to In Ancient Greek, does the middle voice of φιλέω (φιλέομαι) mean “I love in my own interest,” “I love myself,” (reflexive) or “I am loved” (passive)?

My thanks for your indulgence.

English distinguishes between Active and Passive verbs. The distinction is fairly clear cut. An intransitive verb is always active. If a transitive verb is active, the subject is doing stuff; if the transitive verb is passive, the subject is having stuff done to them.

Homeric Greek worked on a different, Active/Middle distinction; in many ways, that distinction has lasted to this day. In that distinction, if a verb is transitive, the active still means you’re doing stuff, and the middle means you’re having stuff done to you. Or that you’re doing it to yourself. Or that you’re doing it for yourself. Or that you’re doing it to each other.

And that’s the easy bit.

What happens when the verb is intransitive?

When the verb is intransitive, it could be active, or it could be middle.

There is a kind of semantics to it. Kind of. If the intransitive verb is active, it means that you’re doing stuff, you’re acting. If the intransitive verb is middle, it means that you’re just sitting there, that you’re passive—or at least, that your actions are inward. So run or go are active. Work or sleep are middle.

Does that distinction sound unconvincing? Good. Because it was.

I mean, the distinction was there. But it was not stable, and it was not consistent, and it was not rigorous.

The distinction was inconsistent enough that some intransitive verbs got to be either active or middle; lampō ‘shine’, for example. In fact, some perfectly transitive verbs also got to be either. So for lambanō, there is an active usage, meaning ‘take’, and a middle usage, meaning ‘take hold of, seize’.

Now, if you are approaching grammar synchronically, like a good structuralist, any contrast in grammatical form must correspond to some contrast in meaning. There has to be some nuance there; some notion of more active vs more passive, some connotation picked up from other actives or middles, some subtlety. It can’t just be random.

People speaking the language at a point in time have good reason to think so. Writers are certainly going to be alert to all the connotations and resonances latent in the language, and they will exploit them. Yes, synchronically there is no such thing as a true synonym.

If you’re working in the diachronic model, you are much more cynical about structuralist notions of paradigm and meaning distinctions, because your business involves watching those structures morph and evaporate.

It’s an overly fuzzy view of language. It’s why a century of Indo-European historical linguistics, which focussed primarily on phonology, did not come up with a concept of the phoneme: it was too busy seeing sounds change to work out the structure of sounds. But it’s a healthy cynicism to bring to bear, when there are overly subtle nuances in play. Even if they’re there, they’re evanescent.

The instance that has made me sceptical about fine active/middle nuances in Greek is phaîo. It’s a verb I spent hours trying to work out in Pindar: The tale of φαῖο.

I couldn’t work it out, because it wasn’t in the grammar books: the 19th century editions of Pindar, that the grammar books were based on, used the active optative of ‘you would say’, φαίης, and that’s what the grammars had documented. The 1971 edition of Pindar switched to the middle optative φαῖο. Both forms turn up in manuscripts.

‘Say’ is one of those intransitive verbs that could appear in the active or in the middle (in the optative mood in particular). Was there a subtle semantics involved? Was there a notion of actively saying something versus passively saying something? Like, asserting versus conceding, or something like that?

Nah. It’s much simpler than that. It’s a dialect difference. Attic used the active in the optative of phēmi ‘say’; Doric, the dialect of Pindar, used the middle. (The edition switched the voice, because they figured that the scribes that had copied Pindar over the generations were more familiar with Attic than Doric.) Attic used the active and Doric the middle, not because Athenians were more assertive than Spartans, or anything like that. It was simply a random choice, that the dialects made in one mood of one verb, when they split apart.

Just like Greek, a few centuries later, replaced the middle ergazomai ‘work’ with the active douleuō ‘originally: to slave away’. No nuance there. Not in the long run: in the long run, nuance gets squashed and overrun by the shifts of language.

Lucky are those who settle down to a single period of language, that delve into its treasures, and that look upon its nuance and subtleties and paradigmatic contrasts as something more substantial, more rich, more verdant—than the cobwebs that Time knows them to be.

Don’t weep for historical linguists, though. We have our own entertainments. And sometimes, we pause to read the literature too, and let go of our cynicism.

Is Quora cultivating a culture to upvote the answers by followers irrespective of lame answers?

(of course there could be a option to select)

Quora design philosophy, such as it is, is antithetical to any notion of user options. So you can discount that.

Quora has a follower network. Answers show up in people’s feeds, from writers they like (for whatever reason), divorced from the context of other answers to the same question; and people are usually not strongly enough motivated to open up a tab and see what anyone else had to say. If people like a writer, they will upvote their stuff. If people like a writer because of their personality and style, and aren’t extremely interested in the question itself, they won’t look at other answers and weigh them up.

I mean, *I* do. But I might do it once every 20 or 30 items in my feed. How often do you?

So yes, Quora has cultivated a culture of popular writers, because (despite its embarrassment over it) it does have a social network underlying it. And without the social network, it wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near the level of engagement, or free feedback and tagging, that it does. It’s a price to be paid.

It could make it slightly easier to access alternate answers to the same question, I guess, as some sort of preview in the feed. But then again, how many people would click through to those alternates?

How would you describe your grandparents?

I didn’t get to know my paternal grandparents well; I met my grandfather only once, my grandmother twice. My grandmother was somewhat vague by the time I met her, and I had real trouble with her dialect. My grandfather was vaguely feared, but I couldn’t particularly see why at eight years of age; I hadn’t been brought up in his hardscrabble household, after all.

My maternal grandparents, I got to know well. My grandfather was proud, unsmiling, stern. He was the village beadle, and a denizen of good standing in the community. He was descended from Sfakia, the southwest of the island, where people pursue vendettas and dress in permanent black, and think dancing beneath them. He was slightly out of place in the village in easternmost Crete, where people are relaxed and docile, and do not shoot firearms into the air at weddings. He ran a cafe in the upper village, before my time; I could not understand how—the kafedzis is supposed to be the life of the party.

He wasn’t cold, as such, although perhaps more affectionate to infants than to children. But critical, and very concerned with public perception. When I’d goof off as a teenager, he’d scowl Λίγη σοβαρότης δε βλάφτει. “A bit of seriousness wouldn’t do you any harm.”

He often said that if he was ever debilitated, they should give him rat poison: he was too proud a man to want to go without command of his faculties. He was felled by two strokes, and lived out his final days with no faculties, and no rat poison. He deserved a better end than that.

My grandmother was—is—as cheerful as my grandfather was stern, and as kindly as he was critical. She’d laugh a lot, with a gentle chuckle, and often without much obvious cause. She’d still get annoyed about things, often including me goofing off. But her annoyance never lasted long.

She’s still going at 94, although not quite there as much as she was. Then again, she’s more there than her children allow. When my wife and I visited her, she asked my wife’s name, and when she was trying to pronounce “Tamar”, my uncle jumped in and hollered “Maria! Her name’s Maria!” (A generation of Albanian migrants can testify to Greeks refusing to learn foreign names.) My grandmother chuckled, “Well, I guess I’ll call you Maria then.” In fact, here’s the footage:

How did Plato address Socrates? Teacher? Master?

Originally Answered:

How does Plato call Socrates?

Of course, we don’t have transcripts by Plato of chats with Socrates, we have dialogues he made up. But Socrates is constantly addressed in Plato’s dialogues as “O Socrates” (ὦ Σώκρατες), with monotonous regularity—over 1200 times in the works of Plato. Socrates in turn addresses his trollees (er, interlocutors) as “O partner” or “o good man” (ὦ ἑταῖρε, ὠγαθέ).