What do you do when faced with a vague Quora question, not giving details?

Sometimes, I ask for clarification in comments. Much more rarely, I’ll answer after the clarification. (Questions aren’t the asker’s, they’re the community’s. They aren’t mine either.)

Sometimes—more often than some, possibly: I answer anyway. On occasional, I even answer a question related to the question answered.

Hey, ask a broad question, get all sorts of answers.

In Greek, how do you say “tasty”?

νόστιμος, /nostimos/.

The etymology (yes, that’s what I do) is odd. The primary meaning of nostos, the word that nostimos is derived from, is “return”: it’s the word for Odysseus’ return to Ithaca.

Wheat gives a rich return on investment, so nostos also means the yield of ground grain. Hence the adjective means “abundant”, referring to foodstuff; and from there, “wholesome, succulent, nutritious” by Roman times.

As Liddell–Scott tells you.

I want to be a linguist focusing on conserving languages. Should I do it?

What my betters have said, with both the pros and cons from Don Grushkin’s answer.

Be aware of the following constraints:

  • Don’t get too caught up in what language you work on. A friend of mine came to Australia to write a grammar of an Aboriginal language, any Aboriginal language. There’s 20 healthy languages left, and they’ve been recorded—it’d be detail work now. He ended up going to Papua New Guinea. You go where your prof sends you. Which is why the wise thing to do is to chose your prof before your prof chooses you.
  • Don’t go in thinking you’re a saviour. Language communities particularly in places like Canada and Australia are very attuned to that attitude. You’re a partner to them, and the community owns the language, not you. You will need to be humble, and you will need to run lots past them. There will be post-colonial resentment to face. And your name may not be up in lights in the grammar and dictionary as much as you’d like. This happened to another contemporary of mine (who has since abandoned linguistics); I know I have too much of an ego to deal with it.
    • Someone in a paper I read sneered about linguists ending up doing feelgood welfare work for language communities (see many of the other answers here). If you’re working on language revival, be aware that your aspiring speakers of the language are not professional linguists, and you will have to dumb things down.
  • You know how the CIA did not have enough human intel in Afganistan before 9/11, because “noone wants to sign up for a lifestyle of dysentery”, as they said at the time? Well, same with fieldwork. There is a reason that most of what we know about Papua New Guinea languages comes from missionaries. For that matter, there’s a reason why Vanuatu, which has an even denser concentration of languages, is not well-documented linguistically: the government has banned the missionaries. 
  • The language communities you work with may be an infighting, petty, small-minded bunch of loons. You may get attitude like, “If you speak to that side of the village for data, noone from this side of the village will ever speak to you.”
  • The linguist colleagues will definitely be an infighting, petty, small-minded bunch of loons. I wrote a jeremiad about my personal experience with obtaining a linguistics degree; including having to “step on corpses” to get an academic job. It will be worse in anthropological/fieldwork linguistics. Moreover, there’ll be less places you can get a job. I am from Australia, which is fieldwork country. The only countries our linguists are on speaking terms are West Coast US, Germany and Netherlands (thanks to the Max Planck Institute), and a couple of guys in Japan.

Don’t let this talk you out of it. At all. Just be aware—even more so than anyone considering a career in linguistics in general. Be prepared for some disillusionment.

And from what I gather from those I know that have stuck with it: be prepared for some life-changing, life-long friendships too.

Did the era of the ancient Greeks happened before the flood or during the biblical period and how long did their time last?

Without getting into the issue of how much of Genesis is historical and how much is wishful thinking:

The Babylonian captivity, which can be independently verified from archaeology, was 580 to 530 BC. That’s when the Hebrew Scriptures as we know them were consolidated.

Omri is the first independently verified King of Israel, and he was around 880 BC.

Our first historical evidence of the Greeks is in Linear B, which goes up to 1200 BC; but the era of the Ancient Greeks as we know them starts with Greek writing, around 770 BC. Any Greek you’ve heard of by name, other than Homer, is 7th century BC or later.

So the era of the ancient Greeks starts two to three centuries after David (if there was a David), and a lot longer than that after the Flood (if there was a Flood).

What is your Quebec story?

I wrote a series of articles on my blog about my visit to Montreal in 2009: Montreal VI: Joual 4, Nicholas 1 .

My French is crap. I tried to blend in by wearing a Deutschland football cap and speaking in French. But I hear one subordinate clause, and I no longer know what my own name is.

And that’s not counting Joual.

This was the last of my French encounters in Montreal:

The woman checking me for my flight in is a Mme Trudeau. Given my Trudaeuolatry, this is all the more reason to try in French.

Mme TRUDEAU: Bonjourhello.

NICK: (Um, am I really going to do this?…) Bonjour.

Mme TRUDEAU: (French) Where are you travelling today?

NICK: (French) Melbourne. With the transiting to L.A.

Mme TRUDEAU. So… you are flying to New Orleans?

NICK: No, the Los Angelès.

Mme TRUDEAU. Ah. One piece of luggage?

NICK: Yah.

(Mme Trudeau spends a couple of minutes investigating my ticketting situation, and has a quick exchange with a colleague in English.)

Mme TRUDEAU: [Pushes my ticket to me and huddles towards me—the way people in service industries do, when they need to explain something complicated to you, that will involve at least one subordinate clause.]

Mme TRUDEAU: (French) Right. Montréal Quebæc Gatsinoo Sharbrouc Trwè Riviàres Sænt-Djan-sur-Richelioo. Sænt-Hyacænthe Jolietts’ Rouÿn-Noranda. Salaberry-de-Valleyfield Alma Val-d’-Or Sænt-Djorges Baie-Comoo. Septz-Îles Riviàre-du-Loup Amos. Matæne La Tsuque Dolboo Lachuts’.


I was dumbstruck. Her lips were moving, but I could not understand a solitary syllable of any of it.

Mme TRUDEAU: (English) … It’s better in English?

Right. Think of something suitably apologetic and humble to say.

NICK: (English) I’m sorry, I haven’t learnt joual.

… That may not have been it.

What is the correct pronunciation of “Chobani”?

The founder of Chobani is Turkish, and çoban is Turkish for “shepherd”. The final <i> is either decorative, or a link to Greek—which has borrowed the Turkish word as nominative tsopanis, oblique tsopani.

Given çoban and tsopani, the intended pronunciation is presumably [tʃoˈbani], “choh-BAH-nee”.

What cultures don’t value gold?

Australia during the gold rush?

I can’t find online corroboration of this, probably because I read this on a tourist placard somewhere. But apparently when Prince Alfred came to visit Australia in 1868, the streets of Bendigo (or was it Ballarat?) were paved with silver.

Gold was too plentiful.

Why does English not coin a word for New Zealanders’ nationality like making “New Zealand” as “Zeal,” (then) &/or adding to “Zeal” “i-s-h” or “i-a-n?”

Apart from the more reasonable answers from other respondents:

English speakers can tell that the land in Zealand means land. (And they’re right.) They see that it’s Zealand not Zealland, so they’re not prompted to go from Zeal-(l)and to the backformation Zeal. Even if they were, zeal already means something in English.

So instead, Zealand would end up going to Zea. If you think that looks suspiciously like Sea, you’re right: it’s named after the underwater bit of the Netherlands, Zeeland.

Luctor et Emergo: Latin for “glug glug glug”.

So they can kinda tell that Zealand is the land of the sea, and not the land of the Zeas. And they don’t want to start calling New Zuhluhnders Zeas, or Zealanders.

That kind of back formation can happen: Austral is very common as a brandname in Australia (and they’re not thinking of the obscure Latinate word for “south”). But that kind of back formation needs the root stem to make sense in the context of the rest of the language, and not to be so short as to not remind people of the source word. Neither Zeal nor Zea qualify.

What’s it like to be mistaken for being a different ethnicity than you actually are?

*Stumbles on Quora question with 100+ answers*

*Quora, instead of futzing around with UI details that already work, should be working on 100+ answer navigation*

By virtue of my surname and my un-Hellenically pale skin, I got Russian in high school.

Given the high intellectual caliber of Russian Jews that I socialised with in high school, and the cultural commonalities between Greeks and Russians mediated by Orthodox Christianity—that confusion was fine by me.

I just never got how they got Николаевич from Nicholas. As opposed to Νικολάου. (Nick Nicholas’ answer to How did your parents decide on your name?)

How irregular is Ancient Greek?

You say irregular, I say older regularities that have fallen out of fashion. For example, the second aorist corresponds directly to English strong verbs—they’re both Ablaut. Ablaut used to be the regular way of making past tenses; then suffixing took over.

But yes, there’s a lot of those older unfashionable regularities as cruft in the language. Greek has a lot of inflection, and a lot of sound change and paradigm restructuring; as you can see more inflections, the effects of language change are much more visible in the inflection paradigms.

It’s why it’s actually useful to know some proto-Greek and more conservative dialects (Epic, Doric), when you’re trying to learn Ancient Greek: it helps make sense of some of the oddities. Like the compensatory lengthening of -ευς -εως (which should be -ηος), or all the /s/ dropping out of verb inflections and future tenses. It does make sense, but only when you know some of the back-story.

The irregularities are rarely completely crazy (the Hittite ὕδωρ ὕδατος, σκώρ σκατός are at the upper limit); they are more often regular subsets, rather than a single pattern for the whole set. (Liquid verbs, for example.)

The cruft comes back to bite you in the ass in Byzantine Greek. Byzantine authors show off their learning of Attic, but they don’t quite know Attic, and they often regularise where they shouldn’t. The rules for reduplication in Attic make sense; the rules in Byzantine Greek are out the window, because reduplication by then was dead in the spoken language.