Will Australia become a republic soon?

As Richard Farnsworth said, republicans are waiting for an unpopular and unfamiliar monarch to raise the question again. OTOH the celebrity appeal of Kate & Wills (which is driving the millennials’ affection for the monarchy) could still see it stick around.

Part of the problem is that republicanism doesn’t have the emotional vigour it did in the 1999 referendum, or as energetic a proponent as Keating. Yes, Turnbull is a republican, and came to political prominence through the referendum; but come on, Turnbull is hostage to his right wing on everything, this can’t be an exception.

There’s a complacency of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” around the republic, and affection for Wills & Kate. Australia may well not go there. Plus, the rebellion against elite republicanism in favour of some Stupid-Arse “As Seen On TV” popularly elected president did republicanism real lasting damage in Australia. The mob want a Trump (or a Scott Cam), and the elites want nothing that will impact the constitution as we know it.

What unpopular opinions do you have about linguistics?

Not that controversial, but I think there’s a lot to be said for diachronic explanations of language, and the synchronic/diachronic distinction is somewhat artificial.

Nick Nicholas’ answer to What is functional grammar? will explain that a little bit: functional accounts are kind of diachronic to begin with (what function does this linguistic component serve in communication => how did this linguistic component develop to fit this function). And more hardcore functionalism is all about language structures as process rather than as blueprints; hence the more extreme formulation of Paul Hopper’s Emergent Grammar.

There are linguists who think that way, but it’s fair to say it’s a minority view.

I’ve ranted defending philology in Nick Nicholas’ answer to What are the differences between linguistics and philology? That looks controversial and fuddy duddy; where it’s actually going isn’t, although again it’s a minority view: language is socially embedded, and ignoring the social to focus only on linguistic structures is a simplification. It is an epistemologically necessary simplification at times, of the kind you see all the time in less mushy disciplines like Physics (frictionless plane).

But language change in particular is always socially mediated; and much more “pure” “synchronic” language stuff is socially messed up than people like to admit. In particular, language phonemes at times seem to me to be a frictionless plane.

What is your score on the Unisex Omnisexual 500 Purity Test?

Guess I have to lead by example.


Yeah, coulda done better. Still, glad to see I got a bit more achieved in the 25 years since I last did this Purity Test!

What is the purpose of a university education? Is it primarily to learn or to acquire credentials for a future job?

Habib le toubib, how do you manage to keep breaking my heart so with your questions? (Ah, by sending A2A’s that I leave in the too hard basket for weeks.)

I admire and love the ideal of liberal arts education. I do. Really. It makes you a better person.

But we live in an age where universities are not the province of the children of the loaded, which is where the ideal of liberal arts education flourished. Unis are not there to train philosopher kings (or at least philosopher baronets).

Universities seek to be loss-leaders for research; they’ll take in whoever’ll pay, and they’ll give them a crap education while they’re doing it. The State needs credentialed citizens, because it needs a trained workforce.

(And oh, the disaster that AI is about to wreak on the white collar workforce. But hey, at least they’ll then have the free time for a liberal arts education. If they don’t starve first.)

It is also true that the web allows the democratisation of vocational learning (and we’re seeing that), and also the democratisation of Bildung, of the kind of education that’s good for you. MOOCs are a thing, and so are fora like this.

Universities were about learning. Societies has made universities about credentialisation. But for better or worse, that too is getting disrupted now, along with everything else.

What are some examples of sentences that can be either Ancient Greek or Modern Greek?

Hm. No participles, no infinitives, no relativisers, no conditionals. Some conjunctions are the same, but you can already see we’re surrendering a lot of syntactic complexity to do this.

No future or perfect, no unaccented augments, no datives, no prepositions with genitives (and the rest look different anyway), bits of the 1st and 3rd declensions out of bounds, as are most inflections of the copula, and 3pl forms. And of course almost none of the modal particles.

And worst of all: most final nu movables are going to sound archaic in Modern Greek nowadays, and you said Modern Greek, not Katharevousa. Which kills a lot off too.

I mean, it’s doable, but the sentences are going to be clauses early on in Ancient Greek textbooks.

So, I got me an Ancient Greek Textbook: http://cdn.textkit.net/WS_A_Firs…

Not easy. I’m settling for allowing slightly marked sound. And it took me 8 exercises.

  • Ὀ φιλόσοφος τὰ καλὰ θαυμάζει, “the philosopher admires beautiful (Ancient)/good (Modern) things.” (Marked syntax in Modern) §8
  • Τὰ μεγάλα δῶρα τῆς τύχης οἱ σοφοὶ φοβοῦνται, “wise men fear the great gifts of Fortune (Ancient)/Chance (Modern)” (Marked syntax in Modern) §23


Ὀ ναύτης ἀκούει ὅτι ὁ μαθητὴς ἔμαθε τὸ μάθημα, “the sailor hears that the student learned the lesson”

Is the Ancient Greek contribution to Western civilization overstated?

Whensoever you get a silly-looking premiss, think harder. 🙂

It’s a very good question, Habib le toubib.

I mean, in one way, of course not, Western civilisation started with the Greeks, and throughout the renaissance, it kept checking back with the Greeks, to see whether they were Doing It Right.

But on the other hand, Western Civilisation as rebooted in the Renaissance wasn’t a direct continuation of the Greeks, and the extent to which Greek civilisation determined what happened in the West can be overstated, if you get too romantic. Things got filtered and reinterpreted and recontextualised. It is still a culture created in Western Europe.

Opera is not a carbon copy on what was happening on the stage in the Dionysia festivals. Representative democracy is not really what the Athenians were doing in the Ecclesia. Lots of our vocabulary is Greek, but we communicate things with that vocabulary that the Greeks never conceived of.

If Satan had Quora, what questions would he ask?

  • Michael Masiello: what are your views on theodicy? (“Fuck you” is not an adequate answer)
  • Am I also Shaytan?
  • Am I also Kali?
  • Am I also Angra Mainyu?
  • Am I also the Demiurge?
  • If God is Good is He also God? If God is God is He also Good?
  • Should pronouns referring to Satan be capitalised?
  • Why do I get to have all the good tunes?
  • Is The Devil Went Down To Georgia really a good tune?
  • Seriously?

  • If I’m meant to have all the good tunes, what explains the albums of Anton LaVey?
  • How can I revive Manichaeanism?
  • How can I distance my brand from Alisteir Crowley’s?
  • Are the Rolling Stones still writing good songs?
  • How about those South Park guys?

How would you define your personal culture? How does it differ from the general culture of your place of residence?

Unsurprising that this question of yours, Habib le toubib, is attracting a lot of attention from migrants and diasporans. And it would: migrants and diasporans have a personal culture that hybridises their upbringing and their environment, so it will be perceptibly different to that of their local mainstream.

It’s a big brushstrokes kind of personal structure difference. Of course there is cultural difference mediated through differences and fluidity in subgroups, particularly in more heterogeneous countries like the US. And I disagree with Peter Flom: culture is mediated through the collective, but it is still realised in the individual’s attitudes and praxis, and individuals can veer off and do strange things.

But there’s nothing that subtle about me.

I wrote a little about my diaspora experience recently at The Decalogue of Nick #1: I’m Greek-Australian by Nick Nicholas on Opɯdʒɯlɯklɑr In Exile. I’ll give some dot points here about how I’m a misfit against majority Australian culture, though I am much more of a misfit against majority Greek culture.

  • This may well surprise some of my followers, but I am more uptight than I’d prefer to be about casual sex, particularly as depicted on Australian drama and soaps. I see young nubile things carousing and gallivanting on Winners and Losers or Neighbours or Offspring, and I don’t think, “mmm, young nubile things”, or even “is it ratings season again?” I think “who are these bogan rootrats doing on my telly?”
    • In the case of Offspring, it’s “hipster rootrats”. But then, I find it impossible to like anything about the smugfest that is Offspring. Or, as one of the gay guys on Gogglebox sneered, “yet another show about a neurotic chick”. It’s turned into quite the genre here.
  • I think there is more meaning to be had in the collective than in the individual, and it pains me that I don’t have a crowd to hang out with any more. That whole notion of the parea, the big freewheeling social group, is much more a Greek thing than “hanging out with your mates”.
    • And why yes, parea is the only Catalan loanword in Greek.
  • Distaste at pub culture. That’s not quite true, because my happiest nights after I left Melbourne Uni were when I kept in touch with the Melbourne Uni German crowd at a Uni pub. But I would nurse a Kilkenny’s for an hour, or make a point of getting either a cocktail or a Jameson, and nurse that for an hour. Certainly though, extreme discomfort at public drunkenness.
  • Mercifully, The One True Meat Is Lamb is a virtue Anglo-Australians and Greek-Australians share. But Meat also means Oregano to me. In fact, we had Xmas Eve leftovers at a colleagues’ this year, and we marvelled at the exotic delights of crackling and cranberry sauce and roast ham. Xmas being a family thing, neither of us had ever really had English Xmas food. (Apart from Xmas cake, which my folks would get as a present from the factory, and bring home bewildered.)
  • I find the traditional ideal of how an Australian man should be to be emotionally constipated. I’m not alone in this; that’s a cultural shift well underway.
    • But God help me if the evolutionary endpoint is to be Patrick on Offspring. He’s scripted that way because it’s a female fantasy, people! Starring a neurotic chick! Who daydreams because she’s a loser, not because she’s quirky and cool and hip. What a fricking wet rag that guy was.

Yeah, hadeha Neurotic Chick. Just remember, I’m laughing at you not with you.

How many African countries can you identify on a map?

I posted this question, and I answered the Can you identify all 50 American states on a map? question, to point out that it isn’t just Americans that are geographically challenged: we retain, and can pick out on a map, what is familiar to us, whether we’re Americans or Zaireans.

I did better than I expected, but still not great.

OK, how’d I do?


  • Guinnea Bissau
  • Guinea
  • Togo
  • Gabon
  • Not Zaire: It’ll always be Zaire to me
  • Central African Republic
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Djibouti


  • Sierra Leone
  • Ghana
  • Ivory Coast
  • Benin
  • Misnamed R Congo as DR Congo
  • Zimbabwe
  • Botswana

How do you feel when a foreigner knows much more about your country than you do?

Nikos Tsiforos was a Greek humorist, who wrote a series of humour pieces covering all of Greek Mythology. I’ve cited his collection here a couple of times. At the end of the 640 pp book, he wrote this.

Few of us Greeks know Greek Mythology well. (Before I started studying it to write it up, I was an almost complete dunce too.) They teach it to us so superficially and perfunctorily in school. But we should know it, even if not perfectly. Our mythology is ourselves, our yesterdays, our todays and our tomorrows.

I was in Olympia once. And I have the tendency of studying up on the historical sites I visit, so I’m not a complete ignoramus. So I was walking around the Altis, and flattered myself to be telling my companions that I knew all about it. And I saw a bunch of foreigners. There was an old man among them, and he was speaking to them about Olympia in German. Because I can speak German, I stopped to listen to him.

And then I realised that I was a complete idiot when it came to knowing about Olympia. The man knew Greek history and mythology to the last detail. And he knew the site stone by stone. And he was a foreigner: Swiss.

I did not say a word. I just listened, and then felt deep shame. And that’s why I wrote this mythology.

Let someone else write up Joyce’s depiction of how Stephen Dedalus resents Haines knowing more about Irish culture than he did in Ulysses. That was couched in colonialism, and in Joyce’s rejection of folklore as a source of identity.

Me? I’m been involved in Modern Greek linguistics, and I’ve known Germans who know bits of my language’s history far better than I. I’ve known Ukrainians more fluent than I. I’ve known Britons more thorough than I. How do I feel?

Grateful. They didn’t have to. It’s not my personal property. I’m glad they share in what I get joy from. I’m glad they chose to, where I was merely bequeathed it.