Remember when Dennis Miller was commentating the NFL, and peppering his commentary with obscurity after obscurity, and a panoply of blogs popped up to offer exegesis to the befuddled masses?

This here blog may be that for the Magister, and I don’t want the Magister to start getting all self-conscious about his recondite lexis.

Don’t think that’s a likely outcome though.

irrefragable is another word from the Magister that is new to me:

Michael Masiello’s answer to If a lie must be told to accomplish a moral imperative, is that lie virtuous? Is honesty immoral in that circumstance?

Aristotle makes a version of this point — an unruly, inconvenient, irrefragable truth

Michael Masiello’s answer to Is there any neutral source where I can learn about Donald Trump and his politics?

There is no “view from nowhere”; subjectivity is irrefragable and ineluctable

Definition of IRREFRAGABLE

impossible to refute <irrefragable arguments>

impossible to break or alter <irrefragable rules>

So why is it different from irrefutable? Because it’s got the etymology of “unopposable, irresistable”

Since at least 1533, irrefragable has been used as an English adjective modifying things (such as arguments or data) that are impossible to refute. It derives from the Late Latin adjective irrefragabilis (of approximately the same meaning), which is itself derived from the Latin verb refragari, meaning “to oppose or resist.” Irrefragable rather quickly developed a second sense referring to things (such as rules, laws, and even objects) that cannot be broken or changed. There was once also a third sense that applied to inflexible or obstinate people.

So, you not only can’t refute it, you can’t stand up to it and resist it; and the “it” is like a law or a rule, not just an argument someone makes.

Of course, the Magister can himself be pretty irrefragable at times. In whichever of the senses you prefer. (Handy hint: he likes obsolete, archaic senses of words.)

Perspectives on the Insurgency #7: “and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other”

This is part #7 in a sequence of exchanges between myself and Jennifer Edeburn, on the appropriateness of complaints against Quora. See:

This is the last exchange in which I quote Jennifer and then respond, so it draws “Perspectives” to a close. From now on, Jennifer will be posting in her own right.


In the previous post, we had the following exchange:

J: But my concern is, is it really so important to you to use Quora in this way that you cannot make any constructive changes to avoid getting dinged once a day? You value your experience here that little, when all it would take is to put enough context in the comment?

N: … Maybe yes. But what sort of context could I have inserted in that instance? I’m honestly at a loss. The only remedy I see is not making the comment at all.

You write: “… Maybe yes”. I hear what drives you to that statement. But *I* value having you here, and I would hate to see you go. I often think that is the saddest thing: many popular Quorans write that they answer on Quora in order to be helpful to others, and the intersection with those who get edit-blocked repeatedly can’t possibly be the null set. Well, you can’t be helpful to others if you’re not here. I know that you, in particular, value the community and your friends here. Well, you also can’t be a part of the community if you’re not here, and I think the community would be lessened by it.

To the second part, what you could have done in this instance, I have written elsewhere (…) how I think you could have edited this particular comment. I think this one was fixable, but I also do think you have to ask yourself sometimes how much that comment really matters. Some things that people put in comments might be better served as PMs. Some might not really be necessary.

Similarly, I have seen people write about responding to attacks made in comments. I don’t know if this is something you have an issue with, but I only have a small amount of sympathy for it. It is absolutely for sure that I have had some inflammatory comments on my answers that I was really pissed about, and ignored, and left alone planning to come back later and defend myself … and then after I cooled off decided that I didn’t need to defend myself after all, because I had already done it in my answer. Quora is asynchronous, and there is never a need to answer when emotion is running high. With a little self-control, you can pretend you didn’t see that until you can respond to it appropriately.

I have seen the goal of the Welchite movement stated as pushing for more transparency, but I disagree that that should be the goal. I think the goal should have a more constructive focus, since I don’t believe that the push for transparency is going to make any progress in a positive direction. I’m an atheist, but I think the Serenity Prayer has a lot of merit.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

I’m not saying that I think all criticism should stop, but if we redefine the goal as: making Quora a good place to be and reducing the number of apparently capricious bans and errors by moderation, then I think there are things that can be changed or improved by the user community, some of which people may already routinely do.

Whether or not people complain about what they think BNBR should be, for the most part we have to live with what it is. But I think there are things that we can do to empower ourselves, within the constraints of the existing policy. Because for the most part, everybody agrees that BNBR is a good thing, and I think there is a lot to be gained by actively helping others to understand it and live within it. Here are some ideas:

  • Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. It is not necessary to report everything you see in order to promote BNBR.
    • I have used Suggest Edits to remove a single line of offending material from an otherwise solid answer, and noted that I was suggesting the edit to prevent the answer from being reported for BNBR.
    • I have requested friends who have commented on my answers to edit their comments if I thought something was inappropriate.
    • If not possible (or desirable) to PM the poster of a potentially offending comment, comments may be left underneath as a reply, pointing out a specific item that might draw a report. As with Suggest Edits for an answer, I would suggest that the choice between doing something like this vs. simply reporting (if merited) is a personal decision.
  • As I suggested above, save comments that might be controversial (from a BNBR perspective) for PM.
  • Help to educate
  • Follow the blogs where people bring their BNBR violations to ask how their content violated the policy. Help them to understand what Quora moderation did not or could not explain to them. Direct people to these blogs when they have questions
  • .Create blogs to showcase examples of BNBR subtlety and explain them, so that people can learn before they get in trouble.
  • Keep links to the policy guidelines handy—in particular to specific answers in a guideline question that you think best represent the policy—and hand them out freely in answers. Increase the possibility that someone will stumble over these even though Quora does not place them prominently.

My response:

Maybe Yes: I just posted Nick Nicholas’ answer to What would happen if you were banned by Quora tomorrow? (an A2A, which means some people think it’s feasible). I don’t want to reiterate the maudlinness (though I’m happy to translate the Greek swearing!). I value my friendships here, and you’ve managed to insinuate yourself into them in short order.
Sometimes, nevertheless, one’s self-respect is worth more than being helpful, or being with friends. But I do not seek for it to escalate to that point. Not at all.

Hold back on comments: BNBR has pulled me back from the brink more than once about posting a hostile comment. (And when that fails, I give Tracey Bryan a call. I think she’s by now the fourth angel on my shoulder. Maybe fifth. Quora is thick with angels.) That, I fully agree with you on, and have done so before I met you.

You are of course saying something further: not just your aggro, but your banter may need to be kept away from the public eye. I haven’t read the comment exchange yet in the previous post, but I see it’s controversial, and I have difficulty with it. But I don’t want to labour this here.

The Eight Commandments of Jennifer: I’m reminded of What are some things you will never do on Quora?

The idea I have for myself is to come up for a code of conduct which is not contingent on Moderation doing anything at all different.

And yes, “save comments that might be controversial for PM”… yes, that remains a challenge, but I’ve said enough.

Everything else? Enthusiastic agreement. This is a good and virtuous course of action for Welchite and Loyalist alike. We the community can educate and police our own: it is meet and proper to do so.

I look forward to many more exchanges with you Jennifer, hopefully some on our common employment rather than Quora Moderation! And I look forward to cartooning you.

Jennifer’s counter-response:

I did not say earlier (I don’t think), and I should have, how much I appreciate that you are willing to listen to this, and especially to be open about it and give it a fair ear. I have tried to mostly BNBR, but I know that doesn’t make it easier to hear. Your willingness to listen does usually come across in what you write, and I don’t think we would be having this conversation were it not that I was able to hear that from you. If you value it (the conversation), then you deserve much of the credit for its existence.

So here, in front of our blog audience, thank you for not only listening but also suggesting that we bring this discussion out into a public forum. I hope that something good comes of it, and since I’ve had the opportunity to preview your written response, I will ditto what you said at the end. Or I should say, ditto except that I can’t draw, so no cartoons from me.

Perspectives on the Insurgency #6: Mods are people too, and they are not the enemy

This is part #6 in a sequence of exchanges between myself and Jennifer Edeburn, on the appropriateness of complaints against Quora. See:

This is the final exchange based on Jennifer’s long PM to me. There will be two more where Jennifer gets to talk back. And I am thankful to Jennifer for providing the impetus for the exchange, through which we have both clarified our thoughts, and (some of the time) come to consensus.


A second point of perspective that I feel the average member of the movement is missing: mods are people, mods are not out to get you, mods are probably overworked, and they sit in their cubicles all day and read nasty, nasty stuff, the kind that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. (OK, I don’t really know these details, but you take my point). I write a fair amount in Parenting and Children, and some of the stuff that gets posted there is extremely vitriolic. I would *not* want to spend a good portion of my day reading and handling that.

Have some empathy for the fact that it is an unrealistic workflow to expect them to examine every posting in enough detail to untangle all the context, and take a little extra time to add that context yourself.

Police yourself when talking to friends and don’t make any comments that you wouldn’t make to a stranger. Save those comments for PM; it’s true that BNBR still applies here, but unless your opposite half reports you you’re not going to get dinged for violating it.

Last but not least on the topic of perspective; when a member of the movement attacks “the mods”, even as a collective group and not as individuals, have you thought that they are attacking a group of people who cannot fight back? They cannot just come back and tell you “Oh, we banned so-and-so and here are his violations that he earned it for.”; their ability to justify their actions is extremely poor. The fact that they must exercise restraint should inspire an answering restraint, expressed as respect. Remember that I said above that many agree that Quora is different because of BNBR, well without the mods there is no BNBR.

My response:

Mods are people too: Well, mods are people too except when they are bots. But I concede: I would not want their job, any more than I would want the job of the community mods back in the day, or that of trusted reporter (which most of them appear to have succeeded to). There is some bad stuff out there, and we have all seen it, though how much we see depends on where we hang out. Moderation is necessary, and moderation is thankless, and “moderation at scale” is overwhelming.

It is also true that Moderation can’t talk back, much of the time. Tatiana is the only mod who has (at least out here in public Quora, I have the impression more is said on Facebook), and Tatiana is very careful about what she does say. I think the corporate silence of Quora in general is a mistake guaranteed to inculcate mistrust, which is why I am grateful that Tatiana says anything ex cathedra. Even if I often don’t like what she has to say.

On the other hand, heartless as this may sound: the Mods are being paid for their labours, and we are not. And the Mods have corporate responsibilities for failures of Quora against its user body.

When the lightbox UI was announced by Elynn Lee, (Improving Reading and Writing from Feeds by Elynn Lee on Quora Product Updates), and everyone and their mate queued up to say how crap it was, Scott Danzig commented “Tough crowd”, and “Yeah, but have you ever met Elynn? She’s such a cheerful little person! :D. My wife liked her too.”

This is my response. Maybe it’s immoderate, but it’s been my take. And I hope it is still constructive, even if it is on the harsh side:…

But we’re not interacting with Elynn the human being here. We’re interacting with Elynn the spox for Quora Inc, putting the spin on yet another bad UI decision, after years and years of Quora fidgeting with its UI (it’s a running joke on this site, for gawdsakes), and conspicuously ignoring all but one constructive UI suggestion from its users (blocking comments per question, and I suspect that was more a reaction to Violet Blue’s hit piece).

Quora Inc’s attitude to its users is contemptible. You know it, we know it. We are not going to express gratitude for it. And Elynn may be lovely as a human being, but Elynn as a spox collects a paycheck and spins the unspinworthy; so Elynn shares in corporate responsibility. That’s how it works.

But I’m neither ad hominem-ing Elynn, nor seeing or wishing to see anyone else do likewise. Tough crowd, true; but, I hope, fair crowd too.

That aside, of course any criticism of moderation must be well founded, rational, not ad hominem, and not special pleading for your mates. I do not disagree, and if I do fail in that direction, I expect to be pulled up on it.

Would you want to see a list of everyone who has ever secretly had a crush on you?

I mean, what would I do with such a list? Just more regrets about what could have been?

Two secret crush stories.

Story the first.

I had a tutor working for me, that had a crush on me. Male tutor, as it transpires.

At the end of semester, he worked up all his courage, and confessed his crush. It was actually heartbreaking: he was really in quite a state about admitting it to me, and he didn’t know how much of a risk he was taking.

I smiled.

Well, I replied, nothing will come of it, I’m afraid. But pray tell, Tutor! What was it that excited your interest in me? My sparkling wit, no doubt?

Tutor just stared at the ground, and mumbled embarrassedly. “No… I just think you’re hot.”

Hah. He fell in love with me for my body. I felt so cheap!


He was into bears, I guess, and sure enough, he’s since moved to Sydney, and become a bear himself. And good for him.

Did I need to know it? Or want to? Probably not, I couldn’t do much with the information. But I was touched that he trusted me enough to tell me (or was foolhardy enough to: ultimately, same difference). It was nice to know.

Not the bit about him only falling in love with my body, of course. Cheap, I tell you! 🙂

Story the second.

I had a crush on someone I studied my PhD with. I’ve mentioned her already here. She had a cover story about being married, which she wasn’t, precisely to forestall being importuned. And by the time she confessed to me that actually there was no husband, I’d got the message that she did not want to be importuned. So that got put aside.

We met up two times after that. The first time, I went all moon-eyed, and she got the message that I was still interested. She still didn’t want to be importuned; by then I’m pretty sure she had moved on to someone else.

The second time, I crashed at her dad’s for a few days. Her, her dad, her partner, her two kids. She was quite overwhelmed with the kids, she welcomed me being around so she could actually get a break from the kids. (The dad disapproved of the arrangement, and the partner, well, the partner was sweet, but not dependable.)

I don’t know that I should have, but I did have to know. And by the time I could get her to focus on the question, it was the wee hours. And yes, it turns out, she had felt something for me at the time.

… And that both refutes and corroborates the first line of this answer.

It was a missed opportunity, it’s sad to know that. Do I want to know that? I shouldn’t.

But there was something there on the other side, however tentative. That… that was nice to know. That gave me a little smile.

Would Australia have been a better place had the French stayed?

I read a uchronia once where Tasmania was French and the rest of Australia British. It got very lazy very quickly, and turned Australia + Tasmania into Canada + Quebec, complete with Quiet Revolution and Vichy France rule.

I can’t imagine Australia ending up that much different from Canada, in fact. The Brits would have stuck around, and would have likely wrested overlordship from them. Canada’s a cool place, there’s worse outcomes than that.

The vague notion that French rule might have held back a spirit of enterprise and sophistication in the colonies is not that absurd: France was more centralist about its colonies than Britain ever was. And multiculturalism wouldn’t have happened, for better or worse: Trudeau Snr invented multiculturalism as a reaction to Quebecois nationalism, not as an outgrowth of it.

Agree about far better food, though. I mean, poutine!

Why don’t Asians in Australia have the Australian accent?

As other respondents have said, (a) it depends, and (b) they do. Reflecting on the Asian Australians I’ve known in the past thirty years:

  • People who’ve come off the boat naturally aren’t going to have an Aussie accent. Duh. Although I’ve spoken of a counterexample here: Nick Nicholas’ answer to Who are some people you know who became fluent in a foreign language as an adult?
  • Second generation Asian Australians will, by default, have an Aussie accent. Of course. I haven’t noticed someone who doesn’t.
  • In fact, I contrast second generation Asian Australians with second generation Greek Australians. There is a distinctive Greek-Australian accent that I can pick out in 40 year old and 50 year old 2nd gen Greeks: it’s not Greek at all, it’s overcentralised, and a little overenunciated. I don’t recall something similar with Asian Australians. But as I keep protesting, I do have a tin ear.
  • Some Asian Australian schoolfriends and acquaintances have been on the Cultivated Australian/Vaguely British side. That correlates with Taiwan (not sure how), and with Hong Kong (a bit more obvious how).
  • On the other hand, my fellow engineering student from Shepparton in rural Victoria, predictably, had one of the more ocker accents I’ve ever heard. Mate.

Why does NACLO use “living” languages in some of its questions?

This is a more general question: why would linguistic Olympiads and competitions in general use for their puzzles real, non-obscure languages, which someone among the the contestants may already know?

I know nothing about NACLO in particular, and I will offer some speculation which I still think relevant.

  • Oversight: “meh, noone will know Turkish”. Which of course is pretty lazy. And that’s why fieldwork linguists pick their own language of interest, which they can be reasonably sure noone will know. I was never a fieldworker, but when I set assignments, I’d make a point of using Tsakonian. I’ve seen a fair few Australian Aboriginal languages in assignments. I’ve also seen Klingon, although I don’ t think that’s nowadays a more obscure choice than Hungarian.
  • On the other hand, if the puzzle or quiz is not just about “work out what this means, and give a one sentence answer” but “give an analysis of this data”, then the choice of language doesn’t matter in most cases. Maybe 0.5% of the people sitting the Olympiad know Turkish or Hungarian. The number of people able to come up with a cogent linguistic analysis under exam conditions will be a smaller proportion: native speakers aren’t linguists out of the box. Admittedly, not massively smaller.
  • And if you’re going to write a non-trivial question, making up a toy language is not going to cut it. You’ll want a language whose mechanics have been worked out, so that you can ask intelligent questions around it. But honestly, if you’re picking Hungarian or Turkish over, I dunno, Lakota or Mandinka, I go back to point #1. Pretty lazy.

What is the etymology of etymology, and is it good etymology or bad etymology?

I think I get your question. Is the etymology of etymology subject to the Etymological fallacy?

The etymological fallacy is a genetic fallacy that holds that the present-day meaning of a word or phrase should necessarily be similar to its historical meaning. This is a linguistic misconception, and is sometimes used as a basis for linguistic prescription. An argument constitutes an etymological fallacy if it makes a claim about the present meaning of a word based exclusively on its etymology. This does not, however, show that etymology is irrelevant in any way, nor does it attempt to prove such.

And the answer is, of course it is. Etymon is from the Greek for “true”. Not “true origin”, just “true”—as in “true meaning”. As in, the truth of the word is to be found in its origin.

That’s your etymological fallacy right there.

What does British English sound like to Australian speaker?

Scottish English? My Scottish personal trainer reports people have difficulty understanding her. I can’t fathom why, and I don’t, but maybe my ear isn’t as tin as I think it is. (FWIW, it’s rare that any Scots creeps in to her speech: cannae only once in a while.)

Northern English? I think highly of it, and I think most Australians do; Freddie Flintoff is an honorary Australian, and the accent hasn’t hurt that.

As OP makes explicit in comments, what he’s actually asking about is Received Pronunciation.

Well, Cultivated Australian used to be the dialect of the Australian elite, and Cultivated Australian was not terribly different from RP. (The main difference was the plural: boxes [boksəz] vs [boksɪz].) If you watch Australian TV shows from the 70s, you’ll notice that all the lawyers and doctors talk like Poms.

Cultivated Australian is still around, but it’s been stigmatised through resurgent Australian nationalism, and no Australian politician will touch it now.

(The last one I remember speaking it is Alexander Downer, of a three-generation political dynasty, now High Commissioner to London like his father before him—and not taken terribly seriously by many Australians. His daughter Georgina is angling for a seat in parliament, and doing radio to get her brand out. And she’s as Ocker-sounding as the rest of our contemporary politicians. Any elocution lessons she’s had are carefully concealed.)

So. If a jumped up local imitation of RP is stigmatised, how do you think actual bona fide RP fares?

Yeah. Suspicion and derision. All the old resentments against Mother England are still there; all the old admiration of Mother England isn’t.

What are some patterns in accenting Koine Greek when compounding?

Eg : αὐλέω to αὐλητής, actually. 🙂

For a list of suffixes and how they work in Ancient Greek, see Herbert Weir Smyth, A Greek Grammar for Colleges from §833 on for more detail than you’ll ever want on the mechanics. The list starts at §839.

That list is for Ancient Greek; Koine is substantially the same list, and works the same way, but some suffixes did fall out of fashion. For example, -τήρ is Attic, -τής is Attic and Koine.

For accentuation: the rule in Koine remains the rule for Ancient Greek: accent is governed by Mora (linguistics). (It’s terrifying how strongly the rule applies, by analogy, even after vowel length was eliminated in Greek, as it was by the time of the New Testament—and indeed, even in Modern Greek, two millennia later.)

By default, accent is recessive. So if the suffix is unaccented, and ends in a long syllable, then accent will be on the penult. If the suffix is unaccented, and ends in a short syllable, then accent will be on the antepenult. So σημαίνω > σημάν-τωρ; μανθάνω > μαθή-τρια.

Many suffixes bear accent, and that accent overrides the recessive default. αὐλη-τής is one such instance: the agentive -τής is consistently accented.

The only instance where accent makes a meaning distinction is one familiar to students of the Koine from the Paraclete. If you form an adjective in -τος from a prepositional verb, there is meant to be a meaning difference between accenting on the ultima and the antepenult. Accenting on the ultima means the description in the adjective applies as a one-off. Accenting on the antepenult means the description in the adjective applies permanently.

So a παρακλητός is someone you’ve summoned to stand by your side just now. A παράκλητος is someone you summon all the time, a permanent advocate. Which is what the Holy Spirit is supposed to be.

(Given that the instance of παράκλητος in Dio Cassius 46.20 refers to slaves dragooned into a one-off task, that accent distinction turns out to be bogus in practice, and I’ve seen oodles of other instances where it was ignored. Sorry.)