The Decalogue of Nick #6: Loud as a poor coverup for shyness, and with one’s usual share of psychological baggage

For Lyonel Perabo.

I am, I protest, a shy person. I’ve got the Meyer-Briggs to prove it: Nick Nicholas’ answer to What’s your MBTI personality type? A person who is uncomfortable and a wall-hugger in a new crowd. A person who finds it hard to mingle in the proverbial cocktail party. A person who gave up on conference dinners early on, because my God, I don’t know any of these randoms.

People who know me very well can corroborate this.

People who know me less well will think I’m talking crap.

Because once I find myself in an environment where I know people, I come out of my shell. And it’s very hard to stuff me back in.

Dad-dancing into the cafe for my morning latte. Greeting imaginary fans with a politician’s wave, as I walk into a restaurant with my honey (but only if it’s together with my honey). Guffawing and talking loudly in the pub about whatever recondite topic strikes my fancy (back when I used to go to the pub). Holding court at work about power dynamics (but only if I have an audience).

My ideal self is like that. Loud and Greek. Voluble and witty. Unabashed and unreserved.

That’s my ideal self. I have only noticed slowly that this wasn’t who I was most of the time; that I had fallen silent much of the day; that I was back in my shell after all.

But not at work, praise be. I’m the guy that the cubicles in the neighbouring office complain about.

And not on here, in the virtual equivalent of the cube farm. I think out loud here, and I live out loud. Not as unabashed as I think my ideal self is: any BNBR violations I’ve gotten have been about tone policing, rather than me actually being un-nice or dis-respectful. But voluble, certainly enough at times for me to have been reproached. And every bit as much the social butterfly and the connector as I seek to be, trying to draw people together, out and engaging with the collective. (Unless those people are shmucks. Then, I just avoid you, because I go back in my shell.)

It’s performance, the dad-dancing and the waving at imaginary crowds and the storming into the office late exclaiming “So! What did I miss?” It’s performance of an ideal self, who is not afraid, and not embarrassed, and not ashamed. You could argue that the real me is not that. You could argue that this is front, to shield the cowering real me, who broods when struck or reproached or found wanting.

You could argue that. I prefer to think that it’s all performance, all facades. The bravado, and the cowering both. They’re all stances and reactions. And if the loud persona banishes the quiet persona for a few hours a day, there’s a reason for it. It feels alive. It feels vindicated.

It sure as hell feels like me.

Why is this language still called English, when the majority of its speakers are not even English?

It’s a good question, Mehrdad, and it deserves a serious answer.

Language has functioned as a cohesive social force, much longer than the nation state has. Language has long bound people within an ethnic group, and those outside the ethnic group who also speak it. Language, it is true, is emblematic of ethnic groups, and is named after them. But that bond has never been so strong that the language has to be renamed, when the language spreads beyond the initial ethnic group.

And in fact, languages do not change name very often. The main motivation for changing a language name is when the old ethnic group no longer exists, and the language becomes primarily associated with a new ethnic group. You can argue that’s what happened with the Romance languages.

But English people still exist, and most Americans don’t object to their language being named after them. The English language is important to American nationalism, but the constitution and the flag are more important. The spelling and the dialect of English are unique to America, and that is enough for American nationalism. The name doesn’t have to be unique as well.

Based on historical precedent, it would take a cataclysm for English to change name. Most likely a cataclysm through which English people no longer understand Americans.

Which changes to Quora would make you leave it?

Nice to see some questions never get old.

As of February 2017, there has been a steady drip of UX changes that seems targeted against the social use of Quora, and following in particular.

The feature without which I would abandon Quora are comments and following. If I wanted unsociable, one-way flow of information, I would time travel back to 1980 and read an encyclopaedia.

What was your first scientific published paper?

Nicholas, N. 1998. To aper and o opios: Untangling Mediaeval Relativisation. In Joseph, B.D., Horrocks, G.C. & Philippaki-Warburton, I. (eds), Themes in Greek Linguistics II. (Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 159) Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 283-323.

Τὸ ἄπερ and ὁ ὁποῖος: Untangling Mediaeval Greek Relativisation

This was a very tangled paper, that kept tripping itself over.

The paper is about an oddity in legal documents written in official Greek in Southern Italy, between 1000 and 1350. These documents routinely featured τὸ ἅπερ, “the which”, as a relative pronoun. The problem with that “the which” construction is, the “the” was in the neuter singular, and the “which” was in the neuter plural. It is a construction that doesn’t appear elsewhere in Greek (though a singular/singular version does once or twice), and that makes no linguistic sense.

The construction is reminiscent of a Romance “the which” construction, which ended up in English, and also in Greek somewhat later (ο οποίος); but the documents seem too early to allow for that influence. The plural really makes no sense at all, and after tying myself in all sorts of knots trying to make sense of it, I end up mumbling that maybe another linguist’s suggestion that it was some sort of phonetic effect is it.

The really interesting thing was to look at the structure of the land deeds that the construction appeared in. The land deeds were highly formulaic, and the construction kept showing up in the same place, time and again: the definition of the land boundaries. However the construction got into the earliest land deeds, it got into the later land deeds through the monks robotically using those deeds as templates.

The paper has a common fault of my papers: it goes into way too convoluted reasoning, exploring every option and alternative, whether they are germane or not. In fact, the paper explores so many options, it ends up unreadable; several of them did.

Is discrimination the basis of Reason?

As I have admitted elsewhere, I am a dunce when it comes to philosophy. So my answer is going to be relentlessly positivist.

If we do not discriminate between entities in the world, we do away with any possibility of predicate logic. And in language, we do away with nouns.

If we do not discriminate between properties in the world, which have distinct intensions and extensions, we do away with propositional logic. And in language, we do away with verbs and adjectives.

With neither predicates nor propositions, we could still attempt to reason with what’s left. But what’s left would be so God Almighty fluffy and hippie, that I’d be reluctant to call it reasoning as I know it.

Why yes. Fluffy and hippie are positivist terms.