Tuesday, October 21, 2008


In what is just another episode of a long-running series, today I was once again forced to deal with medical professionals. That's usually bad enough - doctors routinely make the top of my shit list with nurses right behind. What made it worse is that instead of going to my usual place, a rather friendly clinic in a convenient location situated next to a lovely park especially beautiful this time of year, I had to drag myself over to this butt-ugly God-forsaken communist-era hospital complex on the outskirts of town. Long story short, I wasted about three hours, didn't even get to see the doctor and most likely caught something along the way. Not a good day, if you catch my drift. All would have been lost, had I not stumbled across this while I wandered the halls:

Bilingual (Slovak-English) and trilingual (Slovak-English-German) signs are not unusual in Bratislava - in fact, the aforementioned rather friendly clinic employs them routinely, considering the large number of foreign residents and Austrians who either live here or come here to get high-quality medical care (especially dental) at a very low cost. But this is the first time I've seen the ubiquitous (in hospitals and clinics, that is) "Don't knock" sign translated into Chinese. Why did this particular immunology clinic put up this sign, I don't know. Bratislava does have a relatively large Chinese community, yet somehow I doubt its members are particularly susceptible to alergies and autoimmune diseases, considering that this was the only door with a sign in Chinese.

Be that as it may, I naturally had to check if the Chinese was legit. Of the five characters 请不要敲门, I only recognized the negative particle 不 . The rest was supplied by various dictionaries:

  • 请 [qǐng] = to ask, to invite, please
  • 不 [bù] = (negative prefix), not, no
  • 要 [yào] = important, to want, FUT AUX, may, must, OR
  • 要 [yāo] = demand, ask, request, coerce
  • 敲 [qiāo] = knock, to strike, to knock (at a door), to hit
  • 门 [mén] = gate, door

Seeing as I get about 4000 hits when googling the phrase in quotes and Google Translate provides this very phrase as the translation of "Please don't knock", I suspect it's indeed proper Chinese. Please don't hesitate to correct me if I'm wrong. That would certainly be interesting, just consider Engrish. With China playing an ever increasing economic and political role on the global stage, Chinese is bound to increase in importance and stature and will inevitably be used by people as clueless about it as the authors of the many Engrish texts are about English. Is it possible that I have just witnessed the birth of Hanyish or perhaps Zhongwenish?

Sunday, September 28, 2008


As you probably already know, Google Translate has added 11 more languages, including Slovak, to its already impressive portfolio. While testing the English-Slovak service, I was pleasantly surprised at the MT engine's ability to handle syntax like noun phrases containing adjectives, although I noted a number of problems associated with translating English idiomatic structures, such as those involving verbs "give" and "take" or multiword expressions. Overall, about 60% of translations of work related documents I put in did produce comprehensible and usable texts, so color me impressed. More testing will be required to see if Slovak translators who work for me should start to worry about their jobs (and trust me, I do have a shit list), but I'm pleased to inform you that we already have a candidate for the mistranslation of the year. Consider the headline of this report on the first US presidential debate from CNN.com and then have a look at the translation, especially the items in red:

English: Analysis: A few jabs, but no knockout in first debate
Slovak: Analýza: Za pár popíchnutí, ale žiadna kokot nedved v prvom diskusie

OK, my praise of syntax handling now sounds premature, since in "v prvom diskusie", neither the noun nor the ordinal numeral are declined properly (it should be "v prvej diskusii"), but that's not the interesting bit. That rests with the translation of the word "knockout": "kokot nedved". "Kokot" = "dick, prick" is of course the basic Slovak insult for a man, for more information see here. It is also a very vulgar term, rarely seen in print or heard on the airwaves, so its appearance here will not only ellicit a chuckle for its own sake, but also the question of just what corpus was Google using in training the MT engine. The web, sure, but I can't think of any sufficiently large bilingual corpus where that word would crop up. And that question is even more justified with the second part of the translation: what the hell is a "nedved"? The only word that even comes close is the Czech surname Nedvěd which is a form of "medvěd" = "bear". There are a few people with that name with a significance presence on the web to be included in a web corpus, like the football player Pavel Nedvěd, the hockey player Petr Nedvěd and the folk singers Jan (Honza) and František Nedvěd. But how did their name get into the translation for "knockout"? "Knockout" ("knokaut" in Slovak) is a sports term, but I know of no boxer by the name of Nedvěd. Then again, football and hockey players as fellow athletes could probably fit the bill. That still leaves the question of how did this Czech word get into a translation into Slovak. And it's not the only one - if you look at the screenshot, you will see at least three more words clearly identifiable as Czech (highlighted in green):

- "štípnout" for "tweak" - Slovak: "upraviť, vyladiť"; "štípnout" = "pinch, sting", slang: "steal", although one of my dictionaries gives "štípnout" for tweak" without any further context or explanation.
- "slíbený" for "vowed" - Slovak: "sľúbený". Note that this is a past participle while the original has "vowed" as a past tense verb.
- "poldové" for "cops" - Slovak: "policajti", slang: "fízli". Note the context mismatch: both "poldové" and "fízli" is stylistically marked and not very likely to appear in a newspaper save perhaps for direct quotes.

Once again, I assume that web corpora were to some extent used to train the MT engine. As my own feeble attempts at corpus research have shown, the country code cz or sk in the domain name does in no way guarantee that you will find only Czech or Slovak text there. The actual ratio is hard to determine, but it is definitely nice to see that one of the better aspects of Czechoslovakia - its almost fully bilingual citizens - survives to this day.

And one last interesting bit from this small test: Barack Obama's full name is translated as it should be. But whenever his last name shows up on its own, Google translates it as "osobách" = "person-LOC.PL" (highlighted in light blue). Buggered if I know why...

(h/t: filer)

Monday, August 04, 2008


In an effort to promote and protect the Maltese language and establish an unified linguistic policy, in 2005, the government and parliament of Malta have adopted the Att dwar l-Ilsien Malti (Maltese Language Act, Chapter 470). The Act establishes Il-Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Malti (National Council for the Maltese Language) as the main body charged with "adopting and promoting a suitable language policy and strategy" (Part II, 4(1)). Aside from the general task of promoting Maltese Language both in Malta and abroad (Part II, 5(1)), the Council has also been specifically charged with updating "the orthography of the Maltese Language as necessary" and establishing "the correct manner of writing words and phrases which enter the Maltese Language from other tongues" (Part II, 5(2)). Having been formed in 2005, the Council, headed by prof. Manwel Mifsud, immediately began working on an orthography reform and three years of research, public debate and expert discussion resulted in the publication of Government notice no. 642 in the Government Gazette of July 25th which amends the official orthography of Maltese. This amendment, also known as Deċiżjonijiet 1, is the third official update of Maltese orthography established by the Tagħrif fuq il-Kitba Maltija written by Ninu Cremona and Ġanni Vassallo and published in 1924 by Akkademja tal-Malti. Unlike the previous ones, Żieda mat-Tagħrif of 1984 and Aġġornament tat-Tagħrif fuq il-Kitba Maltija of 1992, this reform will consist of three parts.

As outlined by the guide to the decision-making process published by the Council under the title "It-Triq lejn id-Deċiżjonijiet 1" (8 MB PowerPoint presentation), the Council identified three problematic areas:

1. Orthographic variants
2. English loans
3. Phonetic variants

A decision was made to deal with these issues one by one in this particular order. In the first phase, over 300 orthographic variants were collected, after which the Council issued a general call for opinions to the public and a specific one to a selected group of professionals (authors, translators, teachers and journalists). It is interesting to note that the latter call was answered by only 35 people, fortunately including some of the biggest names in Maltese literature. The reactions were published in a separate volume of 195 pages titled Innaqqsu l-inċertezzi. The public debate was concluded by a workshop on orthographic variants with over 180 participants and Innaqqsu l-inċertezzi as the main subject of discussion. The final decision was entrusted to a committee chaired by Albert Borg consisting of 11 experts. After 30 meetings, the committee issued a final recommendation which was unanimously approved by the Council and finally published as Government notice no. 642, a document with the legal force of a law entering into effect on July 25th, 2008.

Government notice no. 642 / Deċiżjonijiet 1 consists of five main sections:

1. Grave accent and circumflex
Only grave accent is now used in Maltese (e.g. kafè, però), circumflex is abolished.

2. Capitalization
Deċiżjonijiet 1 establishes comprehensive rules for capitalization and lack thereof. Most notably, names of religions, religious orders, sects, art movements, styles and epochs as well as adjectives derived from them and names of their members are now capitalized throughout, e.g. l-Iżlam, ir-Rinaxximent, l-Impresijonisti, stil Sikulo-Normann, id-Dumnikani and in-Nazzjonalisti.

3. Word combinations
This section deals with various phrases, fixed expressions and idioms where there's been significant confusion. Subsection 3.1 covers expresions and idioms where the constituent parts are written separately, such as the reduplicative constructions of the type ftit ftit (little by little, gradually), numerals except 11-19, adverb nett and preposition a la and għala.
Subsection 3.2 contains rules for writing phrases and expressions written together, separately or hyphenated. 3.2.1 covers (mostly prepositional) phrases which can be written together or joined by a hyphen, such as fil-waqt (at the time of) as opposed to filwaqt (while). Appendix A provides a comprehensive list of such multiword expressions that are now written as one word, appendix B contains those that are still written separately or hyphenated.
3.2.2. deals with prefixes such as awto-, ko-, anti- and post- which are now written without a hyphen except where the stem is capitalized, e.g. antiinflammatorju (or antiflammatorju, both are acceptable), but anti-Iżlamiku.
The rest of subsection 3.2 covers prepositions ġo, ma', sa' and ta' (actually the Genitive exponent), the negative particle ma and the preposition kontra. New rules provide a choice between writing ma, ma', sa' and ta' in both full and short form (sa issa / s'issa "until now") when followed by a vowel, or ħ. Subsection 3.2 also significantly simplifies the spelling of ġo, ma', sa' and ta' + definite article il-. Forms ġol, mal, sal and tal are now used regardless of what follows (consonant, vowel, or ħ), removing one major headache for all speakers of Maltese.

4. Roots and stems
This short section establishes different rules for writing words of Semitic origin and Romance words. For Semitic roots, the rules confirm the practice of using the same set of letters for one root even though the pronunciation may differ (e.g. ktibna "we wrote" is pronounced [ktibna], but kitbu "they wrote" is pronounced [kidbu]). The obvious exceptions with some roots, such as verbae tertiae , still apply (e.g. the verb sema' with the root smgħ and first person singular perfect smajt). Non-Semitic stems are written the way they occur in words adopted into Maltese and no effort is made to establish a single correct spelling.

5. Other
This final section attempts to simplify and unify the orthography of a small number of words. Subsection 5.1 deals with consonants with the same pronunciation, but non-phonetic spelling or two different spellings, where in both cases the phonetic spelling is chosen as the preferred variant. Examples include dvalja which replaces tvalja "tablecloth", risq instead of riżq "profit, benefit" and skont instead of skond "according to" which was even before the reform written with t before enclictic pronouns. Subsection 5.2 also adapts the spelling of some words to match their most common current pronunciation, such as the title of this post Awwissu instead of Awissu "August", dettall instead of dettal, Iżlam instead of Islam and prefers karozza over of karrozza "car". The rest of the section covers a number of words designed to bring their spelling in line with their etymology (Magreb instead of Maghreb, since the word was borrowed from Italian or English) and three spelling changes based on reinterpretation of roots.

Having been published in the Government Gazette, the new rules of Maltese Orthography are now binding for all government institutions including schools, textbooks and examinations. The Government notice no. 642, however, provides for a three-year transitional period during which both variants will be acceptable. On July 25th, 2011, the new forms will finally become the only correct and acceptable ones. It will remain to be seen how speakers of Maltese will get used to it. We'll see if the first reactions were an indicator and if, what will that mean for the second phase which deals with borrowings from English and which is well underway. Should be interesting to watch.

UPDATE: Albert Borg comments on the process and the motivations in an interview for Times of Malta published today.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


The bulk of the various advertisements, billboards and promotional signs which adorn our lovely city consists of the usual fare of telecommunication products, financial services and real estate done in the usual bland unremarkable style of the two or three ad agencies which control our small advertising market. But once in a while, an ad comes along - or, rather, is put up - which truly boggles the mind. Like this one, from last October:

When I first noticed it, I actually stopped dead in my tracks and stared at it for about a minute. I was stunned at the fact that I immediately understood what the ad was all about. Once I got over that and back to work, I found myself once confounded once again, this time by the question of just who the makers of the ad had in mind as their target group. Why? Let's break it down:

The text says "To the Winter Palace!" and then "New Fall/Winter Collections 2007", the latter part we can ignore. As for semantic content of the rest of the ad and its context:

- we're in Slovakia;
- it's October;
- the ad is for a Winter sale taking place at a shopping mall called Shopping Palace Zlaté Piesky ("Zlaté Piesky" is the name of the neighborhood and the word "Palace" is, naturally, English, the Slovak equivalent would be "palác"); combined with
- the preposition "na" which is used in wishes ("Na zdravie!"), exhortations ("Poďme na to!") and for other similar purposes, such as a call to attack (readers of Hašek will recall his famous "Na Bělehrad!")
- the young man's raised fist is a well known gesture of defiance, a symbol of resistance etc.; and finally (and most interestingly);
- the couple's faces.

October. Winter Palace. Defiance, resistance, revolution. A call to arms. Son of a bitch - the advertisers in '00s Slovakia are using the Great October Socialist Revolution to hawk their products. When the girls and me discussed this at the office, we all agreed that the semiotic content of the ad was immediately clear to anyone of from our generation and older. All of us at the office are Husák's kids, i.e. we were born in the baby boom of late 70's and early 80's Czechoslovakia. All of us also spent at least a few years in communist-era elementary schools where the teachers were addressed "súdruh učiteľ/súdružka učiteľka" (lit. "comrade teacher"), the official form of greeting was - I shit you not - "Česť práci!" (lit. "Honor to work!"), the October Revolution was the biggest thing in history evah, especially in October and November (it was officially celebrated on November 7th with compulsory parades and stuff), and pictures of people looking exactly like the couple in this ad lined the walls of every school's hallways. Those pictures and the whole art movement which was to referred to as "socialist realism" is the main reason I was stunned upon seeing the ad for the first time. You see, when I think of iconic images representing communism and the communist era in Central European history, I think of potraits of Lenin, Stalin, perhaps even Marx (but, oddly enough, not Che Guevara). Or I think of Kremlin, hammer and sickle, red flag, red stars, May Day parades. But all of those would have too obvious. And so the creators of the ad dug a little deeper into our public subconscious and came up with this very subtle, yet unambiguous reference to the former era and it's icons. Kudoz Kudos to them for hitting a nerve most of us probably didn't even know they had, which is - after all - the purpose of every advertisement. I, for one, am still shocked at how firmly entrenched the indoctrination I received in my early years still is in my mind. And I wonder if I'll ever be able to get rid of it and if not, what would that mean...

And this brings me to my original question: just who is the target group for this ad? Is it people who still remember the previous era, like my generation, people in their mid-twenties to early thirties, or even people older than that? Most of us do have the disposable income, but are we really likely to be persuaded by a billboard to visit a shopping mall located at the outskirts of the city (like this one is) in the notoriously bad traffic? And are we really the group of people who is most likely to spend any amount of time in malls? Not so much. Here just like anywhere else, it's teenagers who hang out in malls. But will they get the ad? Based on a number of surveys in regard to history the Ministry of Education conducted, I doubt that very much. The kids today are barely aware of the pre-1989 period in our history and - thankfully - know little of its mythology. So the ad probably missed its target by a lot. But still, it is a great piece of advertising art.

Another interesting ad came along a few weeks ago. I don't have a good action shot, so a picture taken from the advertiser's website must suffice:

Translation: "May is all about ..." and then there's the L-word. Even those inhabitants of Bratislava (and, I imagine, all other cities, towns and villages) with minimal command of English recognize the word "love" and nod in agreement. After all, in our culture, May is commonly - if somewhat clichedly - referred to as the month of love or the time for love ("máj - lásky čas"). Come to think of it, back in the day (see the trip down the memory lane above), every month was a month of something. March, for example, was the month of books. April was the month of forrests. And four weeks between late October and early November were officially designated the month of Soviet-Czechoslovak friendship - in fact, there are couple of good jokes about that one, but you kind of had to be there to get them. As for the ad, it's all pretty straightforward until now - the connection between May and love is a transparent one for every Slovak, even if the word for love is English. But that can't be all, can it?

Of course it's not. And that's where the second layer of meaning comes in. First, this is an ad for a bank, more specifically a particular investment product. Then there's the pile of silver coins and the gold coins which make out the L-word. And finally, there is that one more word that is spelt "love". It's a Romani word pronounced ['lɔvɛ] or ['lɔːvɛ] which means - "money". So what we have here is a trilingual pun. Pretty neat, wouldn't you say?

And once again I have to ask myself, just who the target group for this ad is? It is true that Romani borrowings are quite common in some dialects of Slovak, especially in those regions with large Roma population, but they are hardly ubiquitous. My native dialect (which is more or less the dialect of Košice) is probably the best example of Romani influence. The Romani word čaja and the interjection dig are widely recognized as shibbolets of our dialect and, needless to say, routinely feature in parodies thereof. What's more, with the growth of the Roma community, their (admittedly very slow) integration into the mainstream society and various government programs designed to promote Romani language and culture, the number of these borrowings may even increase.

I came across one just the other day, when my baby sister described something as "totally mište". "Totally what?" I said, perplexed. "Mište," she said. "What?" she went on noticing my blank look, "Mr. Big-shot Linguist just heard a word he doesn't understand?" I said "Well, yeah." and then the little brat proceeded to laugh her butt off. Only when I threatened to revoke her access to my bank account did she stop mocking my ignorance (at least outwardly) and explained that mište means "great, cool, awesome". When I asked where she got the word from, she gave me a "well duh!" look and said that her and her friends got the word from a Roma classmate and liked it so much that for some time, it even replaced the ubiquitous Hungarian derived "fasa". Somewhat surprised, I checked the authoritative Romani-Czech dictionary and sure enough, there it was: "mištes = right, correct, proper." The variant mište (though neither in my dictionary, nor any of the others) is even commonly used in Slovak Romani meaning "good, well":

O dad but mište bašavelas pre cimbalma, bašavelas andre banda mire papuha, no le pandže čhavendar ča jekh phral bašavel.

My father played cymbal cimbalom very well, he played in a band with my grandfather, but of the five children, only one brother plays [an instrument].

A few more questions and one brief Google search revealed that this word is far from the local (read: our village) phenomenon my sister made it out to be and has in fact made it into most Eastern dialects. My favorite example is one from a chat room where while discussing music sharing someone asked "Nemáte dakto nejaké mište bootlegy?". Mište, ain't it?

With my sister's help, I then compiled the following list of Romani words in Eastern Slovak, words/meanings marked with an asterisk are the ones that appear to be new:

čávo [noun, masculine] = 1. boy, young man; 2. boyfriend; 3. a flashy macho-type young man (see chav); 4. *douchebag (cf.) (o čhavo)
čaja [noun, feminine] = 1. girl; 2. a good looking girl; 3. girlfriend (e čhaj)
dig (alt.: dik, dyk) [interjection] = 1. lo!, behold! (originally dikh, the imperative of dikhel = to see)
gádžo [noun, masculine] = 1. a Gentile (non-Roma); 2. a person of low intelligence and/or education, a person with no manners (see redneck) (origin unknown, the Sanskrit word gṛhastha is sometimes cited as one possible etymology)
love [noun, masculine, plural] = money (o love, e love)
*mište [adjective] = great, cool, awesome (mištes = right, correct).
more [interjection] = 1. a familiar way to address a man (see "dude!"); 2. a general-purpose interjection, often preceded by ci.
*mulo [noun, masculine] = dumbass (o mulo = revenant)
*piraňa = 1.a good-looking girl; 2. a female equivalent of čávo 3 (e piraňi = a young woman)
*temerav = an oath: "May I die!" (te merav)

That last one is particularly interesting. My sister was only able to identify it as "some sort of a curse". I figured out that it's a first person singular present tense form of "merel" = "to die" and "te" is a conjunctive particle, but it's pragmatic properties eluded me. It wasn't until a buddy of mine visited a casino where he found himself at a table with some Vlax Roma (or, as he put it, "a bunch of Klingons") who kept using the phrase. Once he got back, he inquired about it in a forum I'm a member of and other participants were quick to point out that the term is also used by a fellow who calls himself Rytmus and is apparently a rapper. His music isn't exactly my cup of tea, but he seems pretty successful and very controversial, both by virtue of his language and as a result of a number of (most likely manufactured) feuds with other rappers and mainstream pop musicians. And, most importantly, he is a Roma and very proud of his Roma heritage. He has made it his trademark and he claims it is the inspiration for his anger and his music. Here is a video of track 3 "Temerav" (also spelt "Temeraf") from his album Bengoro ("The Devil" in Romani) which is also a very good sample of his style. Judging by the views on YouTube, the amount of Google hits he gets and my sister's iPod, Rytmus is quite popular among the young generation and it is thus not inconceivable that "temerav" is not the only Romani word his fans learned from him. A case in point is the second Google search hit on "mište" I quoted, which is, as the address bar of your browser immediately reveals, from a hip-hop forum. And more to the point, consider one of his most popular bits, the uncharacteristically sentimental "Mama" ("mother" in Slovak) which features a chorus in Romani and the phrase "potrebujem lóve" = "I need money" between 00:42 and 00:44.

So perhaps I'm wrong and the distribution of the Romani word "love" is much wider than I thought. The Slovak National Corpus isn't of much help here and there is not much other research on the subject, so I'll leave it at that. And perhaps I'm wrong entirely and it's not dialect distribution the makers of the L-word ad rely on to deliver their message. Instead, they are using popular culture to sell their products. And if popular culture takes Romani to the national level, even if it's in tiny bits and pieces, I certainly won't complain. Especially with a trilingual pun like this one.

Friday, May 09, 2008


In every field of research, there is a number of terms which are often misunderstood and/or used incorrectly not just by laymen (the people call the staff of Language Log and languagehat as expert witnesses), but quite often by knowledgeable experts as well. Karšūnī is one of the terms which just beg for such treatment and often receive it. Having recently waded through a number of documents looking for texts in karšūnī, the whole thing gives me a real a headache. Here is why.

First, there's the many ways of spelling it. Karshuni, carshuni, carchouni, carschouni, karschuni, karšūnī, karshūnī, karschūnī, garshuni, garschuni, garšūnī, gerschuni, gershuni, geršūnī or even akaršūnī and akarschūnī - you name it, it's somewhere out there. Which is the correct one is anybody's guess. According to Julius Assfalg's brief yet exhaustive and even after 26 years unsurpassed overview of the subject (3:297-298), this is a much debated question among eastern Christians. Eminent scholars like G.S. Assemani and Alphonse Mingana believed it should be garshuni/garšūnī and considered the form karšūnī a Maronite corruption. On the other hand, many believe the correct form is gershuni, as it derives from Geršūn, the Syriac form of the name Gershon / Gershom, Moses' firstborn son, who is supposed to have invented this practice. The form with initial k- is firmly established in French and German traditions, while the English-speaking scholars seem to prefer garshuni and its derivations. To each his own, I would normally say, but in this digital age, a line has to be drawn somewhere. Searching for the same term with small variations over and over again just isn't fun. I'm taking this up with the European Commission, they should be able to settle the matter in no time at all.

Then there's the many meanings of the term - especially when it comes to manuscript catalogues. In the strictest sense, karšūnī is a term for manuscripts or printed works in Arabic language in Syriac script. Simple enough: language - Arabic; script - Syriac. Makes sense, right? Well, no, not really. It does not refer to a different variety of Arabic language the way the term Judeo-Arabic does - moreover, Arabic-speaking Christians used both Arabic script and Syriac script when writing Arabic. Nor does it describe a variety of the Syriac script adapted for writing Arabic (as is the case with the term bosančica, Cyrillic and Bosnian/Croatian) or a ductus used more or less exclusively for writing Arabic (as with nastaʿlīq and Persian/Urdu). The best way of defining karšūnī would be saying it's a practice of writing Arabic texts in Syriac script. This practice did not require any modification of the script (the way Cyrillic used for Turkic or Uralic languages did) nor did a separate ductus develop for writing Arabic. And thus in many manuscript volumes written in Syriac script, a text in Syriac is often followed by a karšūnī text written by the same hand in the exactly same serṭō. Add to that the formerly standard practice of Western libraries to catalogue manuscripts by script and not by language and it's 'Hello, Mr. Aspirin' every time you consult one of the older ones.

The Judas apocryphon mentioned recently at the Apocryphicity blog and the respective entry in the Cambridge Syriac collection catalogue is a classic example of the mess this can create. The physical description of the volume in question (Add. 2881) includes the following:

The writing is usually an unsightly cursive Karshuni, but some pages are written in a better Egyptian Arabic hand (e.g. ff. 175 b, 176 a, 245 a, 247 b —249 a, 258 b, 281 b, 282 a, 290 b, 291 a, 299 a— 301 a).

First off, "unsightly cursive" is definitely out of place here. "Unsightly cursive serṭō / jacobite " would be fine and so would "unsightly cursive madnḥāyā / nestorian". Even "unsightly cursive esṭrangelā" would be perfectly OK, though somewhat remarkable, since karšūnī texts were very rarely written in esṭrangelā. But "unsightly cursive Karshuni" just isn't right - "cursive" is an adjective used almost exclusively of writing and as I pointed out earlier, karšūnī is not a type of script. But never mind, I can live with that. The author of this particular entry apparently thought Karshuni was a designation of a type of Syriac script, which is why they also included the bit about "better Egyptian Arabic hand". We can thus assume that ff. 175b, 176a, 245a etc. are written in Arabic language in Arabic script while the rest is written in Arabic language in Syriac script, right? Well, no. According to the catalogue, folios 2b through 298b are written in Arabic language and Syriac script. This also includes ff. 175b, 176a, 245a, 247b —249a, 258b, 281b, 282a, 290b, 291a - all of which are supposed to be written in that "better Egyptian Arabic hand". Only ff. 299a — 301a are, as expected, written in the Arabic script, as are some notes on f. 307b. The rest seems to employ serṭō. At this point I'd like a glass of water with my medication, please. And I can consider myself lucky not dealing with texts in languages other than Syriac or Arabic written in Syriac script, such as Turkish, Armenian, Persian or even Malayalam (although to be fair, writing in Malayalam required some adapting and the script itself is legitimately referred to as "gerisoni"). Once we include those, karšūnī takes on a new meaning very similar to ajami.

And finally, there is the issue of the original meaning and the etymology of the term - though unlike the previous ones, this one is more theoretical than practical. We've already seen one attempt at an explanation (derived from Gershon / Gershom) and if you did not find it very convincing, I can't blame you. Other alternative etymologies proposed do not fare any better with regard to credibility:

- karḵūnē (a diminutive plural of ܟܰܪܟܐ [karḵā] = "rolled", also "codex") meaning "small round (i.e. letters)" - which, again, refers to a type of script or a ductus
- Syriac verb ܓܪܰܫ [graš] meaning "to draw away", hence "foreign, imported writing"
- Persian kār + Šūnī, i.e. "the work of Šūnī" (why Persian?)
- a diminutive form of Syriac ܟܰܪܣܐ [karsā] = "belly", i.e. "(letters) with small bellies" (again with the type of script)
- and finally, the trusted option of a derivation from a personal name.

As you can see, we're drawing a blank so far. It would help a lot if we knew where the practice was started and who first used the term, but we don't. All that can be said for certain is that the Wikipedia entry is quite wrong: there is no evidence that Eastern Christians wrote in Arabic before the end of the 8th century AD when (according to Graf) Maronites took the point and Nestorians and Copts followed suit. Nor is there evidence that Syriac script was used to write Arabic when "Arabic script was not yet fully developed and widely read". Such use of Syriac script cannot be ruled out, of course, but it simply doesn't matter: when Eastern Christians adopted Arabic language, they also adopted Arabic script. Up until the 13th century, karšūnī was reserved for titles, chapter names, notes and such, while most of what was written was written in Arabic script (such as the production of the Palestinian Melkites analyzed by Joshua Blau [1]). Karšūnī manuscripts grew in number in the 14th century and the next century marked the beginning of karšūnī's golden era which lasted well until the 19th century and survived even the introduction of printing machines. This is what we know for a fact. The rest, like the origin of the practice and the meaning and the origin of the term - not so much.

And so we are left with Assfalg's (3:298) observation to that effect and his brief remark that the earliest recorded usage of the term in European sources is the preface to Gabriel Sionita's and Faustus Naironius' edition of Novum Testamentum Syriace et Latine printed in Rome in 1703. Well, we were, until 1991. This was when Hartmut Bobzin published a brief yet fascinating article [2] antedating the term by at least 146 years. It was found in a manuscript by Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter who prepared the first European printed edition of the Syriac New Testament. The manuscript in question contains, among other things, a fragment of a Latin translation of Kitāb al-ādžurrūmīja, a famous compendium of Arabic grammar (original here). A translation of one of the first lines of Kitāb al-ādžurrūmīja ("Partes orationis sunt tres...") is followed by a brief excursus into comparative Semitology which includes these comments on the Aramaic language (pardon my very bad translation):

... Aliter syros scribere, babilonios aliter, et differentes ab utrisque hebreos qui e babilone in patriam redierunt. Deinde aliam esse scribendi rationem Jonathe, Onkelo, aliam Danielj et Jobis historie authori Mosj, aliam postremo Christianis quos Maronitas vocant, qui Chaldaico sermone in sacris utuntur, arabico vulgo passim, hunc ipsi vocant קרשוני illum chaldaicum quem Syrum adpellant.

... The Syrians use a different writing, so do the Babylonians, and the Hebrews who returned from Babylonia to their homeland use a writing different from both those. And thus one should mention first [targum of] Jonathan and [targum of] Onkelos, then the story of Daniel and Job written by Moses and finally the Christians who are called Maronites who use the Chaldaic language in their services and colloquial Arabic elsewhere, and this they themselves call קרשוני in that Chaldaic which they term Syriac.

As Bobzin points out, it is interesting to note that Widmanstetter speaks of language and not writing. It is also interesting to note that his version of karšūnī (I lost count, sorry) begins with a qoph and not a gimel, which may rehabilitate the form with initial k-. Or not, as it depends on where the form originated. Unfortunately, Widmanstetter's notes are not helpful in this regard and so the etymology and the origin of the term karšūnī are still lost in the mists of time. Ah well, maybe I'll find something. And while I search, remember: Arabic language, Syriac script. Like this:

[1] BLAU, Joshua: A Grammar Of Christian Arabic (Fasc. I-III). - Louvain : Secretariat du CorpusSCO, 1966-1968
[2] BOBZIN, Hartmut: Über eine bisher unbekannte Europäische Bezeichnung des Terminus 'Karšūnī' . - Journal of Semitic Studies, 1991, XXXVI/2, pp. 259-261
[3] FISCHER, Wolfdietrich (Hrsg.): Grundriss der Arabischen Philologie. Band 1: Sprachwissenschaft. - Wiesbaden : Harrassowitz, 1982, xiii., 362 p.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Zmjezhd over at epea pteroenta has identified and brought to our attention the true cause of the decline and eventual destruction of the Roman Empire: txting. We all knew that this vile disregard for ortographic rules and conventions would eventually bring down our civilization and now thanks to zmjezhd we have a proof that it has already done so once, infecting the very heart of the Roman Empire at its finest time and spreading like cancer all over the civilized world. And to fully appreciate the threat of txting, let us consider the rate at which it spread from the center of the Empire to its periphery. Zmjezhd's example dates to the early 2nd century AD, which indicates that by then, the disease had already infected Rome and Italy. Yet at that very time, the outer provinces still held on to their heritage. This is evidenced by this late 2nd century AD inscription in stone (a simple, honest and down-to-earth material which is - very unlike the liberal elitist marble - resistant to moral and cultural corruption) in Lavgaricio, today's Trenčín:


exercitvs qvi Lav-
garicione sedit milites
legionis II DCCCLV
[Marcus Valerius Maximi]anvs legatvs legionis II adivtricis cvravit

To the victory of the venerable,
the troops stationed in Laugaricio,
855 soldiers of the 2nd legion
Dedicated by M. V. Maximianus, the legate of the auxiliary to the 2nd legion.

Note how everything but the signature is spelled out in full (save for that one -m of the Genitive plural suffix). The abbreviations in the legate's name and title are to be seen as symbols of modesty so typical of Roman warrior class and not signs of moral decay which had by then overrun Rome. As many times before and many times since, here the periphery still holds to the traditional values like proper grammar, even though the center has long abandoned them.

But only a few decades later, all is lost. In Rome, the position of the emperor weakens, the Imperial Crisis looms and troops of Alexander Severus (or possibly the Emperor himself) leave this message in a stone somewhere in the vicinity of today's village of Semerovo:


Imperator Marcvs Avrelius Seve
rvs Alexander Pivs Fe
lix Avgvstus Pontifex Maximvs tribvnicia
potestate VIII consvl III pater patriae....

Emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus
Alexander Pius (The Pious) Felix (The Lucky)
Augustus (The Venerable), chief priest, holder of the office
of tribune 8 times, consul 3 times, father of the country....

The cancer of the language has spread from Rome to the land of the Quadi and from marble to stone. And thus the Roman world ends, not with a bang, but 4 w1MP3r and a warning to the future generations who would not take the proper steps to guard against this horrible disease: ur nxt, d00dz.

ŠKOVIERA, Daniel: Antiqua Slovaciae Memoria. - Bratislava : Tatran, 1977, 36 p.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Remember my multi-part review of the new dictionary of Slovak? Yeah, well, it's been a year and I'm still stuck at installment no. 4 and the part of the entry with information on stylistic and pragmatic properties of the headword. The only thing I can say in my defence is that I've been sidetracked when I started looking into the history of Czecho-Slovak lexicography to understand the whys and hows of lexeme classification based on these rather loosely defined "functional criteria". In the course of that research I came across a lot if interesting stuff (with three full bookshelves to prove it). The most fascinating result of that small detour was a paper on the brewer slang of Southern Bohemia [2] published by Alena Jaklová of the University of South Bohemia. In that paper, professor Jaklová compiled from various sources a dictionary of terms related to beer brewing. It is interesting to note that those sources included not only native informants, but also various professional publications, including a (ministry of education approved) textbook for trade schools. Why so? Because of the standard/non-standard ("spisovný/nespisovný") dichotomy so firmly entrenched in Czecho-Slovak linguistic thinking. There slang terms traditionally fall on the non-standard side of the divide and thus become linguistic outcasts, shunned in polite society and even barely worthy of recording. The inclusion of slang terms in an officially sanctioned publication is therefore a major concession on the part of the prescriptivists and purists and, to some extent, an admission of defeat: what do you do when you need a word for a concept only a handful of people are familiar with? Do you stick to your guns and try invent a new word that will follow your rules (and, invariably, fail) or do you grudgingly accept the words of those few well versed in the subject even though it turns your refined stomach? The authors of those textbooks took the latter approach and prof. Jaklová agrees. She argues that in considering the status of professional slang/professional jargon, the standard/non-standard dichotomy should be disregarded altogether and the terms used by the professionals should be accepted into the standard fold. After all, who knows best what word to use for that thingamajig over there than the person who knows every single thing there is to know about it?

Aside from being a voice of reason, the paper is a veritable lexical banquet where through the professional jargon of brewers you can find out just about anything you ever could want to know about various types barley and yeast, the different stages of preparation of malt, all the apparatus involved in beer brewing and even a thing or two about the social structure of the Czech brewery and different customs associated with the production and consumption of beer. And so you can learn that in breweries of Southern Bohemia, a drak ("dragon" = boilerman) keeps a fire burning in the kiln using a osel ("donkey" = a special shovel) while checking the temperature on a pánbíček (a diminutive form of pámbú = "Pán Bůh" = "Lord", a thermometer), that the head cooper goes by the rather unflattering title vrchní Jidáš ("the head Judas") and that they don't steal beer in Budějovice, they střílí pivo ("shoot beer") - though the end effect for the brewer remains the same. Were you inclined to engage in some linguisticking, you could even argue that the Czech have at least 18 different words for beer and offer the following list as a proof:


But there is one word in this list that not only takes the cake malt, but also grabs the keg, the table and all the beer in the storage rooms:

gramatika - pivní polévka s rozvařeným řežným chlebem, údajne lehká a lehce stravitelná

gramatika - beer soup with overcooked rye bread, reportedly light and easily digestible

Let me see if I can find a recipe somewhere...

Oh and one more bit: the section on etymology claims that the term šalanda ("a large room where brewery staff changed and/or slept") is a borrowing from Arabic - "šalandí" (شلندي). Hm, perhaps. But wouldn't a French source (chaland) be much more likely? And assuming that I'm correct and the word ultimately derives from χελάνδιον (a Byzantine warship), how does a ship become a room?

[1] HUBÁČEK, Jaroslav: Malý slovník českých slangů. - Ostrava : Profil, 1988, 190 p.
[2] JAKLOVÁ, Alena: Pivovarský slang v Jižních Čechách. In: Jazyk a řeč jihočeského regiónu II. - České Budějovice : Katedra českého jazyka Pedagogické fakulty JU, 1993, p. 50-68

Tuesday, April 08, 2008



One of the many reasons why I love all of Law and Order is how the writers and producers get stuff right, especially when it comes to the many facets of the multicultural, multireligious and multilingual New York City. This is a special forte of Criminal Intent where such excurses into the everyday lives of various - often self-contained - communities serve to demonstrate the astounding abilities of detective Goren, such as his familiarity with Aramaic or his knowledge of modern-day nomadic peoples. But this dedication to accuracy - hardly a distinguishing feature of network television - can be observed in other parts of the franchise, too, especially in linguistic matters. And so on Law and Order, Arabic is real Arabic, Syriac is written in real honest-to-God serṭō and even though one of the five boroughs stands in for Prague and the accent is so thick you couldn't cut through it with a damn blowtorch, the Prague police officers speak real Czech.
The latest example I've seen is episode 9x13 of Law and Order: SVU. The investigation of another grisly sex crime brings Stabler and Munch to Kehilat Moshe, a Hasidic community in upstate New York. In a brief voiceover narrated by the victim's mother, we are told that people in Kehilat Moshe (a fictionalized version of the real-life Satmar Hasidic town Kiryas Joel) are "extremely orthodox" and that "Many barely speak English." This is where I crossed my finders and muttered "Yiddish, Yiddish, Yiddish, please let me hear some Yiddish!"
And sure enough, just a minute or two later, the detectives make contact with the local law enforcement and the following conversation takes place:

Yep, that's Yiddish all right. But if you listen closely, you may notice there's something off here. What follows is my clumsy attempt at transcription:

A: Der politsi ...
A: The police ...
B: Farshtey. ... ze mus gayn bayn der rebbe, [bʌt] nemt den lange veg un nisht baym shil.
B: Understood. [Tell them] they must see the Rabi, but take the long way, not the way around the temple.

Now I'm by no means an expert, as is evident by the blank I drew on the first part of the conversation. But to my knowledge, "the police" and "the temple" should both be feminine, i.e. "di politsye" and "di shil/shul". "By the temple" should therefore be "bay der shil" (בײַ דער שיל), not "baym (bay dem) shil". I'm also not quite certain about the "bayn der rebbe" part. Hearing "bayn" (בײַן) instead of the expected "baym" (בײַם) wouldn't be that strange, I do sometimes confuse my nasals. But "bayn/baym der rebe" definitely doesn't sound right - "baym rebe" (בײַם רבי) or "bay dem rebe" (בײַ דעם רבי) is what I would expect here. Same goes for "nemt den lange veg" and the absence of case suffix. If I'm not mistaken, "der langer veg" (which is what the Nominative is) should be here in the Accusative, i.e. "den langn veg" (דען לאַנגן וועג). And one more thing: notice how the name of the real Hasidic community reflects the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew - "Kiryas Joel", as opposed to "Kiryat Joel" in the Modern Hebrew/Sephardic pronunciation. Shouldn't the name of the fictional town (presumably קהלת משה in Hebrew) also be pronounced the Yiddish way and thus written "Kehilas Moshe" or even "Kehilas Moyshe" in English?
Of course I wouldn't expect a living language - which, thank God, Yiddish still is - to be exactly the same now as it was when it was recorded and described by Uriel Weinreich, Shlomo Birnbaum, Joshua Fishman and other great scholars of Yiddish. Doubly so in the light of the fact that standard Yiddish based on Lithuanian Yiddish is far from the only dialect there is and definitely not the one with most native speakers - Satmar Hasidim speak a Galician (Polish-Hungarian) dialect of Yiddish. Some change, especially due to language contact, would be expected even in case of close-knit communities such as the Hasidim - which is what I believe happened when instead of אָבער "but" we get [bʌt]. But as for the rest of the deviations from the Yiddish I know, if there indeed are any, I am at the end of my ken. So here is where I turn to you, my esteemed readership, to help me fill out the blanks in my transcription, especially that first line. And of course, I'd be immensely grateful if anybody could explain to me what is going on in that conversation. Who knows, we may even find out that my praise for the writers of Law and Order was a bit premature...

Thursday, April 03, 2008


You know what, I've had it with this shit. My inner critic is an asshole and I just have to stop listening to him. It's because of him that I missed a lot of the great linguistic stuff that happened in the last couple of months and that just sucks.

So without further ado, let me:
1. Make a brief announcement: I'm back.
2. Thank every one who kept checking this space, especially Mr. Languagehat and my other fellow linguabloggers who are and always will be an inspiration.

And since I should probably start by picking up my own slack, here is - with many apologies to RAF, Abraham Lincoln and Bob Newhart - my modest and belated contribution to the celebration of National Grammar Day. Now if I could only remember how I found this one...

OK, so here's how it probably went down: I was catching up on Paleojudaica from whence a link lead me to On the Main Line, a very cool blog on the Cairo Genizah, Hebrew and other things fascinating, and somehow from there I got to Baltic Polyglottic, a new blog from Latvia (now sadly no longer updated). Hey, if the blogosphere needs anything, it's the general adoption of Lameen's "references with every blog post" policy and more people from the new EU Countries, so yay! It was there, in a charming post entitled "The most useful phrase I learned last year", that I learned about the career advice blog Brazen Careerist by one Penelope Trunk.

Now I'm not someone who needs career advice, nor would I listen to it should it be offered, but my recent job-hunting experiences made me curious. And so I clicked the link to find out how to turn an interview into a job. I learned that I should lose weight because fat (and therefore) unattractive people have a much lower chance to get hired, that I should prepare stock answers to standard interview questions and that I should practice being interviewed a lot. Now I admit that as a fat dude, I found the equation overweight = unattractive a bit insulting. But hey, that's no reason to stop being fair and balanced, so I decided to dig around a bit more to form a qualified opinion of Ms. Trunk and her writing. After two hours of reading brilliant advice like "being promoted has nothing to do with your skills and competence, it's all about being liked", "if you want to have a successful career start in college by geting out of the library" and having learned that Ms. Trunk is a former professional voleyball player (insert-jock-joke-here) and that she went through several stages of personal rebranding (... I got nothing), my mind was made up. The only question left to be answered was where does Ms. Trunk place on the George Carlin scale of stupid?

Fortunately, right about that time I got to a post, an excerpt from her book, which contains several tips on how to write "so people pay attention". The book costs $25, but Ms. Trunk was kind enough to provide us with one tip for free. It's #25 and it goes "Don't use adverbs". I'm guessing some of you can sense where this is going, so just grab your favorite snack and let's enjoy the ride.

By way of introduction, Ms. Trunk gives us her opinion on what constitutes good writing. First and foremost, you have to be brief. In Ms. Trunk's view and according to her understanding of the people she quotes, short equals elegant. Take Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address - 270 words, yet undoubtedly one of the most powerful speeches ever written. So how do we write short and elegant texts that make people pay attention? Here are her seven tips:

1. Write lists.
... They are faster and easier to read than unformatted writing, and they are more fun. If you can’t list your ideas then you aren’t organized enough to send them to someone else.

OK, I can get behind that one, at least partially. I'm glad that an expert like Ms. Trunk approves of this strategy that was also employed by many great writers. Consider Winston Churchill, a Nobel Prize in Literature winner, and his famous "We shall fight on the beaches" speach which featured this list:

We shall fight:
  1. on the beaches;
  2. on the landing grounds;
  3. in the fields;
  4. in the streets, and
  5. in the hills.

Truly, this is the most powerful example of list as a literary device (with the possible exception of the Metterling list no. 5). It not only gave strength to the British people, but also outlined the Allied strategy for victory in WWII and even won the Battle of England. And I'm sure it provided people in London with endless mirth.

2. Think on your own time
....people don’t want to read your thinking process; they want to see the final result.

Indeed. Who cares about arguments and evidence, let alone what you read and where you read it? Results, that's what counts!

3. Keep paragraphs short.
Two lines is the best length if you really need your reader to digest each word.

Unless, of course, you are Penelope Trunk.

4. Write like you talk.

What a splendid advice! For example, if like me you use the words "fuck" and "goddamn bullshit" a lot when you talk, you might want to start inserting these words into your work correspondence. I'm sure your boss will be impressed and people you deal with will appreciate the colorful character that you are. Especially if you work in customer care.

For example, you would never say “in conclusion” when you are speaking to someone so don’t use it when you write.

Very true. I mean think of all the pretentious nonsense people write to sound smart and educated and whatnot, shit they would never actually let pass through their lips. Like doctors, for instance, with their pseudolatin mumbo-jumbo. It's 'skull', not 'cranium', you asshole. Speak English! Or consider lawyers. Wouldn't all our contracts be much more clear and readable without all that "hereafter" and "aforementioned" and "compensation" and "shall" crap? Maybe when the revolution comes, we don't have to kill them. Let's just teach them to write properly.

5. Delete
When you’re finished, you’re not finished: cut 10% of the words.

Say, Abe, what's with that "The world will little note, nor long remember" shit? Cut it down. "The world won't remember" is good enough. And same goes for "we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow". Geez, keep it simple, will ya? Most of these folks don't even know what "hallow" means. Honestly, would you say that speaking to someone?

6. Passive voice. Almost no one ever speaks this way.

Ah, this is a familiar one. But the new twist Ms. Trunk puts on it is worth your last penny:

If you have a noun directly following “by” then it’s probably passive voice.

So when earlier today I wrote an email asking someone to "deliver the files by end of business", I was probably using the passive voice without even knowing it. Moreover, as Ms. Trunk points out,

... when you write it [passive voice] you give away that you are unclear about who is doing what because the nature of the passive voice is to obscure the person taking the action.

To pick an example: "When we write, authenticity gets buried under poor word choice". So who was it that buried authenticity? We really need to know!

And last, but by Jove, definitely not least:

7. Avoid adjectives and adverbs.

'Scuse me, ma'am, but why?

Adjectives and adverbs are your interpretation of the facts. If you present the right facts, you won’t need to throw in your interpretation.

Ah, I see. So when I say that the traffic light in an intersection is red, that's just my interpretation of the light spectrum and safe in that knowledge, I can just drive through. And when I tell someone that they are late because we agreed to meet at 1100 and they arrive at 1130, that's just my interpretation of the situation. For all I know, they are actually on time!

To recap, let's see these principles in action. For that, we can use the Gettysburg Address, which according to Ms. Trunk is a paragon of short and therefore elegant writing. Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln didn't have the opportunity to profit from Ms. Trunk's expertise, what with the tragic visit to the theater. But fear not, for I, a faithful acolyte of hers, am here to correct that. Behold, the new and improved version of The Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven 87 years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract modify.
The world will little note, nor long won't remember what we say here, but it cannot never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
Our It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task is remaining before us — that from these honored dead we to take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.
That we here highly resolve that these dead shall will not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.
And that people's government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

That's of course the version we get if we only follow rules 1- 3 and 6-7.
If we just follow rules No. 4 and 5, then we get this:

A lot of people died fighting in this war. Let's make sure they did not die in vain and that democracy will survive.

And honestly, folks, isn't that just better than the original?

Yeah, right.

As history has shown, the world has noted and to this day remembers what was said on that day in Gettysburg. That is because Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest orators of all time. He might not have been familiar with linguistics, but he sure knew about chosing the right words, about rhythm, about aliteration, about gradation and repetition. In short, he knew about all those things that make a speech great and of which Ms. Trunk hasn't got a fucking clue.

And finally, how does Ms. Trunk fare with regard to the George Carlin scale of stupid?

… I just checked to see if I have modifiers in this section. I do. But I think I use them well. You will think this, too, about your own modifiers, when you go back over your writing. But I have an editor, and you don’t, and I usually use a modifier to be funny, and you do not need to be funny in professional emails. So get rid of your adverbs and adjectives, really.

I report. You decide.