Ridiculous Etymologies: New York Times Edition

Folk etymology is a long-lived tradition empowering writers to fabricate etymological explanations to suit their current interpretive and argumentative needs.

Procrastinate: To be In favor of Being Out of Control from the New York Times, March 25, 2019.

NYTimesProcrast

Here’s what those joyless pedants of the Oxford English Dictionary have to say about it:

Procras OED

Akrasia

Just in case you were wondering, the ancient Romans and Greeks did have the concept of procrastination. Here are some passages I collected about it.

But where would we be without hermeneutically adventurous lexicography? Plato makes it a centerpiece of his Cratylus! And we have dictionaries dedicated to it:

“Lipless Achilles” Kallierges, Etymologicum Magnum 182

“Akhilleus: [this name comes from] lessening grief, for Achilles was a doctor. Or it is because of the woe, which is pain, he brought to his mother and the Trojans. Or it is from not touching his lips to food [khilê]. For he had no serving of milk at all, but was fed with stag-marrow by Kheiron. This is why he was hailed by the Myrmidons in the following way, according to Euphoriôn:

He came to Phthia without ever tasting any food
This is why the Myrmidons named him Achilles.”

᾿Αχιλλεύς: Παρὰ τὸ ἄχος λύειν· ἰατρὸς γὰρ ἦν. ῍Η διὰ τὸ ἄχος (ὅ ἐστι λύπην) ἐπενεγκεῖν τῇ μητρὶ καὶ τοῖς ᾿Ιλιεῦσιν. ῍Η διὰ τὸ μὴ θίγειν χείλεσι χιλῆς, ὅ ἐστι τροφῆς· ὅλως γὰρ οὐ μετέσχε γάλακτος, ἀλλὰ μυελοῖς ἐλάφων ἐτράφη ὑπὸ Χείρωνος. ῞Οτι ὑπὸ Μυρμιδόνων ἐκλήθη, καθά φησιν Εὐφορίων,

᾿Ες Φθίην χιλοῖο κατήϊε πάμπαν ἄπαστος.
τοὔνεκα Μυρμιδόνες μιν ᾿Αχιλέα φημίξαντο.

Odysseus Was Born on the Road in the Rain: Kallierges, Etymologicum Magnum 615

“The name Odysseus has been explained through the following story. For they claim that when Antikleia, Odysseus’ mother, was pregnant she was travelling [hodeuousan] on Mt. Neritos in Ithaka, and it began to rain [husantos] terribly Because of her labor and fear she collapsed and gave birth to Odysseus there. So, he obtained is name in this way, since Zeus, on the road [hodon] rained [hûsen].”

᾿Οδυσσεύς: Εἴρηται ἀπὸ ἱστορίας. ᾿Αντίκλειαν γάρ φασι τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως μητέρα ἐγκύμονα ὁδεύουσαν τὸ Νήριτον τῆς ᾿Ιθάκης ὄρος, ὕσαντος πολὺ τοῦ Διὸς, ὑπὸ ἀγωνίας τε καὶ φόβου καταπεσοῦσαν ἀποτεκεῖν τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα. Οὕτω ταύτης τῆς ὀνομασίας ἔτυχεν, ἐπειδὴ κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ὗσεν ὁ Ζεύς.

It is more typical to derive Odysseus’ name from the verb odussomai, which means something like “being hateful, being hated”.  Autolykos, Odysseus’ maternal grandfather, is reported to have named him in the Odyssey (19.407–409).

“I have come to this point hated [odussamenos] by many—
Both men and women over the man-nourishing earth.
So let his name be Ody[s]seus…”

πολλοῖσιν γὰρ ἐγώ γε ὀδυσσάμενος τόδ’ ἱκάνω,
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξὶν ἀνὰ χθόνα βωτιάνειραν·
τῷ δ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς ὄνομ’ ἔστω ἐπώνυμον…

Potions and Spells: Crimes and their Legal Names

Quintilian, 7.3.10

“A different kind of question arises when the argument depends on a word which comes from a written text. This does not happen in courtrooms unless the words shape the legal outcome: is killing oneself a homicide? Is the one who compels a tyrant to kill himself a tyrannicide? Are magical spells like poisoning?

The matter is clear. Suicide is not understood as being the same as killing another person; it is not the same thing to kill a tyrant and compel him to die. Spells are not the same thing as mortal poison. The issue is whether they should be referred to with the same legal name.”

Diversum est genus cum controversia consistit in nomine quod pendet ex scripto, nec versatur in iudiciis nisi propter verba quae litem faciunt: an qui se interficit homicida sit, an qui tyrannum in mortem compulit tyrannicida, an carmina magorum veneficium. Res enim manifesta est sciturque non idem esse occidere se quod alium, non idem occidere tyrannum quod compellere ad mortem, non idem carmina ac mortiferam potionem, quaeritur tamen an eodem nomine appellanda sint.

20120224-Magical_book_Kircherian_Terme.jpg
Spell book?

“I Defecated Because of Fear”

See here for our ongoing skatokhasm and the sheer variety of excremental words in ancient Greek.

Suda, Epsilon 93 [referring to Aristophanes, Frogs 479]

“I shat myself”: I defecated because of some fear. I pooped. Aristophanes says this in the Frogs. He is calling the god to help.”

᾿Εγκέχοδα: ἀπεπάτησα διὰ φόβον τινά, ἔχεσον. ᾿Αριστοφάνης Βατράχοις. κάλει θεὸν εἰς βοήθειαν.

Principal parts: χέζω, χεσοῦμαι, ἔχεσα, κέχοδα, κέχεσμαι….

Strattis, fr. 1.3

“If he will not have the leisure to shit,
Nor to visit a profligate man’s home, nor if he meets
Anyone, to talk to them at all…”

Εἰ μηδὲ χέσαι γ’ αὐτῷ σχολὴ γενήσεται,
μηδ’ εἰς ἀσωτεῖον τραπέσθαι, μηδ’ ἐάν
αὐτῷ ξυναντᾷ τις, λαλῆσαι μηδενί.

Image result for medieval manuscript defecation
Add_ms_49622_f061r_detail

Aristophanes, Clouds, 391

“When I shit, it’s like thunder: pa-pa-pa-papp-AKS!

χὤταν χέζω, κομιδῇ βροντᾷ “παπαπαππάξ,”

 

 

 

“Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” in Ancient Greek

A student recently asked me how to say “don’t let the bastards grind you down” in Greek (and in my head I changed it to the ‘variant’ “wear you down”). I think the request stems either from the rather famous fake Latin illegitimi non carborundum or the appearance of the only slightly less problematic. Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum in Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Whatever the provenance of this question, it distracted me.

There are various Greek verbs and constructions one could use: prohibitive subjunctive or 2nd person imperative; third person imperative; impersonal constructions of obligation (δεῖ/χρή). The verbal adjective (to imitate the fake Latin Passive periphrastic seems unwieldy.

Someone also suggested a future wish construction:

1. I got hooked on the idea of bastards being burdensome, so here are some prohibitives and imperatives plurals playing with the root akhthos:

ἄγε δὴ μὴ ἄχθῃ νόθοις
ἄγετε δὴ μὴ ἄχθησθε νόθοις

ἄγε δὴ μὴ ἄχθῃ νόθοις
ἄγετε δὴ μὴ ἄχθεσθε νόθοις

2. Some third person imperatives

μὴ νόθοι ὑμῶν ἄχθοι ἔστων

I used the genitive here based on the usage in the Iliad: ἀλλ’ ἧμαι παρὰ νηυσὶν ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης, 18;104.

Here are some other verbs which might work:

μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς λυπέντων
μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς ἐπιτριβέντων
μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς δακνόντων
μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς ὁχλέντων

Another fine suggestion from twitter was to use ἐπιτρίβειν (as I did above). I think we could use the verb ἐάω + infinitive, but that construction is not as common, I think, as prohibitives and third person imperatives.

μὴ ἐᾶτε νόθους ὑμᾶς ἐπιτρίβειν

3. Impersonal/obligative constructions

οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς λυπεῖν
οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς ἐπιτρίβειν
οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς δάκνειν
οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς ὀχλεῖν

4. Wish

εἴθε μὴ οἱ νόθοι ὑμᾶς ἐπιτριβεῖεν* [ἐπιτριβοῖεν]

*this form occurs in Lucian

And a variant from the ever ready Armand D’Angour (in iambic trimeter, no less)

An object clause of effort variant:

5. Another idiom I like

μὴ νόθους χάλεπως φέρετε
μὴ νόθους χάλεπως φέρητε

A few grammatical notes:

Tense: for the imperatives and infinitives I have stayed with the present tense forms to express a durative or progressive ongoing resistance against bastards getting one down. I do think that the aorist could be substituted gnomically to express the timeless truth of the necessity of avoiding the burden of bastards.

Number: I have also mostly used the 2nd person plural in Greek. Although I think that if this were actually an archaic Greek sentiment it would likely use the second person singular to express something of an intimacy with the recipient, I wanted to keep it plural for general applicability in English.

Particles: Most of the statements above have insufficient flavoring for Ancient Greek. I kept the common ἄγε δή for strengthening commands, but I think there is probably more I could do.

There has been some uncertainty about my obsession with the ancient nothos (“bastard”) and some fine suggestions for other nouns. Beyond the fact that I like the Greek word, nothos does function metaphorically in ancient Greek as “spurious” or “illegitimate”.

Image result for medieval manuscript bastards
A royal bastard

The Strong and the Weak: Reading Some Thucydides

“These well-known speeches have so many unclear and odd phrases that they barely make sense….”

Ipsae illae contiones ita multas habent obscuras abditasque sententias vix ut intellegantur– Cicero, Orator 9.31

“One could easily count the number of people who are able to understand all of Thucydides, and even these people need to rely on a commentary from time to time.”

εὐαρίθμητοι γάρ τινές εἰσιν οἷοι πάντα τὰ Θουκυδίδου συμβαλεῖν, καὶ οὐδ’ οὗτοι χωρὶς ἐξηγήσεως γραμματικῆς ἔνια –Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 51:

Recently, my friend Mimi Kramer (@nhmeems) was asking about a pretty famous line from the Melian Dialogue. I looked it up and then my brain started hurting. I went to sleep, and looked again. Here are the Athenians speaking to the Melians:

Thucydides, 5.89

“Now, we ourselves will not provide a discreditable length of arguments with noble words that we rule justly because we threw off the Persians or that we are attacking now because we were done wrong by you; nor do we think that you should think you are able to persuade us by claiming either that you did not campaign with the Lakedaimonians when you are their allies or that you did us no harm. No, we each should say what we think is possible to accomplish in truth, because we know that what is just is judged in human reasoning from equal compulsion: those who are in power do what they can and those who are weak allow it.”

ἡμεῖς τοίνυν οὔτε αὐτοὶ μετ᾽ ὀνομάτων καλῶν, ὡς ἢ δικαίως τὸν Μῆδον καταλύσαντες ἄρχομεν ἢ ἀδικούμενοι νῦν ἐπεξερχόμεθα, λόγων μῆκος ἄπιστον παρέξομεν, οὔθ᾽ ὑμᾶς ἀξιοῦμεν ἢ ὅτι Λακεδαιμονίων ἄποικοι ὄντες οὐ ξυνεστρατεύσατε ἢ ὡς ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ἠδικήκατε λέγοντας οἴεσθαι πείσειν, τὰ δυνατὰ δ᾽ ἐξ ὧν ἑκάτεροι ἀληθῶς φρονοῦμεν διαπράσσεσθαι, ἐπισταμένους πρὸς εἰδότας ὅτι δίκαια μὲν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρωπείῳ λόγῳ ἀπὸ τῆς ἴσης ἀνάγκης κρίνεται, δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν.

Here are some translations of the last few phrases:

Rex Warner: “the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept”.

Benjamin Jowett: “the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must”.

Thomas Hobbes “They that have odds of power exact as much as they can, and the weak yield to such conditions as they can get”

The recent translation below, to my taste, does a much better job of not forcing a parallelism into the objects of the last two phrases

Johanna Hanink (How to Think about War, 2019: 169): “We need to accomplish what we can on the basis of what we really think, each side fully aware that justice is only a factor in human decisions when the parties are on equal footing. Those in positions of power do what their power permits, while the weak have no choice but to accept it.”

The last phrases cause some fits because there is no clear object for the verb ξυγχωροῦσιν. Warner, Jowett, and Hobbes seem to have taken δυνατὰ with both πράσσουσι and ξυγχωροῦσιν. While Greek (and Thucydides) is certainly capable of implying this, I think Hanink’s translation is much better for this.

When I try to teach Greek prose analysis to students, I do what I learned from Hardy Hansen (yes, the Hardy Hansen): Kola kai kommata! Break the sentences into levels of subordination and try to find the rhythm and parallels. This speech is actually kind of simple on a structural level (for Thucydides). What makes it bedeviling are some of the individual phrases. I have moved a few phrases to show how the sense works:

ἡμεῖς τοίνυν οὔτε αὐτοὶ μετ᾽ ὀνομάτων καλῶν [λόγων μῆκος ἄπιστον παρέξομεν]

ὡς ἢ δικαίως τὸν Μῆδον καταλύσαντες ἄρχομεν

ἀδικούμενοι νῦν ἐπεξερχόμεθα,

οὔθ᾽ ὑμᾶς ἀξιοῦμεν [λέγοντας οἴεσθαι πείσειν]

ἢ ὅτι Λακεδαιμονίων ἄποικοι ὄντες οὐ ξυνεστρατεύσατε

ἢ ὡς ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ἠδικήκατε

τὰ δυνατὰ δ᾽ ἐξ ὧν ἑκάτεροι ἀληθῶς φρονοῦμεν διαπράσσεσθαι,

ἐπισταμένους πρὸς εἰδότας [=acc. Subj of infinitive διαπράσσεσθαι in indirect discourse]

ὅτι δίκαια μὲν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρωπείῳ λόγῳ ἀπὸ τῆς ἴσης ἀνάγκης κρίνεται,

δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν.

I am really unsure if it is possible to convey the [forced?] antithesis between δίκαια μὲν and δυνατὰ δὲ in English! (Or what about the repetition τὰ δυνατὰ…δυνατὰ δὲ ?). But, you know, Thucydides is trying to give an idea of the kinds of things people were likely to say….

Thucydides, 1.22

“In respect to however many speeches individuals made, either when they were about to start the war or were already in it, it is hard for me to replicate with precision what was said—and this applies both to the things I heard myself and those from people reported them to me from elsewhere. So the speeches are presented as each speaker would seem to speak most appropriately about the material at hand, and when I am able to, as close as possible to the total sense of what was actually said.”

Καὶ ὅσα μὲν λόγῳ εἶπον ἕκαστοι ἢ μέλλοντες πολεμήσειν ἢ ἐν αὐτῷ ἤδη ὄντες, χαλεπὸν τὴν ἀκρίβειαν αὐτὴν τῶν λεχθέντων διαμνημονεῦσαι ἦν ἐμοί τε ὧν αὐτὸς ἤκουσα καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοθέν ποθεν ἐμοὶ ἀπαγγέλλουσιν· ὡς δ᾿ ἂν ἐδόκουν μοι ἕκαστοι περὶ τῶν αἰεὶ παρόντων τὰ δέοντα μάλιστ᾿ εἰπεῖν, ἐχομένῳ ὅτι ἐγγύτατα τῆς ξυμπάσης γνώμης τῶν ἀληθῶς λεχθέντων, οὕτως εἴρηται·

Image result for thucydides

Why Does the Iliad Begin with Rage?

D Schol. ad ll 1.1

“Sing the rage..” [People] ask why the poem begins from rage, so ill-famed a word. It does for two reasons. First, so that it might [grab the attention] of that particular portion of the soul and make audiences more ready for the sublime and position us to handle sufferings nobly, since it is about to narrate wars.

A second reason is to make the praises of the Greeks more credible. Since it was about to reveal the Greeks prevailing, it is not seemly to make it more worthy of credibility by failing to make everything contribute positively to their praise.”

 Μῆνιν ἄειδε: ζητοῦσι, διὰ τί ἀπὸ τῆς μήνιδος ἤρξατο, οὕτω δυσφήμου ὀνόματος. διὰ δύο ταῦτα, πρῶτον μέν, ἵν’ ἐκ τοῦ πάθους †ἀποκαταρρεύσῃ† τὸ τοιοῦτο μόριον τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ προσεκτικωτέρους τοὺς ἀκροατὰς ἐπὶ τοῦ μεγέθους ποιήσῃ καὶ προεθίσῃ φέρειν γενναίως ἡμᾶς τὰ πάθη, μέλλων πολέμους ἀπαγγέλλειν· δεύτερον δέ, ἵνα τὰ ἐγκώμια τῶν ῾Ελλήνων πιθανώτερα ποιήσῃ. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἔμελλε νικῶντας ἀποφαίνειν τοὺς ῞Ελληνας, εἰκότως †οὐ κατατρέχει ἀξιοπιστότερον† ἐκ τοῦ μὴ πάντα χαρίζεσθαι τῷ ἐκείνων ἐπαίνῳ. |

 

“It begins with rage, which itself was a summary for the events. Otherwise, [the poet] would have found a tragic introduction for tragedies. For the narration of misfortunes makes us more attentive, just as the best doctor exposes maladies of the spirit and then later applies treatment. So, the Greek anticipates the pleasures near the end.”

ἤρξατο μὲν ἀπὸ μήνιδος, ἐπείπερ αὕτη τοῖς πρακτικοῖς ὑπόθεσις γέγονεν· ἄλλως τε καὶ τραγῳδίαις τραγικὸν ἐξεῦρε προοίμιον· καὶ γὰρ προσεκτικοὺς ἡμᾶς ἡ τῶν ἀτυχημάτων διήγησις ἐργάζεται, καὶ ὡς ἄριστος ἰατρὸς πρῶτον ἀναστέλλων τὰ νοσήματα τῆς ψυχῆς ὕστερον τὴν ἴασιν ἐπάγει. ῾Ελληνικὸν δὲ τὸ πρὸς τέλει τὰς ἡδονὰς ἐπάγειν. |

Menis, “rage” is a big deal in Greek epic and myth thematically. The ancient scholiasts may not have it all figured out. But my first Greek teacher, Lenny Muellner, has some pretty good ideas on this one.

(c. 300 BC) Achilles killing the Ethiopian king Memnon

 

Some Hateful Words Handpicked for Social Media

Aristomenes, Assistants, fr. 3

“I hate you because you say awful things about me.”

μισῶ σ᾿ ὁτιὴ λέγεις με ταἰσχρά.

Naevius [=Nonius 73, 16]

“May he not inspire the deep hate of my powerful spirit.”

Ne ille mei feri ingeni atque animi acrem acrimoniam

Naevius, Incerta 34

“I hate people who mumble: so tell me what you fear clearly.”

Odi summussos; proinde aperte dice quid sit quod times.

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 7

“Is there anyone then who hates me more than I hate myself?”

ergo quisquam me magis odit quam ego?

Aristophanes, Birds 1548

“I hate all the gods, as you well know…”

μισῶ δ᾿ ἅπαντας τοὺς θεούς, ὡς οἶσθα σύ—

Diogenes Laertius, 1.5.88

“Bias used to tell people to measure life as if they were going to live for both a long time and a short one and also to love people as if they will hate them, since most people are bad.”

ἔλεγέ τε τὸν βίον οὕτω μετρεῖν ὡς καὶ πολὺν καὶ ὀλίγον χρόνον βιωσομένους, καὶ φιλεῖν ὡς μισήσοντας· τοὺς γὰρ πλείστους εἶναι κακούς

Greek Anthology 12.172 Euenus

“If it hurts to hate and hurts to love, I’ll choose
To take the useful wound from two evils.”

Εἰ μισεῖν πόνος ἐστί, φιλεῖν πόνος, ἐκ δύο λυγρῶν
αἱροῦμαι χρηστῆς ἕλκος ἔχειν ὀδύνης.

Aeschylus, fr. 353

“Mortals don’t hate death fairly
Since it is the greatest bulwark against our many evils”

ὡς οὐ δικαίως θάνατον ἔχθουσιν βροτοί,
ὅσπερ μέγιστον ῥῦμα τῶν πολλῶν κακῶν

Tacitus, Agricola 42

“It is central to human nature to hate someone you have harmed.”

proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris

Aelian, Letter 14

“I’m crazy and murderous and I hate the human race.”

ἐγὼ μαίνομαι καὶ φονῶ καὶ μισῶ τὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος

A grotesque image of an ogre shooting an arrow into another creature's rear from the Rutland Psalter, c. 1260. (British Library Royal MS 62925, f. 87v.)
British Library Royal MS 62925, f. 87v.

Diogenes Laertius, 2.8.96

“[the followers of Aristippos] used to say that mistakes should be pardoned: for people do not err willingly, but under the force of some kind of passion. And we should not hate: it is better to teach someone to change.”

ἔλεγον τὰ ἁμαρτήματα συγγνώμης τυγχάνειν· οὐ γὰρ ἑκόντα ἁμαρτάνειν, ἀλλά τινι πάθει κατηναγκασμένον. καὶ μὴ μισήσειν, μᾶλλον δὲ μεταδιδάξειν.

Statius, Thebaid 8.738

“I hate my limbs and this fragile work of a body, a deserter of souls.”

odi artus fragilemque hunc corporis usum,desertorem animi.

Philostratus, Heroicus 8

“Hate is fear’s kin.”

συγγενὲς γὰρ φόβῳ μῖσος

Cicero, Philippic 12.30

“I will be forced to fear not only those who hate me but those who envy me too,”

tum erunt mihi non ei solum qui me oderunt sed illi etiam qui invident extimescendi.

Dicta Catonis 21

“High things fall because of hate; but minor things are raised up by love.”

Alta cadunt odiis, parva extolluntur amore

Greek Anthology 12.103

“I know how to love those who love; and I know how to hate
When someone wrongs me. I am not inexperienced in either.”

Οἶδα φιλεῖν φιλέοντας· ἐπίσταμαι, ἤν μ᾿ ἀδικῇ τις,
μισεῖν· ἀμφοτέρων εἰμὶ γὰρ οὐκ ἀδαής.

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica 5.465

“FML. Why do the gods hate me so much?”

“Ὤ μοι ἐγώ, τί νυ τόσσον ἀπέχθομαι ἀθανάτοισιν;

Cicero, Letters to Friends Caelius Rubus to Cicero (VIII.14)

“I love the cause but hate the people”

causam illam unde homines odi.

Hedylus, Epigrams 1856

“I hate living for no reason and not being drunk.”

μισῶ ζῆν ἐς κενὸν οὐ μεθύων.

 

brevity bird