Word of the day: lampadophory

Again, studying in the library together, my friend Brendan pointed out an unusual word in one of our readings for our Early Modern European Intellectual History Class. Here is a sentence from Trever-Roper’s “The Religious Origins of the Englightenment”:

It is interesting to observe the continuity…between the political radicals of yesterday and today: to see the torch, so nearly dropped from the failing hands of the last Whigs, skillfully caught and carried on by their successors, the first Marxists. This transfer of the same formula to different hands, this neat theoretical lampadophory, occurred at the close of the last century.”Trever-Roper’s The European Witch-Craze p194

The word, lampadophory, comes, according the Oxford English Dictionary, from lampadedromy, an old greek word meaning:

A torch-race; a race (on foot or horseback) in which a lighted torch was passed from hand to hand.

Another Reason to Improve My Korean

I finished my summer of language study in Seoul and I’m on my way to Norway. I’m writing this in Dubai airport while waiting for my flight to London. I’m enjoying a McDonald’s “McArabia Meal” which the advertisements assure me will offer me an “authentic taste” of this region. I knew I could trust the golden arches to provide me with a taste of the real Arabia.

My journey here was interesting one, and gave me a last reminder of how nice it would be if I could really speak Korean well.

While waiting to board the plane, suddenly a crew of police sniffer dogs came to the gate and sniffed everything. While Seoul’s airport has lots of security guards marching around in pairs with very impressive looking semi-automatic weapons, I was surprised to see that the KP team was soon replaced by about a dozen armed security guards who took up positions around the seating area of our lounge, surrounding us and watching over our “perimeter” while we waiting for the boarding announcement.

I couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about so I looked around for politicians or other famous personages. The only person who looked out of place was some military officer who had two or three rows of those badly matching but very colorful collections of little badges on his uniform that, you know, all those generals and stuff wear. I thought perhaps he was our illustrious passenger but he seemed to be showing deference to a group of men who from a distance looked like perfectly casually dressed business men. It was hard to see because they were surrounded by a bunch darkly tanned identically dressed guys who looked something like a team of teenage high school basketball players going on a school trip.

When we boarded, I was surprised to see the security guards surround the team of youngsters and escort them through the first line and onto the plane, outside of which they then took up positions. The young men all wore light blue Umbro brand shirts, Umbro shorts, and identical Puma sneakers.

The fancily decorated military guy wished the men accompanying the team farewell and the rest of us were allowed to board the plane, passing by the security guards stationed at the plane entrances. By this time, I kind figured out what was going on…and had guessed that they were most likely some kind of athletes from the old Democratic People’s Republic of Korea up north.

I didn’t think much more about it until a few hours into our flight when I got into a conversation with a Dutchman at the back of the plane. He was telling me about his adventures working at the UNDP in Korea in the 1970s and the challenges of getting married to his Korean wife at that time. He then mentioned in passing that the snoring pile of athletes sprawled all over the back few rows of the plane were none other than the North Korean national soccer team…
Continue reading Another Reason to Improve My Korean

Second Full Day in Korea

I’m slowly getting settled in here. I went shopping for basic living materials today. I had a success rate of 3/4 today for getting my meaning across in Korean. First getting my luggage from the hostel to the dorm I had to navigate a taxi driver. I would like to thank my old 初めての韓国語 textbook that I studied in Japan for the taxi survival Korean needed to achieve this miracle. My second conversation was to ask where they sell lots of electronics in Seoul since my friends and I all need adapters for our computers fit the wall outlets. I knew there was a place full of stuff like that from my last trip here but couldn’t remember where (it was Yongsan Electronics market).

My third conversation was a complete failure. In my painfully broken Korean I tried to explain to a bewildered electronics salesman that the outlets in the wall are different in the US and Korea and we wanted to buy a little piece to make our electronics (which can handle the conversion without a transformer) fit the wall here. The poor attendant stared at me throughout the entire exercise like I was asking him for directions back to the moon. When I finally finished what I thought was an explanation, and asked him if he had such adapters, he said, “Ya ya, show me your camera.” I tried again but he had this look in his face which seemed to say, “If I just stay completely still maybe this freak will not know I’m still here and will go away.” Ok, I completely botched that one.

I moved onto fresh prey at the next electronics store. After drawing a detailed, albeit barely recognizable collection of pictures of the plugs and wall outlets in Korea and the US and a picture of how the adapter would fit together with our American plug, I showed it to the next attendant and said, “I want to buy this.” He said it was called a Pig’s Nose or something and pulled out one from under the table. When we said we wanted several he ran around to other stores and collected them up and sold them to us for a thousand a piece. Excellent.

Automatic Paper Generation

Some of you may have heard the news that some MIT students got their computer generated Computer Science paper, consisting of grammatically correct mumbo jumbo, accepted as a non-reviewed paper at some conference.

You can create your own paper with their code here. My friend Jai and I were discussing how fun it would be to add to this code the ability to feed it a selection of essay texts, say a collection of essays by Bhabha or Spivak to take two examples that come to mind, so that the nouns and verbs it chooses are roughly in correspondence to the frequency with which they appear in work by these scholars. It would then be interesting to see if readers can actually tell the difference.

If someone ever gets around to adding this feature, I think all you would have to do is 1) employ some kind of textual analysis algorithms that must be out there already (they use it for example in the processing of texts for speech recognition software or in linguistic studies doing word frequency analysis), 2) take the output of analysis and reconstruct the file “system_names.in” which is in the scigen code package you can download from there site. 3) Add some kind of frequency control to the code to make sure the output used nouns/verbs in a similar frequency to the originals.

The Character 着

I usually use the digital Wenlin dictionary because of its convenient look up features, speed, and high quality. Today an assignment I’m working on consists of reading reading a 1936 essay about Shanxi 山西 village life. (I often have to look up older terms in an 1930’s dictionary known as the “Mathews” dictionary. Wenlin is great to check first because looking up Chinese characters in Mathews is a major pain and the software provides the Mathew’s character code number) Just now I was trying to look up the perfectly normal word 着实/著實 and had to try looking this up under as many pronunciations for the first character that I could remember. While this may be common knowledge for everyone else who speaks some Chinese, found out that 着 is often an alternate of 著. In fact, the Wenlin software author, who usually gives very short and concise definitions (or includes the definition from the ABC Chinese dictionary that it has licensed) got unusually chatty in the description of the character, even using personal pronouns/anecdotes and telling the reader not to “get discouraged”:

Originally 着 was just a different way of writing the character 著. Now 著 is mostly written only for the pronunciation zhù, and 着 is written for the other pronunciations; but sometimes 著 is still used rather than 着 among full form characters, regardless of the pronunciation.
 着 seems to have more pronunciations and meanings than any other Chinese character. Don’t be discouraged. Even Chinese people can’t always get it straight, especially the distinction between 着 zháo and 着 zhuó. For example, a friend of mine says 着陆 as zháolù though the dictionaries say zhuólù. The dictionaries disagree on whether 着 in 不着边际 (‘not to the point’) should be zháo or zhuó. On the other hand, the distinction between 着 zhe and 着 zháo really is important.