Dare Stones

I have just discovered the existence of South’s version of the Kensington Runestone. From the Brenau Window:

In November 1937 as America clawed its way out of The Great Depression, a Californian man showed up at the history department of Emory University in Atlanta with a most peculiar object – a 21-pound chunk of rough veined quartz with some foreign looking words chiseled into its surface. The man said he found the rock in a North Carolina swamp, about 80 miles from Roanoke Island, while he was driving through on vacation. The strange stone caught the attention of one of the professors, Dr. Haywood Pearce Jr., who also served as vice president of Brenau, where his father was president. The inscription on the stone read “Ananias Dare & Virginia went hence unto heaven 1591,” and a message to notify John White of that news bore the initials of the author of the carved writing, EWD, presumably those of Eleanor Dare.

Although Emory’s historians weren’t interested, Pearce and his father certainly were. Perhaps they concluded that, if this chuck of rock indeed marked the graves of America’s “first white child” and her father, it might well be the thing to put their college on the map. They wound up paying the California man $1,000 for the treasure.

Anyone who has used tiller, plow or trowel in Appalachian dirt will swear the region grows rocks. But nothing plows better than cold cash. To make a long story short, over the next four years, similar rocks popped up all over the place, mostly found by four people. Pearce and his father over the years acquired close to 50 of the huge stones, all with similar inscriptions unearthed as far south as the banks of the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta. Although the Pearces’ fervent explorations and money never turned up graves or any other evidence to authenticate the stones, a team of Smithsonian Institution-commissioned historians – headed by the venerable Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard – traveled to Gainesville and, in a preliminary report, assigned some validity to what had then come to be known as “The Dare Stones.”

David Morrison’s article notes that the Saturday Evening Post, in 1941, conclusively proved that most of these stones were forgeries, but what about the original one? From the Washington Post on July 5 (hat tip: Ron Good):

In the past few years, researchers have been taking another look. For one, the letters etched on the first stone look very different from the others. It doesn’t contain any suspiciously modern words as the others do. Plus, Dare was “moderately educated,” Schrader says, and her husband was a stonemason. It’s reasonable to think she may have learned the skill from him.

In 2016, Schrader had a sample of the stone analyzed by the University of North Carolina at Asheville, exposing the quartz’s bright white interior.

“The original inscription would have been a stark contrast to the weathered exterior,” science writer Andrew Lawler wrote for National Geographic. “A good choice for a Roanoke colonist but a poor one for a modern forger.”

Schrader said he would like to marshal the funds for an “exhaustive, geochemical investigation,” but first, this fall, a Brenau professor will assemble a team of outside experts to analyze the language more thoroughly.

“The type of English that’s on the stone was really only used for about a hundred years, so it’s a nice time marker to be able to study,” Schrader said.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out. (I make no comment on the use of “Virginia Dare” by white nationalists – if the rock is authentic, then it’s authentic, and if it’s fake, then it’s fake. What “uses” it is put to are beyond the investigator’s concern.)

Language and Politics

Some notes, to complement my post from three years ago:

• On my transatlantic flight to Shannon airport I sat next to a charming young woman from County Donegal who was returning from a medical research conference in the United States and who is about to defend her dissertation at the University of Galway. Donegal contains one of the Gaeltacht areas of Ireland although she was not a native speaker of Irish (she was Xhosa, in fact), she did her duty and learned the language in school. The trouble, she told me, is that each of the three west coast Gaeltacht areas (Ulster, Connacht, and Munster) speak a different dialect of Irish, and they’re all different enough to cause problems. So when you go to take your final exam, there’s no guarantee that the person examining you will be speaking the same dialect that you’ve studied!

• Our first stop on the tour was the Dingle Peninsula, a Gaeltacht area (and home of the Munster dialect). There were plenty of signs in the language although I think I overheard it being spoken exactly once. Our guide told us that many high school students come during the summers and stay for two weeks in an Irish-speaking home, on a government-sponsored program to help promote the language. On a coach tour of the peninsula we stopped at St. Caitlín’s (i.e., Catherine’s) Church in the village of Ventry, which was distinguished by being the resting place of its longtime priest Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, who died in 2016 and who is responsible for translating the Bible into Irish. According to our guide, he was the first person ever to accomplish this feat. I thought, surely not – surely someone translated it before? Turns out that there have been previous translations, but Ó Fiannachta’s was the first Roman Catholic one (prior to Vatican II, of course, a Latin Bible was all that a good Catholic really needed). A stained glass window in the church commemorates Monsignor ó Fiannachta and specifically compares him to St. Jerome, who had originally translated the Bible into Latin in the fifth century.

• As I noted before, most personal names and most place names are translatable. That is, if you’re speaking in English, you use the English version, and if you’re speaking in Irish, you use the Irish version. Exceptions exist, of course: being a native Irish speaker and scholar, Pádraig Ó Fiannachta is so called, never “Patrick Fenton.” The Gaeltacht village of Lispole has been spared having its name rendered as such on this road sign:

Note how the other place names are given: Irish version first, in Title Case and italics, and English version second, in ALL CAPS and roman. This convention is a good one: it produces a clear distinction between the versions and probably cuts down on confusion, and hearkens back to the time when Irish required its own font.

• A number of other Irish names and words are standard when speaking English. I jotted down a few:

  • Oireachtas Éireann (the Irish legislature), comprising the Seanad Éireann and the Dáil Éireann
  • Teachta Dála (a member of the Dáil)
  • The political parties Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Sinn Féin
  • Garda Síochána (the police)
  • Taoiseach (Prime Minister, but note that his ceremonial superior is simply the President)
  • Tánaiste (the deputy Prime Minister)
  • Brú na Bóinne (the “Palace of the Boyne,” which I’ll be writing more about)
  • Amhrán na bhFiann,” the national anthem, which is sung in Irish (although there is an English equivalent called “A Soldier’s Song.”)
  • The transportation companies Bus Éireann and Aer Lingus
  • RTE, that is, the national broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann
  • Éire (not “Ireland”) appears on postage stamps

Also, county names appear only in Irish on the number plates:




• But note that the town of Dingle, which the Irish minister for Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs ordered in 2005 be known only by the Irish version of its name (“An Daingean”) held a plebiscite the following year to reverse this decision, and overwhelmingly voted to return to the bilingual place name dispensation. As one man stated: “People feel they are being bullied. They have lived with ‘Dingle’ all their lives.” Methinks tourism branding might have had something to do with it as well. If the place has been known and advertised as one thing, why mess with it? Not to mention that there already is a “Daingean” in Ireland, the seat of Co. Offaly.

• Our guide in Dublin Castle pointed out that most place names in English are simply phonetic renderings of the Irish names. The English generally didn’t bother to translate what the names actually meant. Thus did “Dubhlinn” become “Dublin,” and not “Blackpool” (which is what the name means, and which refers to a dark pool on the River Poddle near where it enters the Liffey). But why, I asked, is the Irish name for Dublin actually “Baile Átha Cliath” (pronounced “bally a klee”)? That, she told me, comes from a different geographical feature at a different site: a “hurdled ford” further up the River Liffey. (“Bally,” I discover, simply means “place of,” hence Ballyduff, Ballygally, Ballymena, Ballymoney, etc. But I don’t think that “Ballyackley” ever existed as an English name.)

Apparently Dubhlinn was the Viking settlement, and Áth Cliath the native Irish one; one name stuck in English, and the other in Irish. History is full of these sorts of nominal weirdnesses.

• But for a real naming dispute, you have to travel to the North, where “Are you Derry or Londonderry?” is a question one can ask in that particular city, by means of inquiring which “community” one belongs to.* That is, the nationalists prefer Derry, while the unionists Londonderry. Note that this is a dispute in English: the Irish equivalent of Derry is Doire, and presumably you could call it Londaindoire in Irish if you wanted to, although I highly doubt anyone ever does. According to Wikipedia, it wasn’t that big a deal prior to the advent of the Troubles (viz. the “Apprentice Boys of Derry“), at which time it became a shibboleth. I saw signs in the Republic reading “Doire DERRY” in the prescribed typography noted above, and I actually saw a “Londonderry” sign in the North, that is, some nationalists had gotten to it and effaced the offending prefix.

In the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, how to solve this impasse? Many people say “Derry-Londonderry,” and I saw it written out “Derry/Londonderry” more than a few times. Our guide said that this has given rise to the jocular nickname “Stroke City.” I think that a good compromise would be to call the city “Derry” (it has a nationalist majority which naturally took control of the place once the gerrymandering was abolished) and the county “Londonderry” (there never was a “County Derry”).**

Failing that, you can always use the name of the local river and its estuary as an avoidance strategy, as does this place:

• At the time of the Romans, some of the people inhabiting what is now Scotland were known as the Picts, and spoke a Celtic language related Welsh and Breton (a Brittonic, or P-Celtic language). The Scots themselves were originally from Northern Ireland and settled western Scotland in the early Middle Ages, founding the kingdom of Dalraida. Thus is the country known today as Scotland, and Scottish Gaelic is a Goidelic, or Q-Celtic language, related to Irish and Manx. If this language was reintroduced into Northern Ireland as a result of the Scottish settlement in the seventeenth century, I saw no evidence of it. But I did see some signs in “Ulster Scots,” which some people hold up as the official minority language of Northern Ireland, and which, as far as they are concerned, is due the same amount of protection and promotion that the Republic lavishes on the Irish language. The trouble, as our guide pointed out, is that Ulster Scots “doesn’t really exist,” and I think she is right. Here is the opening paragraph for “Lunnonderrie” in Wikipedia:

Lunnonderry, kent by monie fowk as Derry, is the seicont mukkilest ceitie in Northren Ireland (eftir Belfast) an the fowert-mukkilest ceitie on the iland o Ireland. In the 2001 Census the ceitie proper haed 83,652 indwallers.

The ceitie ligs in the nor’wast o Northren Ireland naur the mairch wi Coonty Dunnygal, whilk is pairt o the Republic o Ireland. The ceitie is naur the mooth o Loch Foyle an kivers baith banks o the River Foyle. The auld wawd ceitie o Derry is on the wast bank o the River Foyle. The wast bank is aften kent as “Ceitiesyd” whyls the aest bank is aften kent as “Wattirsyd”.

In other words, it is English, with its speakers’ accent rendered phonetically, and certain dialect words that you might recognize (“kent,” “mukkilest”) if you have ever had to read Chaucer, Langland, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

But as a result of the Good Friday Agreement and the spirit of outreach that it has promoted, Irish has been finding more and more of a place in Northern Ireland.

* Apparently the name of the eighth letter of the alphabet also marks the distinction, at least according to an article from the Guardian from 2013:

Almost two thousand years later we are still split, and pronouncing H two ways: “aitch”, which is posh and “right”; and “haitch”, which is not posh and thus “wrong”. The two variants used to mark the religious divide in Northern Ireland – aitch was Protestant, haitch was Catholic, and getting it wrong could be a dangerous business.

** One slight problem with this is that “County Londonderry” doesn’t really exist anymore, except for ceremonial purposes. All across the UK, in the 1970s, local government was reorganized, producing bogus “counties” like “West Midlands,” “Tyne and Wear” or, in Northern Ireland, “Causeway Coast and Glens.” I respect the way that the Republic has not meddled with these historic subdivisions (even though they are a legacy of English imperialism!). I was reading a newspaper article on the abortion referendum and noted a map of the results: populous counties (most notably, Dublin) had been subdivided into smaller units, while sparsely populated counties had been amalgamated (e.g. Sligo and Leitrim, if I’m not misremembering). But note that the counties themselves retain their territorial integrity. Up the Republic!

The Latin Word for “With”

Tim Furnish comments: “This, dear readers, is why young people should take Latin.”

Publix supermarket in South Carolina censors high school graduate’s ‘Summa Cum Laude’ cake

Well, we’re guessing the folks at this particular Publix supermarket didn’t graduate summa cum laude.

The story starts with a proud mom ordering a cake online for her son’s graduation party. On it she wanted the words “Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude Class of 2018.”

But then she found that the software at the Publix near their home in West Ashley, S.C., refused to include the word “Cum” in the decoration on top of the cake because it considered it to be profane.

Undaunted, Cara Koscinski used a special-instructions box to explain that the offending word was part of a Latin phrase for academic honors and meant “with” (laude translates as “honors” or “distinction” and summa as “highest”), according to a report by local TV station WCIV. She even included a link to a website explaining the meaning, reported the Washington Post.

And so the box containing a frosted sheet cake arrived for the Saturday celebration of Jacob Koscinski’s 4.89 grade point average and admission to a pre-med program at college.

“And when we opened it, it was a huge shock to all of us,” Cara Koscinski told the station.

Yes, instead of the word “Cum,” there were three hyphens. ‘‘Congrats Jacob! Summa – – – Laude Class of 2018.’’

“The cake experience was kind of frustrating and humiliating because I had to explain to my friends and family, like, what that meant. And they were giggling uncontrollably. At least my friends were,” said Jacob Koscinski, 18.

I suppose that, technically, Publix is in the right here – as long as “highest” and “honor” are in the ablative, the preposition “with” can be understood. But “Summa Cum Laude” is a pretty standard expression, and I agree with Mrs. Koscinski: “I can’t believe I’m the first one to ever write ‘Summa Cum Laude’ on a cake.”

It’s always depressing to see the triumph of ignorance, like the author whose work featured a “fireman” (i.e., someone responsible for shoveling coal into a boiler on a steam ship), and which was changed to “fire fighter” upon publication, because we don’t want to be sexist. Maybe not, but “fire fighter” is precisely the opposite of what that sort of fireman was about. (I can’t remember where I read this, but I insist it’s true.)

The Style Sheet

For lack of anything substantive to post right now, please enjoy my style sheet for undergraduate papers. Comments or suggestions are welcome.


These rules do not apply to all forms of writing, but they do apply to formal, academic prose. Thus, you are to follow them when submitting assignments for this class. Violations will bring your grade down!

• Number your pages.

• Always have a proper title. “Western Civ. Paper” or “Book Review” are not proper titles.

• A novel is defined as “a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.” Do not refer to any historical book as a “novel.”

• Please italicize the titles of books, and place the titles of articles in “quotation marks.”

• Please accurately designate when past events occurred. Do not use vague phrases like “at that time” or “in those days.”

• Be aware of the distinction between it’s and its, and all other homophones such as:

thrown and throne
to, two and too
whose and who’s
populace and populous
four, for and fore
allowed and aloud
principle and principal
fourth and forth
know and no
since and sense
their, there, and they’re
cited and sited
pray and prey
rein, rain, and reign
your and you’re

• Avoid “process” statements, such as “after reading this document” or “I have chosen to write about A and B” or “at first this wasn’t clear to me.” Just as athletes dress in the dressing room or chefs cook in a kitchen, so also you should hide the essay-writing process from your reader. Just get down to it.

• Make sure that pronouns agree with the nouns they refer to. Instead of: “When a student does not come to class, they are in trouble” write “When a student does not come to class, he is in trouble” (both singular, if sexist) or “When students do not come to class, they are in trouble” (both plural).

• It must also be clear which noun a pronoun is referring to. “The Serbs disdained the Croats, because they were more sophisticated.” Who was more sophisticated?

• If you have a subordinate clause referring to a person, make sure that the relative pronoun is who, not that or which. “Many people that voted were confused” ought to be “Many people who voted were confused.” Always use “who” to refer to people (and “that” to refer to things).

• “Where” refers to a place, and “when” to a time. Do not write things like “the century where this event occurred.”

• Do not neglect the proper formation of past participle. For example, write “he was supposed to do it,” not “he was suppose to do it.”

• Verbs in the active voice tend to be better than verbs in the passive voice. “The dog ate its breakfast” is usually better than “the breakfast was eaten by the dog.” The passive voice can be useful, such as when you do not know who was doing the eating (“The breakfast was eaten.”). Too many passives, however, make for weak prose. Name the actors and their motivation.

• One recounts literature in the present tense (ex. “No one can be certain if Hamlet is really insane”) but recounts history in the past tense (ex. “Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death around A.D. 30.”). Always use the past tense when writing about historical events. Certainly, you should not shift tenses when recounting the past (“Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death, and then washes his hands of the matter”).

• Make sure that you write in complete sentences.

• Only use commas where appropriate. In particular, avoid placing a comma after the main verb in a sentence, e.g. “He wanted, to establish an absolute monarchy.” Omit the comma. Also, do not join independent clauses together only with a comma (a comma splice) or with nothing at all (a run-on sentence).

• Please use the examples below as models for the formation of possessives. Do not form plurals with apostrophe-s.

Singular noun: The dog’s breakfast (apostrophe-s)
Singular noun ending in “s”: Prince Charles’s bald patch (s-apostrophe-s)
Plural noun not ending in “s”: The women’s salaries (apostrophe-s)
Plural noun ending in “s”: The deans’ luncheon (s-apostrophe)
Special case: Jesus’ parables, Moses’ laws (s-apostrophe)

• Avoid colloquialisms, such as “Henry VIII was a righteous dude” or “the Black Death was a major bummer.” They are out of place in formal writing and imply that the reader does not need to take you seriously.

• The first time you mention some person or some thing you should explain who or what it is. Always give a person’s name and job description in full the first time you mention him or her – “U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt,” for example. Later, you can give his last name only. Similarly, write “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” before you start using “NATO.”

• Practice proper parallelism. Write sentences like “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” or “The Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers.” Do you see how these work? In the first sentence, the four objects of the verb “to offer” are all single-word, concrete nouns. In the second sentence, four nouns, each modified by an adjectival phrase, act as the object of the verb “contains.” That is, all the list items are grammatically parallel to each other. Do not write lists that do not exhibit such parallelism, for example: “The candidate promised quality, frugal, clean administration, and honest.” (A possible revision: “The candidate promised quality, frugality, cleanliness, and honesty.”)

• Each paragraph should function as its own mini-essay. A paragraph should start with a topic sentence and stick to that particular topic, with the sentences flowing logically from one to the other. If narrating events, the events should be narrated in the order they occurred – certainly, information should not be introduced without explanation.

• Think carefully about the words you use. If you are unsure of the meaning of a word, look it up in a dictionary. Use a thesaurus to find words that are similar in meaning. Come back to your paper more than a day after writing it and read it through. Does it make sense? Can you say it better?

Book Review

From The American Interest:

Addicted to Addiction

A new book about early modern England reveals an eternal truth: We are all addicted to something, and maybe that’s not a bad thing, so long as we choose well.

The first addicts to stumble across the threshold of the English language, refugees from Latin, were not only drunks or gamblers. Their ranks included devout Christians and scholars. Today we argue about whether addiction is a sin or a sickness, but when the term first entered our language it could name a virtue and an accomplishment: In the 16th century “addiction” covered many forms of “service, debt, and dedication,” including the pious Christian’s zeal to obey God’s every command. Rebecca Lemon’s new study, Addiction and Devotion in Early Modern England, does not merely trace an etymological development. She takes the earliest meanings of “addiction” not as a cute quirk of linguistic history, but as a challenge to our contemporary shared understandings of substance abuse, political sovereignty, religious faith, and love.

Lemon looks at a range of sources, from translations of John Calvin’s sermons to pamphlets promoting anti-drunkenness laws, but her primary focus is on plays and poetry. The first chapter looks at Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus; then we get Twelfth Night, the Henry IV and Henry V plays, and Othello; and lastly, literary portrayals of the custom of “health-drinking.” Throughout, Lemon uses other sources to explore the artistic works’ portrayals of addiction: For Faustus we get religious texts on God’s grace as the power determining whether someone is addicted to God or to vice; for Othello, with its crimes of passion, shifting legal rulings on the culpability of people who commit crimes while drunk.

Lemon begins in the 1530s, when “addiction” begins to appear in English to designate both distorted desire for wine or riches and properly exclusive, single-minded desire for Christ. In 1534 George Joye asks God to “make faste thye promises to thy servant which is addicte unto thy worshyppe.” For these Protestant writers, Catholics were “addict to their supersticyons,” whereas they should be “addict unto none but to christ,” “addicted to praiers,” to “the meaneynge of the scripture.” Lemon’s Protestant sources share a suspicion of anything too material, too embodied—fasting, kneeling—as if Catholic sacraments were the original substance abuse. Lemon quotes a translation of the Letter of St. Paul to Titus which opens, “I Paule my selfe the addict servant & obeyer, not of Moses lawe as I was once, but of God the father, and ambassador of his sonne Jesus Christ.” That Paul should be an addict is obvious to his English readers; the important question is to whom he ought addict himself.

More at the link.

Ottoman Turkish

Earlier on this blog, I wrote that “no one has started rendering Turkish in Arabic script, as a way of disavowing Kemalism.” But apparently I spoke too soon! From Hürriyet:

Ottoman Turkish should be taught in schools, Erdoğan says

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has once again said Ottoman Turkish should be taught in schools, accusing the early Republican period’s “language revolution” of “destroying” the Turkish language.

“It is one of the biggest problems in recent history that our language has become a subject of political discussions. In the name of ‘language revolution,’ our Turkish was attacked by unpleasant, dull and soulless words.

The bond between our nation and its old civilization was tried to be weakened,” Erdoğan said on March 15 at the award ceremony of a high school’s composition contest at the presidential complex in Ankara.

Ottoman Turkish is an old form of Turkish using Arabic script, with many words borrowed from Persian and Arabic. As part of cultural reforms to create a Western-style secular state, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, replaced Ottoman Turkish with the Latin alphabet.

Paul Halsall comments:

I think Erdogan has a certain justification. As it stands now many modern Turks cannot understand anything written 80 years ago or earlier.

I seem to recall that the Chinese Communist Party considered a move to using only pinyin but did not precisely because it would create cultural barrier with the past that would be uncrossable for most future Chinese.

Lord Kinross (Patrick Balfour) in his travelogue Within the Taurus: A Journey in Asiatic Turkey (1954) p. 13, recounts how upset many Turks were on being forced to give up the fez, and the widespread approval of King Edward VIII in Turkey because on a visit to Istanbul in 1936 the then Prince of Wales had asked why no Turkish music was heard on the radio. It had been prohibited by Ataturk, but thanks to the Prince’s inquiry it was once again played on the radio for all.

Sun Language Theory

My friend Tom MacMaster recently told me about something I did not know: the Sun Language Theory, which “makes Nazi race theory look sane.” Wikipedia:

The Sun Language Theory (TurkishGüneş Dil Teorisi) was a Turkish nationalist pseudoscientific linguistic hypothesis developed in Turkey in the 1930s that proposed that all human languages are descendants of one proto-Turkic primal language. The theory proposed that because this primal language had close phonemic resemblances to Turkish, all other languages can essentially be traced back to Turkic roots. According to the theory, the Central Asian worshippers, who wanted to salute the omnipotence of the sun and its life-giving qualities, had done so by transforming their meaningless blabbering into a coherent set of ritual utterings, and language was born, hence the name.

The article further states that “the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, not only gave the theory official backing and material support, but also was himself a very important contributor to its development.” 

Part of me admires how the Turks take pride in themselves and their country. But I confess that I find this sort of thing (others: Erdogan’s theory that the Turks made it to the New World in 1178, or the denial of a certain genocide carried out under cover of World War I) utterly baffling.

Is it simply not possible to value your country, and the truth, simultaneously?

Naming Names

Watching the gold medal men’s ice hockey game of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, I was disappointed to see that the two teams, Germany and Olympic Athletes from Russia, wore sweaters that read “Germany” and “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” Yes, I certainly appreciate that I can go just about anywhere and be able to speak English with someone. But if only for the sake of style points, why can’t the teams label themselves “Deutschland” and “олимпийские спортсмены из России”? And for the latter to render their names in Cyrillic on the backs of their sweaters? Have some self-respect!

Greek Letter Societies

It is a quaint American custom that university societies are often known by a combination of two or three Greek letters. Reinhardt has announced that “Greek Life” is coming to campus: the fraternity Kappa Sigma and the sorority Zeta Tau Alpha are now recruiting members. Of course, not only social societies take Greek letter names, but honor societies as well, and a number of these have existed at Reinhardt for some time. For no real reason, here is some commentary on the uses of Greek by these organizations:

If you must use Greek letters, then you should really follow the example of Beta Beta Beta, the biology honor society, or Pi Gamma Mu, the honor society for the social sciences. Their names stand for Greek mottos that describe what they do. “Blepein basion biou” means “to seek the basis of life,” as biologists do, and “Politikes gnoseos mathetai” indicates “the study of the social sciences,” something that political scientists do. This is how you’re supposed to do it! Phi Beta Kappa, the organization that inaugurated this silly custom (but of which no chapter could exist at Reinhardt right now), stands for “Philosophia biou kubernetes,” that is, “Philosophy, the helmsman of life.”

Slightly downmarket is a motto composed of three discrete words all in the nominative, as though it is difficult for people to compose a grammatical sentence. The history honor society Phi Alpha Theta stands for “Philia anthropos theos,” meaning “Love, humanity, God.” I suppose these are good words but they could apply to any society, not just one dedicated to history. Alpha Chi, our version of Phi Beta Kappa, stands for “aletheia character,” that is “truth, character.”

But that is better than the next category of name, which consists of the initials, in Greek, of a motto in English. Kappa Delta Pi is simply the first letters of “Knowledge, Duty, and Power,” suggesting that its founders knew no Greek beyond the Greek alphabet. In a similar vein, Phi Beta Lambda is simply the Greek equivalent of F.B.L., for “Future Business Leaders.”

The music fraternity Pi Kappa Lambda commemorates its first member, Peter Christian Lutkin, by rendering his initials in Greek (in which case they should have been Pi Chi Lambda, as “Christian” derives from “Christos”).

But worst of all was the Dartmouth custom of simply walking up to a slot machine, pulling the lever, and picking whatever comes up on the three reels.

Do “Zeta Tau Alpha” and “Kappa Sigma” mean anything? I assume they do – ZTA was founded in 1898, and ΚΣ in 1869, back when people knew Greek. The mottos of social societies (along with their grips, rituals, and the meaning of their insignia) are generally secret, and expulsion awaits any member who reveals them to outsiders, but a little googling reveals that the sorority’s motto is “seek the noblest,” which could mean that ZTA stands for “zeteite ta arista,” and that the fraternity:

evolved from an ancient order, known in some accounts as “Kirjath Sepher”, said to have been founded between 1395 and 1400 at the University of Bologna. The story says that the corrupt governor of the city, one-time pirate and later papal usurperBaldassare Cossa, took advantage of the students at Bologna, one of Europe’s preeminent universities which attracted students from all over the continent, by sending his men to assault and rob them; this motivated one of the university’s scholars Manuel Chrysoloras to found a secret society of students beginning with five of his most devoted disciples, for mutual protection against Baldassare Cossa. (Wikipedia)

I must say that I strongly approve of a fraternity’s theme being medieval (even if it’s highly doubtful that there’s any institutional continuity between a society founded in fourteenth century Bologna and one that became public in nineteenth century America – just as the Freemasons are not actually descended from the Knights Templar). But its name is not Greek – Kirjath Sepher was a settlement in Canaan allotted to the tribe of Judah, whose name might mean “City of the Book.” (And for extra style points, Kappa Sigma could become the first American social fraternity to be known by a pair of Hebrew letters, Qof Samekh, or קס.)


One of the delights of traveling is seeing what foreign countries put on their currency (it’s even better when the exchange rate works in your favor). For no real reason, here are some shots of the leftover bills in my possession.

• It goes without saying that Kemal Atatürk should appear on the obverse of all Turkish bills (he’s on all the coins too).

Other people only appear on the back, like Aydın Sayılı, historian of science.

It’s nice how they vary the portraits of Atatürk, and how many of them have him smiling (unlike, say, those of Mussolini or Lenin).

On the reverse of the twenty lira note, a portrait of Ahmet Kemalettin, designated Mimar Kemalettin (“Kemalettin the Architect”), who was active in the late Ottoman and early Republican periods.

• Egyptian bills have two sides, which I would designate “tourist” and “local.” The tourist side features motifs from ancient Egypt, English writing, and western numerals.

The local side features Arabic writing, real Arabic numerals, and Muslim architecture, in this case the Al-Rifa’i Mosque in Cairo (which I saw; it is beautiful and actually houses the tomb of the last Shah of Iran).

The fifty pound note follows the same pattern: the tourist side has the Temple of Edfu…

…the local side has the Abu Huraiba Mosque (according to Wikipedia, anyway – I did not get to see it).

By the way, here is a clock face from the Cairo metro, showing the full range of Eastern Arabic numerals. Prior to this trip I had no idea there were such things, but they are widely used in Egypt, including on automobile license plates. Interestingly, you read them left to right, even though Arabic script itself goes right to left.

• I think Israel has the best designed bills. The most recent fifty New Shekel note features Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky.

It is nice of them to include Arabic and English on the reverse. (Actually, this trip revealed to me just how lucky we Anglophones are, that our language is the world’s lingua franca – perhaps I should say lingua anglica? An Egyptian man marries a Japanese woman, and they communicate in English. A Palestinian shopkeeper speaks to a Turkish customer – in English. An Egyptian tour guide leads a group including Chinese, Indonesians, Argentinians, and Brazilians – English is the language everyone knows. There was a time when French held this position, and indeed I got to speak some French with an Egyptian nun who had been educated in that language. On account of the American Empire, however, practically everyone is now obliged to learn this originally obscure German-French hybrid with three present tenses and a really bizarre spelling system. USA! USA! USA!)

• Finally, just for fun: I met a German couple in Istanbul who gave me this note. It is a real note, with a serial number and all the security features, it’s just worth zero Euros. Apparently the EU will allow the printing of them from time to time as souvenirs, to commemorate various things – in this case, the five hundredth anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. The caption, “God’s mercy is free,” goes very well with the fact that the bill itself is “free.” Thank you, Bertold and Anne Stegemann!

The reverse includes the usual EU hodgepodge. I see Germany (Brandenburg Gate), Italy (the Coliseum), France (Eiffel Tower), Spain (Sagrada Família) and Belgium (Mannikin Pis) represented. I don’t know who belongs to the tower on the left.