lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
Here's a cool thing I learned a few months ago: Have you ever wondered about the prevalence of words in English spelled with an O but pronounced as if it were U; words like "son", "money" (and "honey"), "love" (and "dove"), "wonder", "London", and I suspect once upon a time, also "coney"*? What they all share in common is that the O is next to an M, N, V or W; and the reason for this spelling is that when a U is juxtaposed to one of these letters in Carolingian miniscules, it becomes very difficult to tell which letter is which, as is famously shown by writing the word "minimum" in miniscules:

[image]

Consequently, the spelling of the English words was changed to use an O instead of a U, which made life easier for readers a thousand years ago, though more difficult for people trying to learn English spelling. It's amazing how much insight knowing this has given me on English spelling; I keep coming across more and more words the spelling of which this explains.

* "Coney" used to be in general use in English to mean "rabbit". (The German for "rabbit", Kaninchen, rendered piecewise into its English cognates, comes out as the cutesy "coneykin".) But when in the nineteenth century "cunny" arose as slang for "c*nt", which was the pronunciation at the time of "coney", the latter dropped out use, despite an attempt to rescue it by pronouncing it the way it was written, in favour of the term "rabbit", originally meaning a young rabbit.

On a similar subject, I recently discovered from the History of English podcast the reason why we have in England, counties and countesses but not counts. These terms were brought into English from Norman French after the Norman Conquest, displacing the older English terms, but "count" never quite managed to displace "earl" because its pronunciation was too much like "c*nt". I reckon at the time, the former would have had the vowel in "food" and the latter the vowel in "good", making them more similar than they are today.

I wonder if there are any other words that resemblance to taboo words forced out of the language...
lethargic_man: (Default)
Some of you may recall my posting here before about my (casual) interest in St Kilda, the most remote once-inhabited archipelago of the British Isles. I possibly first came across it when I first discovered and went exploring on Google Maps (an interesting post to reread, as it reminds us what online maps were like in the days before Google Maps). My interest piqued, I went off and read about it on Wikipedia; and so was intrigued enough to watch (and buy) and review Michael Powell's fictionalised film about the evacuation of St Kilda, The Edge of the World (which, strangely enough, didn't involve vampires).

After all this, you will not be surprised to hear that when, last year, an album of music came out called The Lost Songs of St Kilda, I was intrigued, and asked [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m to get it for me for Chanukah. The story is that a decade ago, an old man, Trevor Morisson, was discovered playing this music on a piano in an old age home in Scotland. He'd been evacuated to the isle of Bute during the War, and had there been taught by one of the St Kildans who left during the islands' final evacuation in 1930 how to play the melodies sung by the islanders as they climbed the cliffs looking for birds' eggs.

No one else had recorded this music, no one had written it down; to my surprise it seems that none of the St Kildans (the last of whom died just last year) had even taught it to their children. (The fact the St Kildan church frowned upon music may have had something to do with this, at a guess.) If it were not for Trevor Morisson, this subculture would have died out completely (rather than just partially—Morisson only knew eight songs, and did not know the words to them).

Yet now, after eighty-six years, a young man's recordings of Morisson (made on a laptop with a £3 microphone) have been released to the world, and inspired others to compose around them, or be inspired by them.

I find the music to be moving, but even without that, the story a moving one too.

Rabbit menorah

Sunday, January 1st, 2017 01:44 pm
lethargic_man: (beardy)
Today is the last day of Chanukah; the rabbits have been lighting their menorah every day and uploading each photo to Facebook. Here at the end is the complete collection crossposted to DW and LJ: View piccies ) It's always sad to see Chanukah end, but at least I'm not going to have to do any more grubbing around on the rug looking for dropped ball bearings for the next year. (The rabbits response is similar to this one.)

Fame at last!

Sunday, January 1st, 2017 01:41 pm
lethargic_man: (capel)
This is the new flier from Masorti Judaism in Germany—and look who they chose a photo of to illustrate the back page.

(This was taken on my first trip to Berlin, for a Marom Olami seminar in 2005; points to [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m for spotting this on Friday night.)

View piccy )

lethargic_man: (Default)
Just because I'm knowledgeable about the Royal Family and interested in their history, [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m seems to think I'm pro-monarchist. Well, I don't think you have to be in favour of something which is important to express an interest in it.

It's true that I value tradition, and I appreciate the tourist dollars the Royal Family bring in to the UK, but still, those who know me will have heard me say many times "God save the Queen: she's the only thing keeping Prince Charles off the throne", and I have sympathy for Prince William's years of raging against the predestination of his life before he finally came to accept it.

If I got to refashion the British constitution, I think I'd actually keep the constitutional monarchy, but I'd revert to the pre-Norman system where the Witenagemot (or today, the electorate) chose the next monarch from among members of the Royal Family (or those who stood for the post). I'd also thoroughly purge the monarchy of any political power whatsoever: something that unfortunately the reaction of the establishment to the Black Spider Letters debacle shows isn't going to happen in the UK any time soon.

Anyhow, I didn't take part in any street parties during the Queen's Golden Jubilee or her Diamond Jubilee, and indeed laughed a bit at my parents for so doing. (My streets didn't hold parties anyway.) Afterwards, I regretted this a bit: unless the Queen is lucky enough to make it to her Platinum Jubilee at the age of 95, there aren't going to be any more jubilees until I'm an old man (and in any case, I've taken myself out of the running for any more such by removing myself to a different country, where I won't even get a Bank Holiday to celebrate them).

So I thought I'd post a picture here of myself at the one jubilee of the Queen where I really did join in the celebrations, and the street party, wholeheartedly. But then, I was a bit young for political thinking at the time of the Silver Jubilee.

View piccy )

lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
Following my previous post about blogging and translating the passages in Seder Rav Amrām to be said in place of Kaddish, Bār'chu and Kedushā in the absence of a minyan, here's the second one.

This one also features a quotation from the early mystical literature, along with a reference to the concept found in the Targum that Jacob's face is engraved on God's Throne of Glory.

I couldn't quite resolve all my issues with the Hebrew this time; corrections are welcome.

And again, feel free to share the link more widely.
lethargic_man: (capel)
Jewish communal prayer is traditionally recited in the presence of a minyan, a quorum of ten adults. When a minyan is not available, certain prayers—Kaddish, Bār’chu and Kedusha (along with reading from the Torah with blessings)—cannot be recited. Today’s custom is not to say anything here when there is no minyan present, but I was fascinated to discover the first ever siddur, the ninth-century Seder Rav Amrām, gives versions of each of these (with no explanation) for the solo davener. And the first one, at least, is fascinating, with an extended quotation from the literature of Merkavah mysticism.

I thought it might be nice (having previously googled for a translation of the first of these texts, and only been able to find bits of it) to make these texts available for small prayer groups, where not having a minyan is a real possibility; so they can use them as a study resource to fill the slightly awkward gap not being able to recite Kaddish or Bār’chu can leave, or to recite them in part or entirety.

So here's the first one for you; watch this space for further contributions. And please do let me now if you have found any mistakes, or would like to collaborate on this project.

Handbag

Sunday, November 6th, 2016 09:50 pm
lethargic_man: (beardy)
My brain is strange.

HAMLET: "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handbag."
LADY BRACKNELL: "A handbag!?"
[ETA: When the Rolling Stones' "Anyone Seen My Baby?" came out, people pointed out that the melody was cribbed from k.d. lang's "Constant Craving". Initially Mick Jagger insisted it was coincidence, and that he'd never heard lang's song, then came home to discover his daughter playing it on her stereo, and decided to give lang song co-writing credit.

Well, this post turned out to be another case of independent invention under strong subconscious influence, in this case from [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel's profile page, and integrity compels me to disown credit for it.]

"Lay on"

Friday, October 21st, 2016 12:36 pm
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
The German for to pick an argument with someone is sich anlegen. This is not the sense in which we use "lay on" in English today, but I wonder whether it once was: "Lay on, Macduff!"
lethargic_man: (Default)

Notes from the NNLS/ZF Israel 60th Anniversary celebrations

The Story of Israel's Creation

Yitzhak Navon (former president of the State of Israel)

Biography ) Talk transcript; contains reminiscing about Ben Gurion )
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
On the train across Germany the other day, I looked up and saw we were pulling into Herford, and for a moment almost thought I was back in the UK.

Speaking of which, did you know the Bosporus translates into English as "Oxford"? (They must have impressive cattle in Turkey, from what I know of it!)
lethargic_man: (Default)

The other week, I was asked to lead bentshing in shul after lunch. We were using the shul's shiny new own bentshers, and I saw they lacked the four lines beginning תהילת ה׳ ידבר פי after the introductory psalm; but I launched into them cheerfully anyway. "It's not the German custom to say these," said the rabbi. "So sue me," I riposted; "I'm a Litvak!"

Well, I got the laugh I was after out of that, but afterwards it occurred to me I'd never sat down and worked out how much of my ancestry came from where; so I did, and here's the result, as far as I can trace my family back, with each concentric ring out from the centre representing one generation back in my ancestry from myself at the centre, and an alternation of males and females among my ancestors clockwise from the top.

(Some of the outermost rings are a bit tentative; and in places I've interpreted a vague "Russia" as probably meaning the Pale of Settlement—the part of historical Poland that came under Russian sovereignity following the eighteenth-century partition of Poland, and to which Catherine the Great, who had suddenly acquired a large Jewish population, and didn't want them dispersing into the rest of her empire, legally confined the Jews.)

View pie chart )

Computer woes

Monday, September 19th, 2016 08:15 pm
lethargic_man: (computer geekery)

My Windows laptop has managed to render itself almost completely useless, with very little help from me.* :-(

So now I've got the question of what I do about it. Either I can spend probably a long time googling for solutions, with no guarantee of success; or I can pay through the nose to get the thing fixed at a computer shop (which I've not done or had to do before—and I have no idea how much thigs would cost; how much have such repairs cost you?). Or, alternatively, I can write off the ability to use Windows programs like Word for good, erase Windows and install Xubuntu instead. (I'd still have access to Word, etc, on [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's machine, on request.)

Atm, I'm leaning towards the third of these, because atm Linux is annoying me less than Windows (or MacOS, which seems as unstable for me on my work machine as Windows was fifteen year ago); but it would be annoying to lose ready access (meaning: at in my lunch break at work, or any time [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m is using her machine) to Windows. Also, I've yet to find a music player on Linux that can play tracks without a momentary silence between (the one advantage Windows Media Player has over VLC)—anyone recommend anything?

* What happened is that in February Windows updates stopped downloading (progress downloading would stick at 0%). The laptop has spent most of the intervening time offline anyway (I took it to work, to listen to music on, because work won't allow me to plug a foreign device into my work laptop, meaning I can't get my music onto it, and I (still) don't have an MP3 player; and it doesn't recognise the guest wifi at work). But recently I did a bit of googling to try and solve the prolem, which suggested that I should use MSConfig to turn off non-Microsoft services and reboot. Lo and behold, when I did that, the large batch of updates pending already in February (it hadn't yet retrieved the ones from since then) downloaded as far as 68%, and then it put up a message about an invalid certificate. Unfortunately, after I noticed and dealt with this, it refused to download any further; and nor did it when I cancelled the update and tried again. But when I tried rebooting the machine, the moment I touched a key or the trackpad when the user selection menu was displayed to logon, the screen went blank and stayed that way; and this has happened every time I've rebooted since, except when I reboot into Safe Mode. But (a) I can't play music in Safe Mode (or I could live with the problem), (b) reverting to a previous state is broken, and (c) reinstalling Windows doesn't work in Safe Mode. And I can't do a clean install from DVD because I don't have a Windows DVD; I got the laptop secondhand with Windows preinstalled on it.

lethargic_man: (Default)
I am posting my entry for this book in my not-usually-blogged reading log to preemptively head off any comments from [livejournal.com profile] ewx following my reference to it (this book) in my last blog post. :o)

The author's quest for the Ark of the Covenant. Knowing Hancock's reputation, I approached the book with an air of scepticism, but found most of his arguments convincing—though a few the opposite.

Amongst the former: that Ethiopia has a long tradition that it had the Ark of the Covenant, that there has been a connection between there and Jerusalem for two thousand years, that although the Ark of the Covenant disappears from the Bible after the time of Solomon, if you read between the lines, there's evidence that it was still present in the time of Hezekiah (Isaiah referring to God dwelling between the cherubim) but absent by the time of Josiah (I'm not entirely convinced by his "the lady doth protest too much" argument, more so by Josiah telling the Levites (2 Chron. 35:3) to put the Ark in the Temple when you'd have thought it was already there, and no reference to the Levites complying, as opposed to the ceremony when Solomon first installed it there), implying the Levites had removed it during the reign of Menashe when the latter put pagan idols in the Temple.

Based on Ethiopian traditions that the Ark arrived in Ethiopia a few centuries later via the Nile, he then claims that it spent the intervening time in the temple at Elephantine, which nicely explains why the temple even existed.

I'm prepared to buy his argument that the first Templars were searching for the Ark, and that (given that there was always an Ethiopian Christian presence in Jerusalem) there may even have been Templars in Ethiopia, but I'm more sceptical of his claims that the Holy Grail was just a cipher for the Ark, and that the Templars gained architectural expertise from documents they found on the Temple site, and left coded messages in the layout of Chartres Cathedral; and whilst it's possible that the shape of the Ark was influenced by Egyptian culture, his claims that Priests and Levites retained knowledge of that Egyptian past in Temple times, or that the Ark was a high-tech artefact, left me cringing and wanting the chapter to end.

He also frequently used midrashic or aggadic evidence in support of the Bible, despite the intervening centuries; the fact he points this out for another source near the end as evidence against that source suggests poor scholarship to me.

The book then concludes with the hair-raising story of his journey back to Axum when it was in rebel hands, and his attempt to see the Ark taken out of its chapel on the one time in the year when that allegedly happened (though he ends up proving it was only a replica that was taken out). The book was also fascinating for its insight into Ethiopian Christianity, which appears to be overlaid on an earlier Judaism (and for a now dying sect which practised Hebraic worship that looked like it dated from the patriarchal (IIRC) period).
lethargic_man: (Default)
At school I was taught that the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded and conquered Britain, pushing the Britons to the extreme west of the country and settling the rest themselves.

Later, I learned this was simplistic: The genetic evidence points to a mixed Celtic/Saxon population in England, so the Britons were still around there (though they may have been slaves).

Now I've learned another couple of interesting twists from the History of English podcast: First, there's documentary evidence that twenty years after the Roman legions left Britain to defend Rome, the Britons were successfully holding the Saxons at bay: they weren't the pampered civilians reliant on the Romans for defence we thought they had by then become. It was only later that the sheer weight of invading Saxons overwhelmed British defences.

And secondly, when William Duke of Normandy conquered England in 1066, reducing the Saxons themselves to a conquered people, one third of his army was not Norman but Breton. That's to say, descendants of the Britons who fled the Saxon advance by crossing the channel, lending their name to their area of France, and taking their Brythonic language and culture with them. So, for one third of William's army, they weren't invading a foreign country; they were coming back to the land of their ancestors and avenging their unjust displacement from it—and their bringing with them the Arthurian mythos in its most fully developed form suggests they themselves were aware of this.

That's pretty cool, I thought.
lethargic_man: (Berlin)

Last Sunday I went to what I thought was my local Soviet war memorial, but turned out to be an war cemetery. It seemed cohen-friendly, so I went in anyway.

There are eight mass graves either side of the central aisle, each equipped with a plaque showing the names of around 150 soldiers buried there. Wikipedia informs me these total 1182 names in all—but those are only the fallen soldiers it was possible to identify. There are further mass graves and plaques all the way around the edge (I didn't investigate these closely as they aren't cohen-friendly—there are trees overhanging them), but Wikipedia tells me that in total there are 13,200 Soviet soldiers buried there, who fell during the Battle of Berlin. The numbers are staggering.

I've never been anywhere like that before, and found it unexpectedly moving, despite the sunshine and warm temperatures. Or maybe those contributed to the feeling of peacefulness for the final rest of all those dead soldiers.

Click through for larger photos.

View photos )

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