Sic transit Encarta

Is that your actual English?

The Register has a story about the plug being pulled on Encarta, which has a most curious verb form:

In a message posted on the MSN Encarta website, Microsoft said the sites worldwide will be discontinued on October 31, with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will be stayed until the end of December. (My italics.)
I know that stay can be a transitive verb in certain senses, but if this is one of them, then I don’t recognise the sense at all. The more obvious choice of words would be something like “will remain operating” or “will continue”. The active form of the verb makes more sense: “…Encarta Japan, which will stay until the end of December”, but if you convert the sentence “Encarta Japan will be stayed until the end of December” to its active form, the resulting sentence sounds ungrammatical: “[Someone] will stay Encarta Japan until the end of December”. Stay in this apparent sense really wants some kind of time expression as a complement (“until the end of December”) and for Encarta Japan to be the subject.

The post on the MSN Encarta website says

On October 31, 2009, MSN® Encarta® Web sites worldwide will be discontinued, with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will be discontinued on December 31, 2009.
This phraseology is repeated further down as well. Did El Reg’s hack simply lift this phrase, but, not wanting to repeat discontinue, substitute stay instead?
A search via Google for will be stayed gets 66,700 results. Most of them appear in reports of legal proceedings. In a number of instances, the sense of the verb is clarified by a following word or phrase in brackets. In my mind, stay is prototypically intransitive, but as a transitive verb, it may largely be confined to legal circles and, therefore, be regarded as jargon which has the potential to baffle the uninitiated. I note that the story from The Register eventually appears on the eleventh page of Google results and seems to be the first where the verb isn’t being used as a legal term.

If you ask nicely

I might tell you the answer.

It’s ironic that in my final term with the programme I’m teaching parts of Book 4 that I’ve never taught before. As far as I’ve ever got is early in Unit 24 and then exams usually turn up. Not this year. We’re actually going to have completed most of the material in Book 4. Sort of. (I can’t explain “sort of” right now.)

Anyway, we got to the third conditional today (which is what they call unfulfilled conditions these days). These are sentences like “if my students had paid attention, they would’ve got better marks in the final exam last term”. In other words, the condition is about something which never happened in the past. There was the inevitable question in the book about how you make these sentences in your language, which got me wondering just how Chinese tackles these sentences.

My initial hypothesis was that Chinese might use some irrealis particle (perhaps a little like ἄν) in Classical Greek. But from the examples in Ross and MA (2006:278ff.), it appears that Chinese makes no formal distinction between real and unreal conditions. It even has six words for “if”, which are used in different registers:

Conjunction Usage
要是 yàoshi Formal and informal speech and writing.
如果 rúguǒ Formal and informal speech and writing.
假如 jiǎrú More formal speech or writing.
假使 jiáshǐ Formal written Chinese.
倘若 tǎngruò Formal written Chinese.
倘使 tángshǐ Formal written Chinese.

The conjunction occurs before or after the subject of its clause. As for the nature of the condition, that would appear to be determined by the context. For instance, one of the examples in the book is

rúguǒ nǐ shì wǒ, nǐ yě bù huì tóngyì tāde kànfa de.
If I were you, you wouldn’t agree with his viewpoint either.

It’s not impossible to say “If I am you” in English (e.g. in a wacky Star Trek/Stargate time-travel, meet-yourself episode), but “if I were you” is more plausible, I think, for this sort of utterance. But there are no extraneous particles in the Chinese to indicate that this is an improbable condition. Similarly, the following sentence is also translated as an improbable condition from context:

jiáshǐ rénrén dōu qí zìxíngchē huò zuò gōnggòng qìchē, huánjì wūrǎnde wèntí jiù róngyì jiějué le.
If everyone rode a bicycle or took a bus, the pollution problem would be easy to solve.

The only example of a sentence translated as an unfulfilled condition in the past in Ross and Ma is

rúguǒ bù shì nǐ bāngzhù tā de huà, tā shì bù huì chénggōng de.
If you hadn’t helped him, he wouldn’t have succeeded.

I don’t know whether this can also mean “If you don’t help him, he won’t succeed”.

Po-Ching and Rimmington (2006) don’t really have anything useful to say about conditionals in Chinese as far as I can find.

Ironically (that word again), TY Ancient Greek has also reached conditionals. Open conditions (which would be the so-called types zero and one in a modern grammar of English) are usually expressed by the indicative in the protasis (conditional) and the apodosis (main). Present unfulfilled conditions are similar to type two in English with the imperfect indicative in both clauses, but the verb takes ἄν in the apodosis. The aorist indicative is used in past unfulfilled conditions (type three in English) and, in the same way, the verb in the apodosis takes ἄν. But the imperfect may also represent the continuous form of past unfulfilled conditions.

Future remote conditions are formed by the optative in the protasis and the optative + ἄν in the apodosis. For this type of condition and present unfulfilled conditions, English only really has the second conditional. Morwood (2001:183ff.) has

εἰ ταῦτα ἔλεγες, καλῶς ἂν ἔλεγες. (Present unfulfilled)
If you were saying these things, you would be talking sense.
εἰ ταῦτα λέγοις, καλῶς ἂν λέγοις. (Future remote)
If you were to say (or, “If you said etc.”) these things, you would talk sense.

Of course, the distinction between continuous and non-continuous forms to translate these two types isn’t really valid because certain verbs in English are inherently perfective (e.g. verbs of knowing and perceiving). Other translations seem to disguise the situation so that Weir Smith (1920:526) resorts to “should…would”, which is, if I remember rightly, how Reading Greek did it.

εἰ ταῦτα ποιοίης, καλῶς ἂν ποοίης.
If you should do these things, you would do well.

But whether this is really any different to “If you were to do etc.” or “If you did etc.”, I don’t know. The use of “should” here doesn’t feel quite right either, having a slightly dated feel to it.

I was also curious to know how all this was handled in Old English, although all I have available to me is Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer. The only information about conditional sentences is found in the section on the subjunctive. The subjunctive is used in hypothetical conditions such as gif mannes heafod tobrocen sie “If a man’s head is broken” or þas flotmen þe cwicne bindaþ, butan þu mid fleame þinum feore gebeorge “These pirates will bind you alive, unless you save your life by flight”.

When the condition is unreal, both clauses have their verbs in the subjunctive and, apparently, the preterite refers to present time. Thus, me leofre wære þæt ic on gefeohte feolle, wiþ þæm þe min folc moste hiera eardes brucen “I would rather fall in fight, provided that my people might possess their country”.

A verb in the subjunctive may express a condition without gif “if” by preceding the subject. I don’t know whether this is the source of Modern English conditional constructions such as “Had you asked, I would’ve helped you”.

Well, you didn’t ask, but I may have helped you anyway.

Po-Ching, Yip and Don Rimmington (2006). Chinese. An Essential Grammar. 2nd edition. Routledge: Oxford.
Davis, Norman (1953). Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer. Ninth edition. Clarendon Press: Oxford.
Ross, Claudia and Jing-heng Sheng Ma (2006). Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar. A practical guide. Routledge: Oxford.
Weir Smith, Herbert (1920). A Greek Grammar for Colleges. American Book Company: New York. (Available from Textkit.)

Order of the day

The imperative.

The quantity of reading for Unit 17 [of TY Classical Greek] has rather slowed me down with maxims from Delphi, proverbs, and stories about the pithy wit of the Spartans, all of which come to more than just one sentence per question. The most annoying sentence is this one

πολλὴ ἔχθρα καὶ μῖσος ἀλλήλων τοῖς πολίταις ἐγγίγνεται, δι’ ἃ ἔγωγε μάλα φοβοῦμαι ἀεὶ μή τι μεῖζον ἢ ὥστε φέρειν κακὸν τῇ πόλει συμβῇ.

which needed a little more annotation than it has in the book. It appears that μεῖζον should be taken with κακὸν, and that the standard of comparison is ἢ ὥστε φέρειν. It seems to mean “Much hostility and mutual hatred appear among the citizens, because of which I always fear lest some greater evil befalls the city than it can bear”.
The unit covers the imperative, and the comparative and superlative. Greek has both 2nd and 3rd person imperatives, and present and aorist forms. The distinction between the present and aorist is aspect, the former being imperfective (continuous) and the latter being perfective (non-continuous). And there’s a tendency to use them with verbs which are inherently one sort of action or the other.
The regular comparative and superlative endings are –τερος and –τατος which cause the stem vowel of o-stem adjectives to be lengthened when the preceding syllable is short. I’ve never seen an explanation of this phenomenon, which produce forms ending in LHLL beside HLLL. as far as I’m aware, Greek does this nowhere else.
n-stem adjectives have acquired their comparative and superlative from the s-stems, hence –εσ-τερος and –εσ-τατος. Other adjectives have retained older comparative and superlative endings in –(ι)ων (-[ι]ον-) and –ιστος, or are suppletive (e.g. ἀγαθός good, ἀμείνων better, ἄριστος best). Curiously, μεῖζων greater shows a mixture of n- and s-stem forms in its declension with an accusative sg μείζονα beside μείζω (< *μεγjοσα, presumably). The Latin comparative is from the s-stem form *-jos-.
The unit ends with a section on verbs which have suppletive passives such as ἀποκτείνω kill which uses ἀποθνῄσκω be killed (usually die).
There’s some extra reading (another passage from Prometheus Bound, but that can wait for the moment.
The moment having been waited… The extract was Hermes rather rudely demanding the Prometheus should reveal the prophecy he knows about a marriage which will deprive Zeus of his throne. But Prometheus basically calls Hermes a parvenu and tells him to bugger off. Probably, the Greeks would’ve regarded Prometheus’ words as impious and self-condemning, but like Milton’s Satan, Prometheus is, to a modern audience at least, more admirable than wicked for his heroic defiance in the face of overwhelming odds.

And that’s why we need a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Accents

Nobel Son.
Alan Rickman, brutalising a fake American accent as no Brit has brutalised it before, plays an arrogant bastard of a scientist who’s awarded a Nobel Prize. His son is kidnapped by his illegitimate son and somehow the pair of them end up working together to get the ransom money out from under the noses of the police.
Then the insane illegitimate son becomes the new lodger with the Nutty Professor until the legitimate son kidnaps his father and turns the tables on his half-brother who ends up being squashed by a yellow Mini. His insane girlfriend ends up back in a psychiatric hospital, and the nice policeman brings the legitimate son’s mum the ransom money so that she won’t lose it in the divorce.
An idea which, had it been well executed, might’ve resulted in a decent film, but this wasn’t written in joined-up writing. There were too many occasions in the plot when it was convenient for certain situations to have happened without explanation. Use the DVD as a frisbee.

It was so X that

Yup, Unit 16 [of TY Classical Greek] starts with clauses of result – οὕτω(ς) + adjective ὥστε + infinitive. But if the opening phrase is an NP, then Greek uses specifiers such as τοιοῦτος of this kind, of such a kind or τοσοῦτος so much, so many. Often the latter pair can be translated as such (a).
The rest of the unit covers the pluperfect, which I don’t recall being an especially common tense, and various other forms of the perfect.

The reading has become a mixture of sentences and short passages. I was vexed by a sentence with λανθάνω again, which might be easier to deal with if the standard gloss was the negative form of some verb of perception or something less cumbersome than “escape the notice of”. John Williams White (1896:191)[1] has the sentence

καὶ οἱ ἱππεῖς ἐλάνθανον αὑτους ἐπὶ τῷ γηλόφῳ γενόμενοι
which means, fairly literally, “And the cavalry escaped their own notice happening on the hill”, but which more naturally might be translated as “And the cavalry reached the hill before they knew it” or “And the cavalry did not notice that they had reached the hill”. But what about something like ἄλλον τινὰ λήθω μαρνάμενος (Iliad 13.273)[2] where the object is more like the subject? thus “others do not notice me while I’m fighting” or you end up resorting to a pseudo-passive such as “I’m unnoticed by others while I’m fighting”. Morwood’s (2001:139)[3] first example is more or less the same sort of sentence: τοὺς φύλακας ἔλαθεν εἰσέλθων “He entered unnoticed by the guards”. The sentence for translation, which comes from a fragment of Sophocles, is like the first sentence above where the subject of both verbs is identical. λέληθεν αὑτὸν τοῖς ξυνοῦσιν ὢν βαρύς “He hasn’t noticed that he’s annoying to those who live with him”.
In my adventures, I’ve found that a new student’s dictionary of Greek is being compiled which seems to be trying to leave some of the inane 19th century glosses behind. I do wish, though, that I had my copy of the intermediate Liddell and Scott.
The extra reading is from Euripdes’ Heracles, which, as usual, I’ll deal with in due course.
1.The First Greek Book, which is available from Textkit. The reading passages mainly come from Xenophon.
2. Could this also be translated as “I don’t notice that I’m fighting others”? That’s obviously not what’s meant (because it’d be nonsensical), but the sentence is potentially ambiguous.
3. Morwood, James (2001). Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek. OUP: Oxford. (Good, I think, as a reference work and the sentences might be used as supplementary reading; but the book lacks longer passages of Greek.)

Audio books

The Reader.

The Reader begins somewhat slowly with a sick German school boy puking in the gateway Kate Winslet’s block of flats. When he recovers, he take her some flowers and she shags him. Then he reads her a story and she shags him some more. Their affair continues for some time until one day she disappears.

The German boy studies law at university and goes along to a trial of some women SS guards who were responsible for allowing 300 prisoners who they were in charge of to die in a church when it caught fire during a bombing raid. The guard chiefly responsible was the German boy’s former girlfriend who, it turns out liked having the prisoners read to her. But he knows something which makes her admission of guilt a lie, for which she’s imprisoned for life.

The truth, as the German boy knows, is that Kate Winslet was illiterate. Eventually, when he’s become Ralph Fiennes, he starts sending her audio books while she’s in prison and from them she learns how to read and write. But just as she’s about to be released, she kills herself, leaving what little money she had to the only survivor from the church.

I didn’t think much of the film to begin with. As I said, it was a little slow to get going as Kate Winslet went Mrs Robinson on the German boy, but once the truth was revealed, it improved somewhat. It seemed that she was more ashamed of being revealed to be illiterate than she was afraid of being imprisoned for such a long time. The behaviour of the German boy was a paradox because he knew that she couldn’t possibly bear more responsibility than the rest, but said nothing about it. He might’ve been reluctant to speak out because he was worried about being tainted by association – especially considering the nature of the association. It is only when Kate Winslet is on the verge of release many years later that the German boy finally goes to visit her.

Worth seeing, but don’t let the somewhat low-gear opening put you off.

I formed the perfect

And all I got was this lousy reduplication.

Unit 15 takes us on to the perfect which is formed by CV- reduplication. Some perfects in Greek still have o-grade vocalism in perfect forms, but like other parts of irregular verbs, these are relics. In the Germanic languages, the o-grade was found in the preterite sg, but the zero grade in the plural. I believe the same pattern was found in Vedic Sanskrit.

Unit 16 also has verbs which take participles as their complements. I must admit that I’ve never liked λανθάνω escape the notice of (+acc) because it was hard to produce a translation that didn’t sound inept. About the only solution is to turn such sentence into something that sounds idiomatic in English, but may not be a close translation of the Greek. Now that I’m looking at the examples again, the Greek could almost be reversed with the dO becoming the subject, thus resulting in X did not notice Y.

The reading includes a short passage about Archimedes realising how he can tell whether Hiero of Syracuse’s jeweller has been deceiving him. The extra reading is from Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus. Kratos and Bia have delivered Prometheus to Hephaistos, who is reluctant to fetter a fellow immortal. I can’t help but notice that Prometheus’ regenerative powers have been forgotten when Hephaistos says

σταθευτὸς δ’ ἡλίου φοίβῃ φλογὶ
χροιᾶς ἀμείψεις ἄνθος
Scorched by the radiant flame of the sun, you will lose the appearance of your skin

But wouldn’t Prometheus’ skin heal overnight just as his liver regenerates after it’s eaten by an eagle every day? What’s that? A nice cup of hemlock for me for noticing a 2500 year old flaw? You must have me mistaken for someone else.

The natives are restless again.

Having seen a story among the RSS headlines from the Beeb this morning about another disturbance in an autonomous Τιβέταν area, I was unsurprised to see quite a few policemen out and about. The school wants to lock the side door where our office is, but the Canadian-American programme objected because it was stopping parents from getting easy access to them. So instead the door that’s just next to our office is padlocked from the inside which makes it a bloody nuisance to get through because the security guard has to come and let people in. The lock isn’t actually locked, but it is in the bracket.

The reasoning is, it seems, that οἱ Τιβέτανοι might turn up and demand a reduction in class sizes, school hours and the amount of testing, as well as com­pre­hensive subject reforms. The devils!

Never give a nerd a gun


Twitchy, hen-pecked office boy, James McAvoy, is told that his dad was a cool assassin murdered by a totally uncool assassin, and that a group of assassins called the Fraternity (yeah, there is hazing) are told what to do by a weaving loom. They beat McAvoy up a lot, which turns him into a cool assassin so that he can go after Cross, who then says, “Luke, I am your father” and Luke says, “I totally believe you even although I’ve just shot you and we’ve never really had the chance to get to know each other” before they fall into a river. 

Now that Luke, I mean, James McAvoy is a totally cooler than cool assassin, he goes and whacks all the minor cool assassins, apart from the ones who beat him up (except for the Butcher who being some fat bloke obviously needed a wide angle lens and as much room as possible). Angelina Jolie, looking gaunt, then does the curving bullet trick, shooting all the other assassins in the room – even herself. Yeah, I suppose that’s cool too.

The Onion Movie.

The movie of the website. Undergrad humour, some hit some miss. Was made back in 2003 apparently, but only released last year.


This is about the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. Tom Cruise stars as Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who was central to the attempt on Hitler’s life. Not a bad film at all, although I wonder whether Cruise got more screen time than Stauffenberg did in reality because there were others who were more prominent than him. Cruise, if anything, didn’t overplay his hand with some overblown performance.

The film was mostly populated by Brits – Kenneth Branagh looking rather tubby; Kenneth Cranham looking tubby and unrecognisable; Eddie Izzard also looking, well, a bit podgy. I note that Branagh had a lot more hair than Henning von Tresckow.

The subjunctive and the optative

Let’s get irreal.

Unit 14 is devoted to the subjunctive and the optative. We are reminded once again that English has traces of subjunctive (the usual “Long live the Queen” or “Be that as it may” or “if I were you”), although morphologically speaking, the subjunctive in the Germanic languages was, in origin, the optative. In Latin, the future and subjunctive got mixed together, the 1st and 2nd declension futures being derived from the encliticisation of *bhu to be, while the 3rd and 4th declension futures being an old subjunctive. There is no future subjunctive in Greek. 

The subjunctive and the optative are complementary in Greek depending on whether the main verb is in primary or secondary sequence. Unfortunately, Betts and Henry don’t appear to have thought that this was worth presenting in a tabular form for the sake of clarity. Anyway, here it is as a public service.

Primary sequence Historic sequence
future perfect
subjunctive imperfect
The nearest analogue in English is the shifting of verbs into the past tense in reported speech when the verb of reporting is past. The prefect and future perfect are really past events with present or future force, hence they belong to the set of primary tenses.

There’s no extra reading in this unit, but I’m puzzled by a verb form in the 19th sentence:

εἴ ποτε τοὺς στρατιώτας εὐτάκτως βαδίζοντας ἴδοι, ἐπῄνει.
If he ever saw soldiers marching in order, he commended them.

It’s that final verb that’s bothering me. Obviously, it’s ἐπαινέω praise, commend. Ah, now I see what it is. It’s a 3rd sg imperfect. Problem solved. Party on. That’s why the verb in the subordinate clause is optative – historic sequence.