I’ve only begun dipping into The World’s Writing Systems, edited by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, but I have to pass along this bit from the first chapter, “The Study of Writing Systems” (by Daniels):

One of the most influential scholars in the early nineteenth century, whose name is now absent from the histories of philology—perhaps he has been forgotten because he was a generalist—is Ulrich Friedrich Kopp. His Bilder und Schriften der Vorzeit (1821) is a very rare book, but it includes pioneering investigations in many fields, including European and Semitic antiquities. His work would well repay careful study, though no single modern scholar would be competent to evaluate it in its entirety.

I have two things to say about this (other than that he sounds like an interesting guy):
1. When The World’s Writing Systems came out, in 1996, if you were intrigued by the “very rare book” and wanted to consult it, you would have had to travel to a major research library (in my case, the nearest that has it is apparently Sterling Memorial Library, where I spent so many happy hours in grad school). Now, it’s accessible to everyone via Google Books (Vol. 1, Vol. 2).
2. We have another name to add to the already impressive group of Pott, Bopp, Rask, Fick, and Grimm (not to mention Grot). What was it about the nineteenth century and monosyllabic philologists?
(He’s not quite forgotten, by the way, according to today’s standard measure: he has Wikipedia pages, but only in French—a mere stub—and Russian, only slightly fuller. Come on, German speakers, step up to the plate and support your philological traditions!)


  1. mattitiahu says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s noticed the preponderance of monosyllabically named philologists. Also the large number of August’s, and then the two Karl B(rug/ockel)manns who wrote Grundrisse der vergleichenden Grammatik der (indogermanischen/semitischen, respectively) Sprachen.
    There’s a conspiracy going on behind the scenes here. I know it.

  2. mattitiahu says:

    Spelling mistake: *(K/C)arl Br(ug/ockel)mann

  3. Bill Walderman says:

    Here’s a 20th century monosyllabic philologist:

  4. mattitiahu says:

    Well, if we open it up to the 20th century, we have minimally Hermann Hirt, Erich Neu, Helmut Rix, Emil Sieg, and Christian Stang.
    Also in the 19th century: Aldabert KUHN, Hermann PAUL, Albert THUMB, Johannes SCHMIDT.

  5. Sadly, the Google Books “scanner’s fingers turning a page problem” strikes after a few pages in the first volume. However, on the plus side, the colour plates of traced images from medieval manuscripts are beautifully scanned (and not greyscale or black and white).

  6. Sadly, the Google Books “scanner’s fingers turning a page problem” strikes after a few pages in the first volume.
    Yeah, I was about to get upset about that when I realized that page 4 is properly scanned just below. Don’t know why they left in the finger view, unless it was for amusement.

  7. People talk about AI, but can AI turn the pages of ancient books?

  8. Can’t be worse that quantum mechanics: Bohr, Born, Bohm. I went to uni with a Boye who went on to do physics, but he’s not destined for greatness since that’s a bisyllable. (I’m four so I failed even in chemistry.)

  9. Olivia Newton-John is Born’s granddaughter. I say this every chance I can. “Let’s get physical” must have been a tribute to Grandpa Max.

  10. That’s nothing God may not play dice, but Niels Bohr was a semi-pro goalkeeper. His father and brother both played for Denmark. His son played hockey for Denmark.

  11. I think I read somewhere that Enrico Fermi was offered a trial by Juventus, but I can’t back it up. Freeman Dyson played for Wolves, but retired because of a knee injury.

  12. Tom Stoppard, Samuel Beckett and Mick Jagger are all, or were, top cricketers. Harold Pinter played, but he was rubbish. Probably just wanted to be like Beckett.

  13. I suspect AJP of making shit up.
    Henry David Thoreau was important in the early American pencil industry.

  14. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder if the monosyllabic philologists are a self-fulfilling prophecy. The bisyllabic Verner is so famous he got through – but Kluge seems all but forgotten. He has a law named after him – but I only found out about that (and about the person, which is much less surprising) two days ago while clicking through the Wikipedia articles on Grimm’s and Verner’s laws.
    Worse yet, while the German Wikipedia has a longer article on Kluge, it doesn’t mention his law at all – in any article – and doesn’t even cite the publication that presented it for the first time!
    This is all the more surprising because Kluge’s law looks like very good evidence that Verner’s law acted before Grimm’s law, not afterwards as Verner himself and most or all textbooks since him have thought. It is more surprising still because the (English and only) article on Kluge’s law cites three recent publications about it (OK, one is probably a doctoral thesis), one by none less than Kortlandt.

    Can’t be worse that quantum mechanics: Bohr, Born, Bohm.

    I just have to mention the paper by Alpher, Bethe & Gamow.
    (Allegedly, Alpher and Gamow invited Bethe to be a coauthor just for the esthetics of it.)

  15. In fact it was Gamow who insisted on Bethe getting author credit as a joke, and Alpher (who was Gamow’s student) resented it his whole life. Alpher feared (and rightly) that two such big names on his seminal paper on Big Bang nucleosynthesis would end up depriving him of long-term credit as originator of the idea. In his 1952 book, Gamow split the credit further (for Alpher’s correct estimation of the temperature of the 3K background ratdiation) between Alpher and Robert Herman (“who stubbornly refuses to change his name to Delter”).
    Then again, someone whose parents are lackwits enough to name their son Ralph Asher Alpher is growing up with two strikes against him already.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, yeah, physicists. In biology, being first author brings a lot of prestige, because the first author is the one who did most of the work. (The last author is the one whose lab it is, who provided the facilities and the funding but, in extreme cases, may not even have read the manuscript.)

    Then again, someone whose parents are lackwits enough to name their son Ralph Asher Alpher is growing up with two strikes against him already.


  17. Daniels and Bright is a delightful, luxurious timesink; I cannot count the hours I’ve spent leafing around in it. Do not neglect what I think is its weirdest wonder: carefully read the chapter about the Pahawh Hmong. Scratch your head at the Burmese/Pali exographs. Chuckle sympathetically at the Irish hangover. And feel kinship, across the ages, with the nameless English monk who scratched in “awritton” above the Latin “scripsit” more than a millennium ago.

  18. Following on Sili’s mention of Bnames in physics: Many years ago now, I read a book by another physicist, who wanted to share his own ideas about the interpretation of quantum mechanics. The book was not terribly interesting; the problem with alternate interpretations of quantum mechanics is that they all turn out to be either 1) wrong; 2) incomplete; or 3) equivalent to the Many Worlds Interpretation (whether the interpretation’s creator wants to admit that or not). So I don’t really remember much about the book, except for the dedication:

    To de Broglie, Bohm, and Bell—the three great B’s to whom it mattered that matter be.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    Back in 2011:


    Adalbert, noble + bright.

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