The Tailor.

A six-minute YouTube clip examines the use of language to resolve a difference of opinion. Eh, it’s maybe a little naughty, don’t play it around small children, but trust me, it’s funny. Thanks, Paul!

Addendum. Another good use of language(s) to make a point, “Impossible to Tell,” by Robert Pinsky: funny and moving. “Our languages don’t touch you…” (You can listen to him read it — just click the triangle under his name.)


  1. I was rather startled to recognize “У самовара” in the soundtrack.
    For reference:

  2. Originally a Polish song; the Russian Wikipedia article gives both Polish and Lithuanian texts.

  3. marie-lucie says:

    A cute little film, I liked it very much, but when I looked at it it was entirely silent (I checked that I had not muted the sound), until the final words spoken by the younger nun (and I could not make out the last word).

  4. You must have the volume way down low for some reason. There’s nice music playing throughout, and if you can’t make out the last word you miss the joke!

  5. marie-lucie says:

    LH, No, I checked that the volume was on, and with other soundtracks the sound is normal, in fact I oftfen turn it down a little, but it was set at top volume and I did not hear any music at all. It could be that my computer is too old, as there are many videos it does not allow me to play.

    I guessed that the last word was the crucial one, but nevertheless I missed it! I should try to rerun the video until I get it.

    Many times, people telling a joke speak the last word a little faster, or with the beginning of a smile or laugh, somewhat distorting the speech sounds. In this case, the nun was smiling! The same thing happens to me with songs: I can deal with most English speech (barring totally unfamiliar dialects) , but I often miss many words in English language songs.

  6. My twisted mind and my ignorance of English carried me back to “Mene, Tekel, Upharsin (or Parsin, Peres, Fares”).

  7. Apparently Il’f & Petrov didn’t inveigh against Masha and her samovar, or foxtrot in general, but more about situations where better voice-mail music on a customer-care 800-line replaces customer service. BTW I found a Russian word I never knew in this piece, “аэрарий”

  8. Two honey bees were commiserating about the cold spring and the lack of flowers. “No problem,” said one, “just go down five blocks, there is a Bar Mitzvah going on and there are lots of flowers…but be sure to put on a yarmulke. You sure don’t want them to think you’re a WASP.”

  9. I thought it rather jolly; the music was lovely. Of course, I have just dined well.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Jesús: “Mene, Tekel, Upharsin (or Parsin, Peres, Fares”).

    I remember those words in the French translation as Mané (or perhaps Mani), Tekel, Pharès, but French Wiki says Parsin, which does not ring a bell. Perhaps Parsin is from a new translation.

  11. Because these words resemble the names of coins, the American Translation of 1931 (Cyrus Gordon et al.) rendered the sentence as “You have been quartered, halved, and cent to perdition.”

  12. John Cowan says:

    OT for this post, but an important announcement for the Hattic community:

    I have now set up a service that fetches the Language Hat front page periodically and pulls in the Recent Comments information. It then publishes a Recently Commented-On Language Hat Posts page which contains a link to only the most recent comment on each page, always keeping the pages in newest-comment-first order. Currently the service runs 5 times an hour, on the assumption that there will be considerably less than one comment per minute on average (if 10 or more comments are made between runs, some will be lost).

    As of this moment, only three pages are linked, but this will grow over time as people add comments to new and old posts. Unlike the old Recently Commented On section, it is not limited in size, though I will eventually have to trim it by hand. The published page is static and minimalist, so you can hit it as often as you need to. If the page doesn’t seem to be updating, try holding down the Shift key while clicking on the refresh/reload icon; if that fails, email me via the link from my name above.

    Hat, you might want to put a link in the sidebar to this, just before or just after the Recent Comments section.

  13. John Cowan says:

    Arrgh, the link doesn’t work; WordPress is being too careful. My email address is all over the Net, but for convenience, it is

  14. Done!

  15. Speaking of recently commented-on posts, John Cowan, you asked me what my problem with Christopher Paolini’s style was. It took me a few days figure it out and now i’ve lost the link and forgotten what the post was:
    The answer is, he’s about my age: when he published the first book I was young enough to forgive him the writing style and get caught up in the story, when the second was published, I was a few years older and it was a slog, and by the time the third came around, I found it simply unreadable. So now I’ll never know how the story ends. (But of course he has no need to care that he’s lost one reader’s royalties).

  16. French Wiki says Parsin

    The U at the beginning is Hebrew/Aramaic ‘and’.

    Much of the Book of Daniel is written in Aramaic. The phrase in question is the famous “writing on the wall.”

    See here for a short discussion of its meaning.

  17. >Marie-lucie
    I found all these variants. I remembered “Mane, Tecel, Fares” because I had an album of the Old Testament in 1970 or 71. That picture card with that famous graffiti impressed me although it wasn’t the Rembrandt’s painting. I’m very happy because I found this album yesterday on the Internet and it brought back childhood memories.
    Curiously, once I read a spreading paper with that title related to units and measurements.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    Jesús: “Mane, Tecel, Fares”

    Now that I see this, I remember that the French version also had Tecel. has “Tekel”, but it must be a modern transcription closer to the Hebrew/Aramaic, like their “Parsin” instead of Phares. (I am sure it was not written *Fares* in French, in spite of the pronunciation – “ph” is [f] in French, as in English).

    Paul, I see now: /parsin/ with initial /p/ but /u-farsin/ where /p/ changes to /f/ between vowels. “Phares” must be the Greek trancription, which omitted the u and the final in, a prefix and suffix needed in Hebrew/Aramaic but not considered (at least by the translator) part of the basic word.

  19. marie-lucie says:

    I mean that even if the final -in is actually part of the word, it might have looked like a suffix in the Greek version.

  20. marie-lucie: I see now: /parsin/ with initial /p/ but /u-farsin/ where /p/ changes to /f/ between vowels. “Phares” must be the Greek trancription, which omitted the u and the final in, a prefix and suffix needed in Hebrew/Aramaic but not considered (at least by the translator) part of the basic word.

    The rule for /p/ to /f/ switch also applies to /b/=/v/, /k/=/kh/ and a few other letters where today’s pronunciation obscures the change. The rule is quite complex. See ‘Ancient Hebrew pronunciation’ at this Wiki entry.

    The -in suffix ordinarily indicates the masculine plural form of a noun in Biblical Aramaic, and perhaps in all Aramaic dialects. It’s parallel to the -im form seen in such Hebrew words as cherubim. In this particular case, it’s easy for me to see how “Parsin” could be interpreted as “Persians”.

    Tekel becoming Tecel is harder to understand. The Hebrew/Aramaic spelling is /תקל t-q-l/. (If you squint, you can see how Latin Q started life as Semitic ק.) As the article I linked to above suggests, “tekel” may mean “weight”. If so, that’s because Aramaic (and at least sometimes Arabic) T is Hebrew SH, hence shekel, unit of weight or currency. My Aramaic is sufficiently weak (read: almost non-existent) that I can’t confirm this.

    Note the verse in the Septuagint: και αυτη η γραφη η εντεταγμενη μανη θεκελ φαρες. There, the third word is Thekel. Hebrew /t ת/ is sometimes rendered that way if it doesn’t have a (diacritical) dot within the letter. Persia in modern Greek is Περσία, a fair distance from φαρες.

  21. Tekel becoming Tecel is harder to understand.

    Latin automatically changed k to c, so it’s natural French would have that form.

  22. Latin automatically changed k to c

    Aha! That makes sense. But note that the Latin Wiki entry spells this word thecel.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    Latin thecel

    in Latin words, the sequence th only occurs in borrowings, notably from Greek. In Latin and its Romance descendants, the addition of h had no influence on the pronunciation, only t mattered. If the Greek translation used the letter “theta” rather than “tau”, Latin would have written th, but there seems to have been fluctuations in the Greek spelling, as you noted, perhaps through hypercorrection (ie being wrong through wanting to be right, the mark of an insecure writer).

  24. At least I’ve found on the Internet the two homophone “words”! I waited for a charitable soul…

  25. Further to John Cowan’s post.

    Adding /feed to the url for any hattic post will create an RSS feed for the comments so the discussion can be followed in your RSS reader.

  26. I remember those words in the French translation as Mané (or perhaps Mani), Tekel, Pharès

    I’m reading Eugénie Grandet (and my thanks to all who encouraged me to give Balzac another try, it’s a riveting read), and I just got to this: “L’étonnement, la colère, la stupéfaction de Balthazar en apercevant le Mane-Tekel-Pharès ne sauraient se comparer au froid courroux de Grandet…”

  27. (And I discover those fateful words turned up in the Tabellion thread as well!)

  28. marie-lucie says:

    I am waiting for some more free time before I try to reread the Tabellion thread.

  29. That’s wise of you.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    There, the third word is Thekel. Hebrew /t ת/ is sometimes rendered that way if it doesn’t have a (diacritical) dot within the letter.

    Could it be that כ ת פ , today simply /p t k/ when not turned into fricatives, were aspirated and therefore rendered by φ θ χ ? Note how ק , definitely unaspirated and never turned into a fricative, is rendered by unaspirated κ in θεκελ and elsewhere.

  31. It’s a question when the Greek aspirated stops became fricatives. The evidence of borrowings is not univocal.

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