1) I’ve recently started reading Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950 by Mark Mazower (thanks, Mel!), and I just got to this on pp. 100-01:

In the meantime, the remedy for janissary violence was often worse than the disease. Unable to rely on the troops supposedly under their command, many pashas kept armed retinues of their own. Mostly they recruited young Albanians from impoverished mountain villages, who brought with them an aggressively uncomplicated approach to life. An Ottoman traveller among them a century earlier had warned others what they might expect in the way of Albanian greetings and salutations. His list included the following useful expressions: “Eat shit!” “I’ll fuck your mother,” “I’ll fuck your wife” and “I’ll fart in your nose.”

As you can see, the author is both learned and a delightful writer (I particularly like “an aggressively uncomplicated approach to life”); I highly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in the history of cities.

2) Carpetblogger has a post called “Thinking About Learning Turkish” which provides the following excellent pair of anecdotes:

It’s hilarious to see the look on Turks’ faces when you tell them you lived in Azerbaijan. Sometimes, they simply cannot contain their amusement at the thought. It’s like telling an American you spent a year learning English in Harlan County, Kentucky.

Last night at a party, an actual Turk confirmed the veracity of a Turkish/Azeri language anecdote I have used as cocktail chatter for years, always prefaced with the caveat that it’s “probably apocryphal.” It’s always satisfying to find out a rumor you spread turns out to be true.

Here goes: The pilot of Turkish Airlines plane full of Azeris announces he is preparing to land the plane. The passengers panic. Why? Because the verb in Azeri for “to land” is the same as “to crash.” I crack up every time I tell this. I’m not sure if it’s funnier or not now that I know it’s true.

I can pinpoint the exact minute that Russian sapped my will to live. Vexed with some horrible twist of grammatical logic, I implored Yelena, my fifty-something, chain-smoking, university-level linguist teacher, to make it make sense to me.

“Carpetblogger,” she said, pushing her huge, round glasses down her nose. “English is for conveying information. Russian,” she said with intense Slavic pride, “is for conveying philosophy.”

(Latter link via Far Outliers.)


  1. Alas, Carpetblogger has not updated since 2015.

    *pours one out for all the neglected blogs*

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