I just finished John Gray’s NYRB review essay on Peter Sloterdijk (October 12, 2017), which did not make me think well of that prolific “philosopher, polemicist, and sometime television host” (see this LH comment for a biting quote), and I have to complain about something that has nothing to do with philosophy. Sloterdijk laments the loss in modern bourgeois culture of what he pretentiously calls “thymos” (Greek θυμός ‘soul; will; desire, etc.’), which “signifies the impulsive center of the proud self, yet at the same time it also delineates the receptive ‘sense.'” The adjectival form based on this is given as “thymotic.” I don’t know whether it’s Sloterdijk’s form (well, presumably thymotisch in the original) or Gray’s, but either way, I hate it. The Greek word is a regular old o-stem, there is no -t- anywhere in its declension, and the adjective would have to be thymic (as seen in the well-formed alexithymic “Affected with alexithymia; of or relating to alexithymia [The inability to recognize one’s own emotions and to express them, esp. in words]” (OED). Furthermore, there is an existing adjective thymotic, defined by the OED as “Of, pertaining to, or derived from thymol”; the etymology is given as “Arbitrarily < Greek θύμον thyme n., or thymol n. + -ic suffix.” Fine, I don’t expect chemists to be up on their Greek morphology, but the fact that there is already an ill-formed thymotic used in a completely different sense is another strike against this one. I realize I’m being prescriptivist about it, but if you can’t be prescriptivist about the classics, what can you be prescriptivist about?

And while I’m grousing: my wife and I recently watched Kieślowski’s Blue/Bleu/Niebieski (neither of us had seen it in a couple of decades, and it was just as sad and wonderful as we remembered), and the subtitles were generally well done, but at one point two characters are looking at a musical score and one says “C’est les violons?” The other responds “Non, les altos.” The subtitles have “Is this the violins?” “No, the altos.” Come on. I know false friends can be hard, and alto can mean ‘alto,’ but here it clearly means ‘viola.’ You’re being paid to do this, you know. Thimk!


  1. At Language Hat you can be confident that no post has a typo that isn’t meant to be there.

  2. Yes, it’s an old favorite of both mine and my wife’s, and I thought it went well with “thymotic.”

  3. Though I suppose I could have remade it as “thymk” for the occasion.

  4. Yes! I saw that, thymotic. Thyme Out of Mind.

  5. No Thyme for Sergeants.

  6. David Eddyshaw says


    No heuristic is infallible, but it’s not rocket science for translators to realise that if their translation makes no sense it’s probably, like, wrong.

    If your job is, in point of fact, to translate nonsense, you should be paid extra. And also carefully reflect on your life choices.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    The Gray review is, alas, paywalled, but I found this:

    from which we discover that he is rude to waiters, and

    Sloterdijk argues that taxation should be replaced with a system in which the richest members voluntarily fund great civic and artistic works.

    He’s one of those. The technical Marxist term is arsehole

  8. John Cowan says

    Unless it’s Alice in Wonderland, in which case your life is going perfectly.

    Overseasoning is a matter of thyme after thyme.

    Phone-called, our gravies melt away,
    Our luscious joint turns into slime:
    Our salad-dish of yesterday
    Is one with Nineveh and thyme.
    Lord of the kitchens, spare us yet:
    Lest we forget — lest we forget!

    (It’s Friday.)

  9. David Marjanović says

    it’s probably, like, wrong.

    Holtz’s First Rule [of reconstruction of extinct animals]: if you can’t fit the skeleton inside the model, the model is wrong


    That’s… not very perceptive of him.

    I mean, the Gilded Age isn’t taught in schools over here, but come the fuck on.

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    @JC: not unreminiscent of the stirringly patriotic lines

    My hen laid a haddock, one hand oiled a flea,
    Glad farts and centurions threw dogs in the sea,
    I could stew a hare here and brandish Dan’s flan,
    Don’s ruddy bog’s blocked up with sand.

    Dad! Dad! Why don’t you oil Auntie Glad?
    Can whores appear in beer bottle pies,
    O butter the hens as they fly!

    (This fine translation is the work of a fellow-townsman of mine; the frankly less inspired and somewhat overliteral English version one occasionally comes across was produced by the grandfather of the Best Man at my wedding. Cymru am byth!)

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    I had always been under the impression that that “Sloterdijk” was merely a pen name / pseudonym for our own Grumbly Stu. Convince me I’m wrong.

  12. David Eddyshaw says


    I must protest against the implication that Alice in Wonderland is at all nonsensical. It is a work characterised throughout by rigorous logic, as you would expect from the celebrated author of An Elementary Treatise on Determinants with their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraical Geometry.

    [This also provides me with all the pretext I need to regurgitate the celebrated dictum that “Only two authors have ever written a sequel better than the original: Lewis Carroll and God.”]

    @JWB: My Marxist epithet is clearly inapplicable to any Hatter in good standing. QED.

  13. Stu Clayton says

    I still read each new Sloterdijk book that comes out, but wouldn’t recommend it. Anyone who has not followed his work over the years will be merely moved to peeve and fret at this and that, for this and that sufficient reason. “Richest members voluntarily funding great civic and artistic works”, for example (he believes his own tax burden is unfair).

    In this respect I’m like those people who buy old pirated recordings of the Grateful Dead. Or a dog returning to its vomit, out of curiosity (proto-scientific interest).

    I am interested in ideas for what I myself get out of them.

  14. David Marjanović says

    Only two authors

    Who wrote Terminator II, let alone Conan the Destroyer?

  15. Stu Clayton says

    The director Cameron, together with William Wisher.

    There were more than two authors (“based on” one, “story by” another two, “screenplay” yet another) for Conan.

    You did say recently that you have learned a lot from the WiPe ! You didn’t say how much of it was worth learning.

  16. “it’s not rocket science”

    A brain surgeon AND a rocket scientist? Eye, whatever.
    And I’m Graf Koks von der Gasanstalt.

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    like those people who buy old pirated recordings of the Grateful Dead

    Harsh. Yet, alas, fair. But buy them? That is contrary to the entire spirit of the thing.

    I suspect that Sloterdijk would not share the Grateful Dead’s admirable attitude to recording of their live shows.

    [BTW I think it was Keith Richards who first said:

    “What did the Grateful Dead fan say when he came down?
    ‘God, this band is crap.'”]

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    A brain surgeon AND a rocket scientist?

    And a rock star, don’t forget. Buckaroo Banzai is my role model.

  19. John Cowan says

    the work of a fellow-townsman of mine

    The Mr. Jenkins is not unknown to me: my 2015 comment features not only the poem, but John Wells’s side-by-side broad IPA transcriptions of the English and the Welsh showing what the similarities and differences are in detail, and a cartoon by Llew Thomas suitable for remembering the somewhat oddball tropes of the English text.

    Cymru am bith!

    Ill Dragun Rhys dug’ ill modd!

    The spelling g’ represents the sound of Welsh or English j, but appears in native Brithenig words that have lost their final front vowels, in this case < duce(re). In other news, stress has remained final, u has remained completely back, vowel “length” (really quality, as in English) has become mostly aligned with stress, and all instances of y have moved forward to merge with i, allowing short a to become [ə] or perhaps [ɐ]. Thus [ɪɬdrəˈgunrʰisdudʒɪɬˈmoð]. See also my letter to Etienne and my conversation with Piotr.

    I must protest against the implication that Alice in Wonderland is at all nonsensical.

    Well, literary nonsense, as WP calls it, is no more nonsensical than literary absurdism is absurd. But the pun, or whatever you call it, is pleasing, I think. “A prety Epanorthosis […] and withal a Paranomasia.”

  20. John Cowan says

    The fantasy author Mickey Zucker Reichert approximates the trope: her parents were rocket scientists, and she has done brain surgery (in her other career as a pediatrician).

  21. John Cowan says

    I should add that if Tolkien could recite a verse in Quenya aloud at his valedictory address (he did not give an inaugural address, so made up for it at the end of his Oxford career) and label it as “nonsense”, he must have been using the word in a non-standard sense (though none the worse for that).

  22. Сашура says

    – alexithymia –
    Hang on, there is something wrong with the definition.
    How can you express in words something that you don’t recognise in yourself or in others?
    Am thymkin’

  23. Саш, try ’emotionless’.
    From the Wiki article:
    Alexithymia was coined by psychotherapists [Nemiah and Sifneos in 1973]. The word comes from Greek… literally meaning “no words for emotions”.
    …Nonmedical terms describing similar conditions include emotionless and impassive.

  24. It is hard for me to see how the writing of Terminator 2 could be considered better than the writing of The Terminator. The sequel is significantly better made in just about every possible dimension. Cameron’s craft (as well as his budget) has clearly improved. Terminator 2 has better cinematography, better acting, better special effects*, and better pacing; but what it does not have is a better story. Many of the beats are (intentionally) recycled from the first film, but it lacks The Terminator‘s tense, closed-loop story. There is no changing history in the first film, but the second one retcons that, and Cameron changes to a more supposedly “uplifting” message that there is “no fate.”

    * Some of the improved effects show Cameron’s capability and willingness to take full advantage of the contingent facts surrounding the film’s production situation. He wrote the script for Terminator 2 unaware that Linda Hamilton had an identical twin sister, but when he learned about her twin’s existence, he brought Leslie Hamilton in and used her to simplify a number of the trickier effects shots. Having the T-1000’s imitation of Sarah Conner played by a different actress than Sarah Conner herself, the film managed to give sense that the fake is somehow not quite right; the differences between the two characters are very difficult to identify, and yet they are ineffably present.

  25. Emotionless is not a synonym for alexithymia, though, since it doesn’t mean not having emotions.

  26. Right, it means the inability to recognize and express one’s emotions.

  27. Сашура says

    ~Terminator~ 3
    Watching Homeland, I kept saying to myself, Carrie, the mother of Terminator, Carrie, the mother
    I can’t help it

  28. Emotionless means not showing any emotion not not having any.

    So it’s right, I think.

  29. Сашура says

    Jezz, translated backwards, it is бесчувственный/ая/ое (lit. not feeling anything) which is not the same thing.
    However, if you don’t recognise yours or others’ emotions, what does it make you? Emotions less? Which does seem to make it synonyms?

  30. Emotionless means not showing any emotion not not having any.

    Really? To me it can mean either.

  31. OED: “Without emotion; devoid of feeling or passion.”

  32. 1997 S. Pinker How Mind Works (1998) vi. 372 Spock’s emotionlessness really just amounted to his being in control.

  33. Stu Clayton says

    the inability to recognize and express one’s emotions

    Whoa, those are a cart and a horse not connected to it. Plus an unfortunate ambiguity in “express”.

    It is not uncommon for people to express emotion without recognizing it as such, and thus not having words to describe the emotion. Example: getting on your high horse.

    There are supposedly people who experience no emotion, yet learn words to describe their lack of emotion, as well as the presence of emotion in others. I’ve heard this is true of some autistic people.

    I leave the other combinatorial possibilities as an exercise.

    Nobody has mentioned athymolexia yet. I guess this would mean dispassionate speech. But that’s not much to go on, since it fails to exclude facetiousness.

  34. But someone with alexithymia can show anger (for example), but they don’t recognize it adequately and they can’t describe that they are angry.

  35. Stu Clayton says

    That’s another example of my first combination.

  36. @John Cowan
    I wonder why a pediatrician (as opposed to a neurosurgeon) would ever do brain surgery.

    @Stu Clayton Yes, I wrote that before I read your comment.

  37. Stu Clayton says

    I’m glad to see you thought of the same thing independently ! Without my explicitly combinatorial approach – which I learned from Sam’l Beckett in Watt.

  38. Сашура says

    since I think I know one or two people with alexithymia, I was wondering what to call them?
    Alexithymics? Alexithymians?

  39. Alexithymics.

  40. 1978 Jrnl. Altered States Consciousness 4 136 This outcome suggests a lack of right hemisphere processing of painful stimuli may contribute to the alexithymic’s characteristic psychosomatic symptoms.
    1982 Newsweek (Nexis) 3 May 84 Alexithymics can’t express their innermost responses.
    2000 Law & Philos. 19 109 Alexithymics can’t use the richest strategy available for maximizing emotional reward, the cultivation of human relationships.
    2010 Psychiatry Res. 177 135 Results show that alexithymics over-evaluate intensity and pleasantness of odorants.

  41. Stu Clayton says

    Cultivation requires weeding and culling. I wonder what a moderate-income strategy might be.

  42. There is no moderate-income strategy for weeding. Thyme waits for no man.

    Right! A perfect equivalent of Саш, from what you’ve said about it.

  43. I wonder why a pediatrician (as opposed to a neurosurgeon) would ever do brain surgery.

    The references sources call Reichert a pediatrician, but it’s possible that she’s a pediatric surgeon, which is a thing. Pediatric surgery is a hybrid specialty, at least in the U.S.: both surgeons and pediatricians go into it. Her own bio also says “pediatrician”; it also gives her age as “the square root of 8649 minus the hypotenuse of an isosceles right triangle with a side length of 33.941126”. Assuming WP’s birth date is correct, “any calm person who is not blind or idiotic” can see that that page was written 12 years ago. (There is an error of 0.0000007089 years, however, or about 22 seconds. Good enough.)

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