Two Stupidities.

1) We discussed this issue back in 2018 (Janet Freeman: “In my editing experience, when you have two ‘the’s’ competing for the same space — ‘in the The New Yorker’ — style often calls for keeping the generic one and dropping the one in the title”; Articles and articles: “In cases when the name is used as an adjective, though, no cap: ‘the Times reporter So-and-So’”), but it still annoys me greatly, and the Times appears to be violating its own guidelines (if Articles and articles is correct), so I’m going to complain about it again: the Crime & Mystery column in this week’s NYT Book Review (or, to give the name in its full glory, The New York Times Book Review), we find “I felt like The New York Times reporter who shows up to interview Kick late in the novel.” There is no excuse for that capitalized The; here, the article is modifying “reporter.” If you insist on your stupid The, what you have to do is change the structure: “I felt like the reporter from The New York Times who shows up to interview Kick late in the novel.” Ah has spoken!

2) I have discovered that there is a Sartre short story called in English “Erostratus.” The description in Wikipedia begins: “A story about a misanthropic man who resolves to follow the path of Herostratus and make history by means of an evil deed—in this case, by killing six random people (one for each bullet in his revolver).” (As a side note, I find that kind of “existentialist” story idea supremely silly.) But if he’s following the path of Herostratus, why is he called Erostratus? Presumably because the French original is “Érostrate,” but that’s an artifact of the inconsistent French attitude towards rough breathings:

Érostrate ou Hérostrate (en grec ancien Ἡρόστρατος / Hêróstratos qui signifie littéralement Armée d’Héraᵃ) est l’incendiaire du temple d’Artémis à Éphèse, considéré par beaucoup comme l’une des Sept merveilles du monde du monde antique.
ᵃLe nom propre s’écrivant en grec avec un êta initial aspiré, il peut aussi être transcrit en français Hèrostratos comme l’écrit A. Bailly, ou Hèrostrate.

There is no such inconsistency in English; rough breathings are always rendered with h-, and the story has to be either “Érostrate” (if you choose to keep the fancy French form) or Herostratus, the only acceptable English equivalent. Shame on whichever translator made that indefensible decision!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, there’s always “Eureka!”

    (But then Harchimedes was from Syracuse, so I expect he talked funny anyway.)

  2. Very slightly relevant: when I get an email telling me it’s time to pay what I owe on my Home Depot credit card, it says “Your The Home Depot credit card payment is due soon.”

    I don’t imagine copy editors at the Home Depot put as much thought into their work as the ones at the The New Yorker.

  3. I’m going to be contrary and argue, with tongue partly but not entirely in cheek, that Sartre and the translator were the only ones who got it right. Since rough and smooth breathings are Byzantine inventions, they’re irrelevant here; we’re talking about a Greek of the 4th century B.C., who certainly spelled his name with an initial eta and no mediaeval diacritics. The only question is whether he pronounced that eta with an aspirate or not. I am not an expert on Greek dialects, and I will gladly yield to those who are, but when I was a student I was told that the process of psilosis (loss of the initial aspirate) was one of the characteristic features of Ionian Greek, the dialect spoken in the eastern Aegean islands and on the coast of Asia Minor, including, of course, Ephesos. So if the arsonist was a local miscreant, he presumably pronounced his name Erostratos, not Herostratos, regardless of the traditional spelling in our mediaeval manuscripts, which were presumably influenced by the etymology and the preservation of such aspirates in other dialects.

    (Of course, if he was a tourist from the Greek mainland, rather than an Ephesian, none of this will apply. But I don’t think we know any more about him than his name, do we?)

  4. Michael Hendry says

    I read ‘Erostratus’ in the New Directions collection The Wall (Intimacy) and Other Stories ~50 years ago in college. All I remember is the general idea, plus one detail, that Herostratus is remembered as he wished to be, but “the name of the man who built the temple”? The work-colleague who tells the anti-hero about Herostratus says “I don’t remember. . . . I don’t believe anybody knows his name.” (I just confirmed this in the New Directions paperback edition, translated by Lloyd Alexander, the very copy I read then and haven’t opened since.)

    Now, with Wikipedia (see under ‘Temple of Artemis’), it’s easy to find out whether that’s true, and not surprising to learn that it’s not. We know that the temple was funded by Croesus of Lydia, and designed by the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes. Whether Sartre knew this, and whether he cared, may be interesting questions to some, but I personally don’t care.

    By the way, it was right around the time I read ‘Erostratus’ that I first suspected the name of New Directions Press contained a pun. Given their fondness for publishing the likes of Henry Miller, I think they probably meant it to be read also as ‘Nude Erections Press’. And just now, this very minute, ~50 years later, it occurs to me to wonder whether ‘Press’ is also a pun, to be taken as a verb so as to make the phrase a complete sentence.

  5. Nude erections don’t press. They twitch and throb en plein air. Panted erections press.

    Anyone fond of publishing Henry Miller should know that, if only from reading his effusions.

  6. A certain club in San Francisco is always called “the El Rio”. There’s no good solution there.

  7. I’m going to be contrary and argue, with tongue partly but not entirely in cheek, that Sartre and the translator were the only ones who got it right.

    I don’t think so. Even under your assumptions, it doesn’t make sense to use a Latinized form of a standard Greek name but with a missing H- because of Ionian psilosis. We don’t talk about Omer, after all, unless we’re Kipling. Again I maintain it has to be Érostrate or Herostratus.

  8. Michael Hendry says

    Anyone who finds this interesting should also like the case of Sappho’s name. Everyone calls her that in Greek, Latin, and English, except . . . herself. She names herself in the Hymn to Aphrodite that was put first in her collected works, and in a few other fragments. And she calls herself Psappho (Ψάπφω) with a Psi, not Sappho (Σαπφώ) with a Sigma. (Note also the recessive Lesbian accent.) Or rather, to be quite clear, she has Aphrodite address her in the poem as Ψάπφʼ (Psapph’) with the second syllable elided before a vowel. Since it’s vocative for direct-address, the unelided form would in fact be Ψάπφοι (Psapphoi), as it is in a couple of other poems.

    I have asked classicists why we don’t call her Psappho in English and file her under P rather than S, and none has ever had a better reason than ‘it’s traditional’. Most of them (us) now call Maro ‘Vergil’ rather than the traditional ‘Virgil’, but few, if any, other than myself, will use ‘Psappho’. I like to think I’m just ahead of my time, and everyone will be saying ‘Psappho’ in another 50, 100, at most 150 years, while taking great care not to credit me.

  9. You’re right, of course, and I’ve wondered about that myself on occasion.

  10. I figured if any source discussed it, it would be German Wikipedia, and I wasn’t wrong (not that the discussion helps much).

  11. Michael Hendry says

    Maybe it does help. If Psi and Sigma are attempts to represent a sibilant not found in Greek, maybe we should call her Shappho?
    Hmmm. The letter Psi with it’s trident-like triple set of prongs is rather like the Hebrew Sin/Shin, which is roughly the same shape with the handle removed. Depending on where you put the dot, that can be a SH sound. Was the Psi in Psappho originally a Shin? Or was Psi selected as a Greek letter that is not Sigma, but does contain a sibilant (though the P is a distraction), and looks a lot like a Shin? Should I write this up for a journal?!? Probably not.

  12. January First-of-May says

    In Russian, Hera and her theophoric names end up with initial Г: Гера, Герострат, Геродот, Геракл, Гераклит, and so on.

    Presumably this implies a transmission through English or (more likely) German, as opposed to French or (modern or medieval) Greek, where the initial breathings would have been spelled out but not pronounced.
    I guess Latin is an option but at this point the question becomes which pronunciation of Latin…

    (Cf. the personal name Ираклий “Heraclius”, borrowed from medieval Greek with the corresponding pronunciation.)

    a sibilant not found in Greek

    …is there an Anatolian etymology for her name? I don’t know anything about the research into this so for all I know it’s been actively studied, but I don’t think I’ve heard about anything like that before. Then again I don’t think I’ve heard of the “Psappho” form before either.

    (Of course AFAIK we have no idea what the pre-Greek language of Lesbos was like, if any, and it doesn’t necessarily have to have been Anatolian.)

  13. David Marjanović says

    If you insist on your stupid The

    I blame the “corporate identity” people who must’ve put “The” into the names of so many institutions in the US, e.g. The University of Iowa.

    (Narcissism can be done without protesting too much. Consider the Natural History Museum, which is the big natural-history museum in London, formerly called British Museum (Natural History).)

    Well, there’s always “Eureka!”

    Yeah, that’s odd. I’m used to Heureka! from German… with [ɔɪ̯] as in “hay”.

    (But then Harchimedes was from Syracuse, so I expect he talked funny anyway.)

    Hm. Were there any psilotic Dorians back then?

    “the El Rio”

    the La Brea tar pits

    Spanish itself did it for centuries: el alcalde and dozens more.

    Maybe it does help. If Psi and Sigma are attempts to represent a sibilant not found in Greek, maybe we should call her Shappho?

    A sigma is a shin on its side. We should be looking for a [ts], known to exist in Luwian and sometimes suspected to exist in Etruscan (if nothing else, Lemnos is close).

  14. “Your The Home Depot credit card payment is due soon.”
    This was probably thought over very carefully, but by a lawyer.

  15. El Rio should change its name to “El Alcalde”.

  16. January First-of-May says

    I don’t know anything about the research into this so for all I know it’s been actively studied

    Googling for “Psappho” brought me to an extensive discussion on Latin.SE [Latin.SE also covers Greek, apparently because there’s nothing else on SE that does] that mentions that 1) there’s a line in Alcaeus where the initial cannot be a cluster for metrical reasons, and 2) all manuscripts of that line apparently spell it “Ssappho” [apparently an alternate reading is that the extra S belongs to the preceding adjective, but supposedly it makes little sense there either], and links to several previous studies of the name in that light (including Zuntz 1951, quoted below).

    TL/DR of the discussion: 1) her name was most likely Shappho, and 2) she probably spelled it with a sampi, which later copyists took for a psi.
    Note that AFAICT the argument does not necessarily exclude a ts- initial, and that the specific psi-shaped form of the sampi is from Pamphylia, while areas closer to Lesbos use a more T-shaped form (in Unicode as Ͳ) that would hardly be taken for a psi. Also AFAIK Hittite š is now thought to be /s/, though I’m not sure what it became in other Anatolian languages.

    “No archaic inscriptions from Lesbos are as yet known”, writes Zuntz in 1951; is that still true?
    (Zuntz decides that the initial sibilant was [i.e. /sˤ/ or perhaps /t͡s/], and ignores the distribution of the sampi, which was apparently less well attested by 1951. Both Zuntz and the discussion suggest that the psi-shaped sign might have been a variant of 𐤑 tsade.)

  17. @David Marjanović: While the pleopleonastic “the La Brea tar pits” is the usual name for that place, the actual site uses doesn’t use it. They refer to themselves as by the all-Spanish moniker “Rancho La Brea.”

  18. David Marjanović says

    Pamphylian Greek with its spoken and written peculiarities.

  19. Roberto Batisti says

    The idea that Sappho’s name was ever spelt with sampi has been debunked by Shane Hawkins, whose Studies in the Language of Hipponax (2013) contain probably the most extensive treatment of sampi to date.

    I’m not sure I get “Harchimedes” — the name has no etymological aspirate. Is an aspirated spelling actually attested anywhere?

  20. From that Stack Exchange answer:

    And where did this non-Greek sibilant in Sappho’s name come from? Some scholars have proposed a Luwian cognate to Hittite šuppi- “ritually pure”, while Brown goes farther back, connecting it to Hattian (pre-Hittite) šḫap- “god”, as a shortened form of the Hittite name Šapalli “numinous”.

    I’m not sure I get “Harchimedes” — the name has no etymological aspirate. Is an aspirated spelling actually attested anywhere?

    It’s a (Cockney-based) joke.

  21. David Marjanović says

    Fun with the letter San.

    And where did this non-Greek sibilant in Sappho’s name come from? Some scholars have proposed a Luwian cognate to Hittite šuppi- “ritually pure”, while Brown goes farther back, connecting it to Hattian (pre-Hittite) šḫap- “god”, as a shortened form of the Hittite name Šapalli “numinous”.

    Very unconvincing, because it doesn’t even try to explain the aspiration. Given that it was the only sibilant fricative in the language, the Hittite š – so transcribed for ultimately Hebrew reasons – was probably exactly the same thing as a Greek sigma, and the same ought to hold for the rest of Anatolian plus Hattic.

  22. Contra hat’s claim that “Herostratus” is “the only acceptable English equivalent,” the google books corpus reveals “Herostratos” to be a respectable minority variant. Rejecting the standard convention of treating all such Greek proper names in English as Latinized (with -ος rendered as -us) may be vaguely eccentric or pretentious, but I don’t think it can be, in these latter days, called unacceptable.

  23. Quite right, quite right — in my indignation over the missing H-, I forgot about the perfectly valid -os alternative. Ψόγον έχω.

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    They are what the more traditional among us call Grotesque forms.

  25. the name has no etymological aspirate

    I think the point is that if you are a natural psilotic and you aren’t taking a sufficient dose of anti-psilotic drugs, you hypercorrect:

    The Inspector opened his notebook.

    “Your name is Halcock, is’t no?” he began.

    The butler corrected him.

    “H’alcock,” he said, reprovingly.

    “H, a, double-l?” suggested the Inspector.

    “There is no h’aitch in the name, young man. H’ay is the first letter, and there is h’only one h’ell.”

    “I beg your pardon,” said the Inspector.

    “Granted,” said Mr. Alcock.

  26. Rupert Psmith and Sappho Shtoltz aside, what lately about the “London collector” and editor Dirk Obbink?

  27. David Marjanović says

    Since his arrest in 2020 on suspicion of papyrus theft?

  28. Ιωάννογλου says

    Some scholars have proposed a Luwian cognate to Hittite šuppi- “ritually pure”, while Brown goes farther back, connecting it to Hattian (pre-Hittite) šḫap- “god”, as a shortened form of the Hittite name Šapalli “numinous”.

    When we consider the well-known traditions concerning Sappho’s sexuality and the expressions of same-sex desire in her verse, the name Ψαπφώ instantly reveals itself as an Indo-European *ps-n̥-bʰoi̯h₂- or *ps-n̥-bʰoi̯h₂-o- “whose cause of fear is the penis” or “fearing the penis”, remade into an oi-stem, the type so common in hypocoristic female names, words for women’s occupations, words for women with a colloquial flavour: δαλλώ ‘crippled woman, woman too old to carry out work (vel sim.)’; cf. δᾱλός ‘burning log, burnt-out torch, old man’; Μορφώ, a name of Aphrodite (‘the Shapely’), from μορφή ‘shape’; etc. The first member *ps-n̥- is the double zero-grade of the stem seen in Latin pēnis (< *pes-n-i-) and in Hittite pišna-, pišena- ‘man’ (< ‘having a penis’, *p(e)s-en-). The second member would be (a derivative of) the root bhei̯h₂- ‘in Furcht geraten’. The geminate -πφ- is doubtless expressive in origin, as is common in hypocoristics.

    Or perhaps Ψαπφώ was an oi-stem hypocoristic formed from a lost compound in -φοβος: a *ψαφόβος ‘fleeing the penis, phallophobe’ (a virtual *ps-n̥-bʰogʷ-o-), of the type αἱμοφόβος ‘afraid of blood’.

    In light of this unexpected linguistic evidence confirming Sappho’s homosexuality, we should be skeptical of this biographical entry in the Suda, which obliviously reports that Sappho married a certain Kerkylas of the island of Andros:

    ἐγαμήθη δὲ ἀνδρὶ Κερκύλᾳ πλουσιωτάτῳ, ὁρμωμένῳ ἀπὸ  ̓́Ανδρου

    Puerile minds have translated this as follows:

    She was married to a very wealthy man, Dick Allcock, who came out of the Isle of Man

    (Cf. κέρκος ‘tail, penis’; Ἄνδρος, the isle of Andros (cf. ἀνήρ ‘man’, genitive ἀνδρός).)

  29. PlasticPaddy says

    This is quite ingenious, but is it a joke? Are there other sexual epithets replacing (e.g., poets’ but perhaps also royalty or ordinary citizens’) names? Do you think some characters in the plays of Aristophanes have names based on epithets applied to real (probably unfortunate) individuals?

  30. Anton Bierl, the editor/translator of the latest bilingual Greek/German edition of Sappho (published by Reclam), writes that the name was standardised in Hellentistic times and that “[d]as Lallwort meint in der Babysprache liebkosend vielleicht ‘Schwester’ (Nagy)”. I find it hard to believe that a “Lallwort” should start with /ps/. Perhaps Nagy has more convincing arguments? So much commentary on Sappho seems to be speculation presented as fact (at one point Bierl gives a confident reconstruction of a poem from a rather banal fragment of two words.

    As for the stupidity of existentialism, I was reminded of this: “I do not wish to deny a certain measure of originality to this existentialist variant of Schopenhauer’s philosophy: its originality is proved by the fact that Schopenhauer could never have thought so poorly of his powers of self-entertainment (K. R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, p. 194).

  31. David Eddyshaw says


    is it a joke?

    I think the name Ιωάννογλου “Johnson” is a bit of a giveaway …

    the stupidity of existentialism

    I’m only surprised Popper didn’t publish this as his followup to The Poverty of Historicism.
    I suspect Popper was not altogether the right person to appreciate Existentialism.

  32. its originality is proved by the fact that Schopenhauer could never have thought so poorly of his powers of self-entertainment

    It’s a pity that so many people seem unable to read philosophy for the laffs. Of course there are plenty of lightbulb moments to be had, but they’re always grounded in common sense: “Q: How many Psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? A: Only one, but the bulb has got to really WANT to change.”

  33. is it a joke?

    It is by one regular commenter’s evil twin.

  34. Is it a joke?

    Jamais deux sans trois.

    All joking aside… Shane Hawkins (2013), linked to above in the comment by R. Bastisti, has a convenient summary of some previously proposed etymologies of Ψαπφώ in footnote 60 on p. 13, and he adds some interesting suggestions of his own:

    Previous explanations of the name include Baunack and Baunack 1886:56, who took it from a hypothetical *Ψαλλεφιλα ‘lover of the harp’, a derivation Zuntz calls, correctly I think, “at best a curiosity”; Prellwitz 1887:441 connected it to the name of an Attic deme, Ψαφις. Fick 1899:115 agreed with this and as support cited the name of the Arcadian town Ψωφις. However, neither of these words has a clear explanation and they by no means provide any real explanation for the name Sappho. Solmsen 1901:502 and still in 1922:131 took the name as a form of ψαφαρός, which normally indicates a friable or crumbling substance like sand (see LSJ⁹, s.v.). He imagined that Sappho was named for her dry, brittle skin or hair (“trockene, spröde Haut oder Haare”). More recently E. Brown 1991 put forward the idea that the name relates to the Hittite name Šapalli-, which in turn he thinks may be of Hattian origin (he compares the variously transliterated Hatt. (a)šḫap, šḫab, and šḫav- ‘god’). I find none of these options particularly convincing and briefly mention two ideas. The name may have something to do with the Hesychian gloss ψάφα˙ κνέφαςpsapha: darkness’. This would accord with the testimonium POxy 1800 fr. 1 (see also Max. Tyr. 18.7, schol. Luc. Imag. 18, Ov. Her. 15.31-6), which records that the poetess was ὄψιν φαιώδης ‘dark in complexion’. On the other hand, a recently published undated inscription from Assos, located on the coast of the Troad across from Lesbos, contains the name Δικαπφώ. This leads one to think that the name Σαπφώ may have been a hypocoristic, perhaps from mis- or re-analysis of a compound name.

    Also, in regard to the following comment on Stack Exchange:

    First and foremost, Ψαπφω is wrong, insofar as ψ indicates the sound /ps/ in Attic Greek. Hephaestion’s Handbook on Meters14.4 has the following example of the twelve-syllable Alcaic line (taken from Loeb 142 p404):

    ἰόπλοκ᾿ ἄγνα μελλιχόμειδε Σάπφοι
    ióplok’ ágna mellichómeide Sápphoi
    “violet-haired, holy, sweetly-smiling Sappho”

    The syllable right before Sappho’s name here has to be short, and if it were followed by a /ps/ sound, it would have become long “by position”.

    As Hawkins notes on page 13, Gauthier Liberman handily disposed of this metrical objection to Ψαπφω with a simple and convincing emendation: μελλιχόμειδε Σάπφοι “gently-smiling Sappho” to μελλιχόμειδες Ἄφροι “gently-smiling Aphro” (that is, Aphrodite; vocative sg. of what would be an Aeolic *μελλιχομείδης).

  35. Michael Hendry says

    Jokes in Philosophy? Easy to accept. What about Theology?

    A college friend, now a priest, says there is at least one joke, maybe two, in Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. The certain one has to do with the Argument from Authority or ipse dixit: this is true because my teacher or the author of this excellent book said so.

    Thomas writes “The Argument from Authority is the weakest argument, as Boethius says”, and then gives the exact citation, so you can check his authoritative source. Sorry, I can’t give you even an approximate citation for the Summa passage, or the Boethius. That just shows how well I have understood and internalized Thomas’ meaning.

  36. David Eddyshaw says

    I am here to help (and the joke has simply gone over my head, on account of my being a Calvinist; we famously eschew humour on religious grounds, believing that it is suitable only for Roman Catholics, and possibly Lutherans.)

    It’s from the Summa Theologica, I, 1, 8:

    Praeterea, si sit argumentativa, aut argumentatur ex auctoritate, aut ex ratione. Si ex auctoritate, non videtur hoc congruere eius dignitati, nam locus ab auctoritate est infirmissimus, secundum Boetium. Si etiam ex ratione, hoc non congruit eius fini, quia secundum Gregorium in homilia, fides non habet meritum, ubi humana ratio praebet experimentum. Ergo sacra doctrina non est argumentativa.

    “Further, if it is a matter of argument, the argument is either from authority or from reason. If it is from authority, it seems unbefitting its dignity, for the proof from authority is the weakest form of proof. But if it is from reason, this is unbefitting its end, because, according to Gregory (Hom. 26), “faith has no merit in those things of which human reason brings its own experience.” Therefore sacred doctrine is not a matter of argument.”

    In fact, T (pointedly?) doesn’t give an exact citation for the Boethius …
    (And the English version which I link to below omits the poor chap altogether, for some reason.)

    [T is actually setting this up as an “objection”, in his usual dialectic fashion; he doesn’t in fact hold this view himself. He goes on to say that although reason can’t help you arrive at your first principles, and that it is logically impossible to convince someone that your position is valid if they don’t accept any of your premises, nevertheless reason may be of value in demonstrating to someone who accepts some of your premises that others may follow from them, or at least not be inconsistent with them; and that it may be of some help in answering certain objections to faith.]

  37. Perhaps Nagy has more convincing arguments?

    The recent LH post on textual emendation (“Repertory of Conjectures”, 5 Oct. 2022) reminded me of this thread.

    Nagy’s 2016 paper, “A Poetics of Sisterly Affect in the Brothers Song and in Other Songs of Sappho”, is available in open access here. The discussion of the name of Sappho begins on page 489.

  38. Thanks, that’s an extremely interesting analysis (and pretty convincing, at least to me).

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