But only time (and space) to pose a few of the queries that have recently foxed me in the hope that somewhere out there in cyberspace (so wrong, a Greek steersman starts with a kappa – see below) a reader may be able to offer the gift of enlightenment.
Last week, I suffered from a cold sore in an inconvenient, and unusual, location. It was still on my face, but had migrated away from my lips (which usually play host to the herpes simplex virus) and was heading for my right eye. Is this migration one of the mysterious seven signs of ageing which Oil of Olay (née Ulay) have been banging on about all these years?
Anyway, the new location of the viral eruption made shaving seem rather a risky option – with either a prolonging of the attack and/or copious bleeding seeming to be likely consequences. So, as I had no formal events planned, I allowed my beard to grow for a good week. I am not a great fan of the beard – it tends to itch after a while and now has rather more in common with Santa Claus than I would like – and so was rather pleased when I could finally banish it. I feel that its removal took years off me – and this led me to wonder if there is any point in a chap’s life when the addition of a beard will make him seem younger? Or are they always ageing?
My studies have now moved on to Plato – and in particular his work known as The Laches. In addition to Socrates (who I’ve realised was an extremely irritating cove), this involves two Protagonists: Laches and Nicias who were both Athenian generals from the Peloponnesian wars, though I don’t think my earlier reading of Thucydides is going to help with my next assignment (and why does WordPress have the author in its dictionary, but not the key adjective from his masterwork?). The generals’ names are pronounced as Lay-keys and Nick-e-ass, so why have the Greek middle consonants been transliterated to produce a soft consonant in normal English speech (and any Romance language for that matter)? You might think it is to avoid confusion between transliteration of chi and kappa but no, as Nicias is spelt with a kappa and Laches with a chi. It can only have been done through incompetence or to (successfully) confuse later scholars.
When transliterating from Chinese to English there seems even less excuse for such behaviour as there is no original alphabet to preserve. If the Chinese phoneme exists in English, it should be perfectly possible to reproduce it so that the transliterated word can be pronounced phonetically. So why is Feng Shui – a concept debased in translation to re-arranging your home furnishings – pronounced fung shway? What are we gaining from using the current, totally mis-leading spelling?
Who is in charge of transliteration anyway? I feel they may have been subject to insufficient oversight – not that I’m volunteering to take-over, you understand, I’d just like to see greater consistency.
My final query comes from my travel over the recent holiday weekend. The Highways Agency often seems to ensure that roadworks are tidied away over holiday periods: I presume to reduce travel delays. Network Rail takes precisely the opposite position and schedules its engineering works explicitly to occur during holiday periods: to maximise delays? How can it make sense for such diametrically opposed positions to be taken for the roads and rails? Only one position can be correct, but which is better? As Harry Hill used to say, the only way to find out is: FIGHT!