Winning ideas

Historians know the power of narratives. When it comes to the competition of ideas, the best story always wins. It’s always great for ideas to be backed by evidence, but that is not always required. A good story is simply good. Its exigencies lie elsewhere. Its requirements are seldom a function of evidence, data and... Continue Reading →

Words in high definition

A language's precision is never more than the extension of its users' commitment to accuracy. Words are as vague as human communication is and as sharp as human meaning can be. Human language is old, but language self-awareness is relatively recent. And once a word has been seen (rather than used), it cannot be unseen.... Continue Reading →

Frozen in time

A manuscript fragment from around 900 AD used as a binding for another book, University of Kansas, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, MS 9/2:31 A medieval manuscript that time forgot, lost on a faraway shelf. A codex away from literate eyes. Parchment turned into purse lining. Leaves tucked into more desirable bindings that nobody suspects. Fragments... Continue Reading →

Long vehicles

Longer words are not necessarily more effective, or more capacious, or more desirable. At the scale of human language, they are a finetuned adaptive vehicle. They sacrifice energy-, space- and time-efficiency for the sake of meaning. A long word exists because there is no other way. Like the exact distance between the Earth and the... Continue Reading →

Protean qualities

The pen writes about tranformations, but never about those of the pen itself. In nova fert animus, mutatas dicere formas, my spirit compels me to tell of forms changed into new bodies, sings the Roman poet Ovid in the opening of his hugely influential Metamorphoses. Tranformations of the human and divine body. But where are... Continue Reading →

The mutinous nib

All writing is creative if we know how to look. All writing is painful, if we know how to feel. But the reader always suffers more. Always endures more, the agony of putting up not only with what’s on the page, but with what the writer decided to leave out. It’s a gentle pain that... Continue Reading →

The anxiety of transmission

One of the foundational myths of our culture is that everyone of us is a new beginning. That we suffice to ourselves and to others. That we are in control, like the author on her page. That transmission is an act of grace, something we do for others, something we offer with passion and creativity.... Continue Reading →

Between a rock and a hard word

Languages were born naturally, spontaneously, but they evolve both naturally and artificially. They are a bit like agriculture, organic produce and gene-edited crops. Rewind to ancient Rome. Latin evolved naturally out of Proto-Italic, now extinct, which in turn descended from Proto-Indo-European, also extinct, and completely artificially reconstructed. With the disruptions leading to the fall of... Continue Reading →

The last word

A leaf from a 12th-century manuscript featuring a decorated explicit indicating the end of a theological text, Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. A 92.28 Medieval authors and scribes loved code. Not only did they write in Latin, which was the closest the Middle Ages came to coding, given the artificial character of the language and the even... Continue Reading →

Outrageous creatures

Marginal and yet central creatures in the Rutland Psalter, c. 1260 (British Library, Add MS 62925) Hybrid modes of working. Hybrid vehicles. We call anything which brings together features belonging to two of its members hybrid. It’s a compromise, a way out, a new form, a success. What is neither A nor B, but both.... Continue Reading →

Blog at

Up ↑