Suggested readings, #67

Here it is, your weekly rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

How to keep good habits post-lockdown. You’ll technically have to ‘relearn’ to cook each meal, or to exercise regularly or to read a book a week. But there are some shortcuts. (New York Times)

Horror and comedy: screaming and laughing. Both horror and comedy provoke strong emotions, but these two seemingly disparate genres are more closely linked than you would think. (New Statesman)

Science, mind, and limits of understanding, by Noam Chomsky. [Thought provoking, well informed by history and philosophy of science.]

Why Covid-19 is turning us all into philosophers. If you haven’t yet spent a few moments this year staring out the window, chin in hand and ruminating on the meaning of life – or its absence – then the chances are it’s only a matter of time. (RNZ)

How far back in time could a Modern English speaker go and still communicate? The transition from Old English to Modern English was a process, not an event. (Medium)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

7 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #67”

  1. On story 1? Week three of vegetarianism starts today. Lots of salads, lots of fresh fruit, egg salad sandwiches, my homemade version of Tex-Mex restaurant green sauce, parrano, extra sharp cheddar and other cheeses on Triscuits, and the occasional less healthy ice cream or gelato.


    On the last piece? I have a copy of Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, ab originale. Couldn’t read it without an extensive set of lexicon notes. So, the author IMO is not exactly right. It’s not just speaking and spelling shifts. Many words that far back have radically shifted meaning today; others have gone out of usage.

    PLUS! Chaucer was just lucky enough to get to print. English regional dialects, or sublanguages, were widespread then.

    To reference your native Italian, how well can you read Dante? And, are there non-Tuscan stories from that era still around?

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    1. Dante is a good parallel, and yes, I can still read him without notes, though with difficulty. Then again, it’s poetry, not my favorite genre. There are other writings from the time (Boccaccio, Petrarch), definitely legible. But nothing before then.

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    2. A strange linguistic taste after reading this article I too had… Could not agree more with the first paragraph though (‘Changes in language don’t occur overnight.’) While recently rereading some short essays published by a famous turn of the 19th century Romanian playwright, I could not be more astonished at how contemporary his language sounds. Ever wonder what Mark Twain sounded today if he gave an interview or something? That’s how Ion Luca Caragiale, who died in 1912, sounds like today, give or take some minor but rich vocabulary changes. The syntax, grammar, not to mention the spirit, the satire are surprisingly and refreshingly familiar.
      I don’t know about the rest of the article in Human Parts. Give or take 3 or 4 generations back, the argument holds. But hundreds of years no way, the margins are flexible but not that flexible.

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  2. True that poetry is also less likely to shift rapidly. I have read bits of Beowulf and the Lord’s Prayer in English, but since I know German, that makes them easier to muddle through.

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  3. Even shifts in the meaning of individual words can have quite serious effects. James Hutton, writing in 1785, described the study of the history of the Earth as “amusing”. Different languages also clearly differ in their rates of change. Think how similar Dante is to present-day Italian (would be more correct to say present-day Tuscan?), compared with the huge difference between anything written in English in 1320, and English as it was even by Shakespeare’s time.

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