The Roman Gestures Of The Clenched Thumb, And The Turned Down Thumb

The meaning of hand gestures may vary widely from culture to culture.  In the modern West, approval is popularly expressed by the “thumbs up” sign, and disapproval by the downward turn of the thumb.  These hand gestures even seem to be universal, at least in the modern era.  But perhaps it was not always so.  The humanist Angelo Poliziano’s Miscellanies contains a passage in chapter 42 of his book that raises some doubts, at least to my mind.  Philology may shed some light on the subject.

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Camels, Eyes Of Needles, And An Old Proverb

Readers are likely to have heard, in one form or another, the New Testament proverb, “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).  The saying is an old one, and probably was in common currency centuries before its alleged utterance by Jesus.  I find proverbs and adages interesting, as they contain not just worldly wisdom, but information about the culture and period in which they were composed.  This point was recently impressed upon me while reading a forgotten bit of nineteenth-century travel literature, the Rev. F.J. Arundell’s 1834 memoir Discoveries in Asia Minor.

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Friedrich Schlegel, The Sanskrit Language, And The Beginnings Of Comparative Philology

The great antiquity and depth of Indian civilization had been known to Europe and the Middle East for many centuries; yet the precise contours of Indian advances in mathematics, literature, and philosophy were hidden behind the veils of preconception and confusion.  We know that the caliph Harun Al-Rashid, in Baghdad in the 9th century A.D., commissioned translations of some prominent works of Indian literature, but such knowledge remained in the hands of scholars and was not widely diffused.  Things began to change gradually with the advancement in geographic, scientific, and commercial knowledge in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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Georg Wilhelm Freytag’s Latin Compendium Of Arabic Proverbs

About a year ago one of the readers here at Fortress of the Mind informed me of a work of scholarship that he thought might be of interest.  The work was Georg Wilhelm Freytag’s monumental Latin treatise Arabum Proverbia (literally Proverbs of the Arabs, but better rendered as Arabic Proverbs), a three-volume collection of classical Arabic proverbs drawn from the Compendium of Proverbs (مجمع الامثال) of the medieval philologist Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Al-Maydani (احمد ابن محمد الميداني).  I was able to locate this impressive yet forgotten work, and have found much pleasure in poring over its pages.

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How To Sight-Read A Foreign Language With Speed And Efficiency

One of the skills needed to acquire reading proficiency in a foreign language is “sight-reading.”  This is the act of reading a text quickly for information and comprehension.  I have found from experience that there are effective and ineffective ways of approaching this skill, and that some discussion of these points may prove to be useful.

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O Arquiteto Da Imaginação (Translation By Daniel Castro)

[The following is a Portuguese translation of my recent article The Architect of the Imagination, which was published here on July 1, 2018.  Mr. Daniel Castro, the translator, has done great work in capturing the spirit of the original, and for that I am grateful.  He can be found at his website, Nuvem de Giz.]

O homem foi feito para a ação. Mesmo que ele não saiba disso– especialmente se ele não souber disso– seu ser físico se revolta com longos períodos de inércia indolente, e anseia pela liberação física da disputa violenta. Isto é parte do seu sangue-espírito, seu Ser interior irreconciliável. Ele pode tentar negar isto, e ele pode tentar evitar as consequências desta realidade; mas no final esta simples verdade retorna para encará-lo. Mesmo o bicho preguiça corpulento irá se acender como uma bola de pinball quando levado a discutir tópicos de intenso interesse dele; ele irá pular de sua cadeira, gesticular selvagemente, e segurar firme naquele tópico para o qual todas suas energias são dirigidas…

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The Painted Books Of The Maya: Surviving By A Hair

Sometimes the precious things of this world survive by just a hair.  Just a hair.  The difference between victory and defeat, between survival and ruin, between conquest and destruction, between glory and despair:  these are not differences of tremendous magnitude.  They are fine-line distinctions.  And when I say fine-line, I mean very fine.  Fortune loves to play games with us, and when she casts her dice to predict our fate, the outcome often hangs by a hair.  By such threads does the fate of man so perilously hang.

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To Comprehend, You Must Have The Desire To Comprehend

If you want to understand someone, you must have the desire to hear that person.  You must have the willingness to open up your mind,  to open up your heart, and be prepared to receive the communication that he or she is sending out.  If this open-mindedness is not there, you will not hear the other person, even if he happens to speak your language.  You will close your mind, and no words uttered by the other party will make any difference.

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Forensic Linguistics: The Footprint Of Language

There is a very good miniseries playing on Netflix right now called Manhunt:  Unabomber.  It is a drama about the pursuit and capture of Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber” who confounded law enforcement for decades until he was finally captured in 1996.  His case had been the longest and costliest in American law enforcement history.  The drama closely tracks real events; the producers of the series (which stars Sam Worthington) made a conscious effort to reproduce the facts of the case with fidelity.

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