Monday, May 8, 2017

Nay to Née

Né? Not for me!
I tend to be fairly conservative in language, preferring the tried-and-true to the innovative, but there is one point where I have to draw the line. There may have been an era in which the use of the French word née didn’t come off as affected or pretentious. We are no longer in that era.

Worse yet, the only times I ever see it, it’s been misused. There are multiple forms. In French there are times in which you would write not only and née, but also •nés* and nées. It’s just the French word for “born” (that is, the past participle of the verb naître). As a convention in English, it’s acquired the meaning of “born under the name of,” and it’s typically used to indicate that some man is performing under a name other than that with which he was born.



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Friday, April 14, 2017

Zamenhof Died. Esperanto Still Lives

The Zamenhofs in Antwerp, 1911
We live in an age where when even the deaths of minor newsmakers and celebrities are reported globally almost instantly. When Ludovik Zamenhof died on April 14, 1917, this global communications network still in its infancy, but many American papers did report on Zamenhof’s death just two days after, which is (by the standards of the day) reasonably fast. They might not have heard about it until the Sunday, April 15, 1917 newspapers were set in type.

It actually says something that Zamenhof’s death in Warsaw hit the American papers so quickly. After all, Europe was at war. The front page of the April 16 New York Tribune (they fit the Zamenhof obituary on page 7) all about war: “President Calls Nation to War Duties,” “Treasury Asks for $1,807,250,000 in Special War Taxes,”[1] and “Socialists’ Peace Plan Called German Ruse.”

The reports given in various newspapers (New York Tribune, Washington Times, Washington Evening Star, The Tacoma Times) overlap in their text, so the whole thing was probably taken from the wire services. This is the article as it appeared in the Tribune:

Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof 
Author of Esperanto Dies in Warsaw at Fifty-eight
Amsterdam, April 16.—Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof, author of Esperanto, died yesterday at Warsaw, according to advices received here.

Dr. Zamenhof was born at Bielostok in 1859 and published his first book on the new language called Esperanto in 1887. Dr. Zamenhof chose the roots of Esperanto from existing languages, mainly European. There are 2,642 roots in his dictionary. The phonology of his language is said to be very simple. The grammar, like Volapuk, wich it succeeded as an international auxiliary languge is partially borrowed from existing languages.

The last ten years of Zamenhof’s life must have been difficult (even apart from health issues). He had seen the movement split with the Ido schism, a breakaway which saw more favor among prominent Esperantists than the rank and file, so Zamenhof saw old friends and allies break with him. He had seen the 1914 Universala Kongreso abruptly cancelled due to the beginning of World War I, and though the armistice would happen later in 1917, he wouldn’t be around to see it.

It was a low point for Esperanto.

The succeeding century saw mixed fortunes for Esperanto. French opposition to Esperanto in the 1920s was nothing to German persecution of Esperanto in the 1930s and 40s. Let’s be blunt: the French just blocked the use of Esperanto in diplomacy and education; they didn’t murder Zamenhof’s family. And yet despite attempts to stamp out Zamenhof’s dream, it persists after his death.

The 1915 UK was a hastily thrown-together affair, moved from the initial choice of Birmingham to San Francisco in the still-neutral United States. Only 163 people marked the tenth anniversary of the first UK. A century after that, in 2015, 2,698 Esperanto speakers participated in the 100th UK in Lille, France.[2]

Things have changed recently.

Join the club, it's easy and fun!
In May 2015, Duolingo released Esperanto lessons. As of today, 810,000 have signed up to take these lessons. Esperanto for Spanish came after that and has 94,800 studying it (and I hear that Esperanto for Portuguese speakers is coming next). It looks like Esperanto might be in a bit of a resurgence.

Ludovik Zamenhof died a century ago, but his dream lives on. A century after his death, people are learning and speaking the language that he published 130 years ago this year. Let us raise a toast to the memory of Ludovik Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto:

Zamenhof mortis, sed sia revo ankaŭ vivas!



  1. Can you imagine a newspaper today being so specific in a headline? Now it’d be $1.8 Million.  ↩

  2. Not the record. That would be Warsaw in 1987, the 72nd, and the centennial of Esperanto.  ↩

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