Short story prompt for Lojban enthusiasts: la cizra mensi

Short story prompt: la cizra mensi

The hero of your short story has found a way to summon the Weird Sisters of Macbeth fame to inquire after the future. Worried that the witches will try to trick your hero by giving a prophesy that can be favourably and plausibly read one way, but that also has an alternate, surprising and terrible interpretation that is consistent with the words of the prophesy, your hero finds a way to force the witches to speak in Lojban.

Unfortunately for the hero of your story, a witch’s prophesy can backfire in unexpected ways that still respect the letter of the prophesy itself, even if it’s delivered in a language that’s syntactically unambiguous.

Macbeth 1.3

In the spirit of this short story prompt, I have rendered the first part of Macbeth, act 1 scene 3 into Lojban for your enjoyment. Corrections and suggestions welcome. :)

termafyfe’i 1: [1] .i doi lo mensi do pu zvati ma

termafyfe’i 2 .i lo jai bu’u lo nu catra lo xarju

termafyfe’i 3 .i doi lo mensi do zvati ma

termafyfe’i 1 .i lo fetspe be lo blopre pu cpana be lo galtupcra ku ralte lo narge

[5] gi’e omnomo gi’e omnomo gi’e omnomo .i lu ko dunda fi mi li’u se cusku mi .i lu ko cliva doi lo termafyfe’i li’u lo zargu citka cagna cu se krixa .i lo nakspe be lo se go’i pu klama la .alepos. gi’e bloja’a la .tirxu. .i ku’i ne’i lo julne mi lo te go’i fankla

[10] .ije mi simsa be lo ratcu poi claxu lo rebla ku co’e gi’e co’e gi’e co’e

termafyfe’i 2: .i mi dunda do pa lo brife

termafyfe’i 1 .i do xendo

termafyfe’i 3 .i mi co’e pa lo drata

termafyfe’i 1: [15] .i mi ralte ro da poi drata .i je’a lo blotcana cu bifca’e ro da poi farna be fi lo makfartci pe lo blopre ku’o zi’e poi se djuno .i mi ba simsa be lo sudysrasu bei lo ka sudga ku rincygau

[20] .i lo nu sipna ku ba canai lo donri ku .a lo nicte ku dandu za’e lo galtu dinju canko gacri .i zo’e ba dapma renvi .i ba ca lo tatpi jeftu be li so pi’i so cu jdika lo ka stali .e lo ka pacna .e lo ka gleki

[25] .i zu’u lo bloti to’e pu’i se daspo .i zu’unai lo go’i vilti’a se renro .i ko viska lo se ralte be mi

termafyfe’i 2: .i ko jarco fi mi .i ko jarco fi mi

termafyfe’i 1 .i mi nau ralte lo tamji be fi lo blosazri

[30] poi ca lo nu zdani klama ku bloti janli morsi

[.i ne’i damri]

termafyfe’i 3: .i damri .i damri .ua .i la .makbet. je’a tolcliva

ro da poi termafyfe’i: .i lo cizra mensi noi xance jgari simxu zi’e noi klama be fo lo xamsi .e lo tumla be’o sutra

[35] cu klama fi’o tadji tu’a di’e .i ciroi klama lo tu’a do .i ciroi klama lo tu’a mi .i ciroi ji’a klama .iki’ubo krefu fi li so .i ko smaji .i lo makfa cu bredi

[.i nerkla fa la .makbet. .e la bankos.]

So I started learning Lojban .ui

This Friday past, I started learning Lojban. For the non-initiate, Lojban is a constructed language based on predicate logic that is syntactically unambiguous. I’d known about it for years, probably hearing about it first on CBC, maybe 10 years ago. It’s the sort of thing that shows up in Dinosaur Comics or in XKCD periodically. Up until this weekend, the existence of Lojban had mostly been one of those “cocktail party facts,” but then I finally took the plunge. After 1 weekend of working on it, I’m about 35% of the way through Lojban for Beginners, having downloaded it to my Kobo for reference during the car ride to Stratford.

It’s often billed as being an ideal language for fields like law, science or philosophy, due to its unambiguous and culturally neutral nature. So I set out to find out certain specialised terms from my field, bioethics, and it turns out that they mostly don’t exist yet. This, of course, offers some exciting opportunities for a grad student. :)

I’ve convinced a few people in Montréal to learn Lojban with me, and even found a Montrealer who speaks Lojban on a IRC channel. (Yes, IRC still exists!) We may “ckafi pinxe kansa,” as they say in Lojban, apparently.

If you too want to get in on the ground floor of Lojban Montréal, let me know!

Puns are truly the highest form of humour

Shortly after my little sister moved to Montréal, she was asking about how to use the word “celui” in French.

Alain gave her an example. “You can say, ‘celui-là,’ which means ‘that one there,'” he told her.

Caitlin asked, “Can you use ‘celui’ anywhere else?”

To which I replied, “You can put celui in … a sawad.”

Answering my readers’ questions

Everyone gather ’round. It’s that time again! It’s time for me to answer my readers’ questions!

And by that, I mean, it’s time for me to see what strings of words people have typed into Google that brought them to my blog. Then I look through the search keywords that are (more-or-less) well-formed questions and answer them as best I can. It’s the least I could do, since they took the time to visit my site with these questions on their mind.

“Why can’t the space shuttle leave conventionally from an airport?” (July 26)

Mostly because it’s not an airplane. Those booster rockets that the space shuttle normally uses for take-off are not decorative.

“If I fired a laser beam at my hand would it come out the other side?” (Aug 4)


“How to castle in chess with friends?” (July 31, Aug 7, 14, 17)

Begin a chess game with a friend, castle normally.

“How do you move your king and castle at the same time?” (July 26)

You probably meant “How do you move your king and your rook at the same time?”

“Rook” is the name for the pieces that start at the corners of the board.

In chess, “castle” is a verb. It’s the verb that means to move your rook and king at the same time, two spaces toward each other, provided that the intervening spaces are not occupied and that neither the king nor rook has been moved before in the match (and that you’re not trying to castle out of check).

“Cheat on MCAT tips?” (Aug 1) / “How to cheat the MCAT?” (July 30)

Are you really asking me to help you to cheat on the MCAT? Get out.

“Has anyone ever cheated on MCAT before?” (July 28)

No. No one in the history of mankind. No one whose motives were so pure as to aspire to medical school has ever even considered cheating to attain such a goal.

“Grammar is one of the greatest joys in life, don’t you find?” (Aug 8)

Actually, now that you mention it, grammar is the greatest joy in life.

“How to avoid getting your bike stolen [in] Montréal?” (Aug 25)

Sell bike, and buy Bixi pass with the proceeds.

“How to get your thesis bound at McGill” (July 27)

You gotta do it yourself, I’m afraid. You can get Acco-Press binders at the bookstore.

“How to take someones fortune?” (Aug 21)


“I bought wrong grammar?” (Aug 10)

You sure did.

“I might have strep throat I don’t got insurance?” (Aug 7)

That’s quite the predicament! Are you a Canadian citizen?

“Is there a Montréal métro pass for mature students?” (Aug 19)

Nope. No such thing. Once you’re 25, you pay full price, whether you’re a full-time student or not.

“What happens after you accept a TA-ship offer?” (Aug 4)

Heh … Do you really want to know?

“What is giving you the most problems with Microsoft Word?” (July 26)

Thank you for asking! Mostly crashing, interface glitches and the fact that there’s no separation between content, formatting, comments and meta-data.

“Where can i get hasperat?” (July 28)

Bajor, if you want it authentic.

But if you would make the brine for a really strong hasperat—I mean eye watering, tongue searing strong—you’d make an old man very happy.

Canada Day grammar help

It’s the 144th birthday of our country, and to celebrate, here’s some grammar!

The word “oh” is an interjection. One often uses it to express surprise. For example, “Oh! Hello there! I didn’t hear you come in!”

The word “O” is not the same word. This will be easier to understand if you know a language that has cases, like Latin or Greek.

In Greek, nouns, adjectives etc. can take one of five cases, although sometimes there’s ambiguity among them. The nominative case is used for the subject of a sentence. The genitive is used to express possession. The dative is used for indirect object. The accusative is used for direct objects. Finally (and most importantly for understanding the word “O”) the vocative case is used for directly addressing someone or something.

“O” is a particle for introducing a classically styled address in the vocative case. You sometimes see this in religious texts in English: “Praise the Lord, O my soul!” So in this case the author is directly addressing his soul and telling it to praise the Lord.

You might also use “O” if you’re trying to be pompous or overly formal: “O great registrar! Hear my plea and grant me special permission to take Philosophy 601.”

You should not use “O” to express surprise. Saying, “O hi there” would be incorrect. You should also not use “oh” as an address, which brings me to why this is important for all Canadians.

If you write “Oh Canada” in reference to our national anthem, you are actually getting the lyrics wrong. It looks like you were surprised by Canada or something. “Oh, Canada, it’s you! I … I didn’t expect to see you here!”

The two words are homophones, like “you” vs “ewe”—different words, different spellings, same pronunciation. It’s “O Canada,” not “Oh Canada,” and there is a difference in meaning between them.

More typos from The Witch Doctor’s Wife

  • “The witchdoctor grunted and clapped his hands.” (p. 176, In every other case “witch doctor” is written as two words.)
  • “As if that weren’t enough, the pimple-faced spy from Flanders was out to get the OP.” (p. 245, “Flanders” was the guy’s name, not where he came from.)
  • “Pardonez mois?” (p. 259)
  • “Cripple had gone from death’s door—literally—to suddenly becoming an icon of freedom.” (p. 302, Cripple did not literally come from death’s door.)
  • “Excusez mois” (p. 304)

Typos in The Witch Doctor’s Wife

Now that my thesis has been submitted, I’m reading a book for pleasure called The Witch Doctor’s Wife. It’s not a life-changing read or a very challenging one, but it’s a fun story, full of sarcastic pokes at historical political problems. It’s nice to have something light to read after mostly reading about moral theory, economic theory and human research protocols for a year.

And of course, I found typos!

  • “That invited infection, which often lead to crippling.” (p. 121)
  • “… believing she could lesson the threat by making noise …” (p. 131)
  • “Pardonez mois, monsieur” (p. 152)
  • “Excusez mois” (p. 153)
  • “Pardonez mois” (p. 155)

They seem to have a hard time with homonyms.

That’s all I’ve found for now, but I’m only on page 170 of 307. I haven’t even gotten to the murder promised on the back of the book.

Homographic homophonic antonyms

Dinosaur Comics are Awesome
Dinosaur Comics are Awesome

I first started thinking about this a while back when I saw a Dinosaur Comic on this subject.

Homographic homophonic antonyms are words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same but have opposite meanings.

The example in the attached comic is “dust,” but a quick Google search reveals others like “weather,” (enduring something or eroding something). I’ve found that most of the examples are kind of contrived, though.

  • “Out”—as in “the stars are out” vs “turn out the lights”—I guess, but that’s kind of stretching it.
  • “Fast”—as in “to run fast” vs “to hold fast”—ehh … I guess.

I think the reason I don’t like these is because they’re different parts of speech.

I thought of one this week that works pretty well, although I’m not sure if it counts, since it’s two words—”lucked out.” I’ve heard it used to mean both experiencing something fortunate or something unfortunate.

“Wow! You caught the ball at the baseball game! You really lucked out!” vs “They didn’t have any left by the time you got there? You really lucked out.”

Plurals for hippopotamus and octopus

It is a popular and well-known fact that the correct plural for “octopus” is not “octopi,” but “octopuses” or “octopodes.” This is because the word “octopus” is Greek in origin, not Latin, and the Greek word for the word “pos” (foot) is “podes.”

Here’s my question: If it is incorrect to pluralise “octopus” as “octopi,” then why is it okay to pluralise “hippopotamus” as “hippopotami?” The OED says that this is an acceptable plural.

The word “hippopotamus” is also Greek in origin. It comes from “hippos ho potamios.” In Greek, “hippos” means “horse,” and “potamos” means “river.” The plural of “hippos” is “hippoi,” as I recall.

So shouldn’t the plural be “hippoipotamus” or maybe “hippopotamoi?”

Em dashes, en dashes, hyphens and The Last Battle

The Last Battle p. 205
The Last Battle p. 205

A few weeks ago I found a typo in The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis.

This was shocking, to say the least. So, of course, I went looking for some more. I found one in The Last Battle.

Before I point out the typo that I found, I should clarify the distinction between a few different kinds of typographical marks. Specifically, I will be speaking about hyphens, en dashes and em dashes.


Hyphens are used to join two words together or separate syllables of a single word. Hyphens are what you use for compound modifiers, like “well-respected,” or for other compound words, like “being-in-the-world,” if you were talking about phenomenology. An hyphen is the mark that you get on a Mac when you press the button that has a horizontal line on it. It’s beside the button that has the “equals” and “addition” signs on it (if you use a QWERTY keyboard).

En dashes

En dashes are probably less familiar to you than hyphens. An en dash is what you see in a range of numbers or to contrast values. For example, if you wanted to write “see pages one to twenty-one,” but using numerals instead of words, you could write “see pages 1–21.” You’ll note that the en dash is slightly longer than the hyphen. You get the en dash on a Mac when you hold down the option key and press the same key as the hyphen.

Em dashes

An em dash is used to indicate a break in thought or an explanation or to introduce an interpolating thought with a break that is even stronger than parentheses. It is also used to indicate that a speaker was interrupted.

For example, “I ate the cookies—all of them—and felt no remorse.” [Interpolating thought]

Or, “I just can’t believe—” [The speaker was interrupted]

Or, “This is the way to get there—the way to get there without being noticed, of course.” [Explanation]

The em dash is even longer than the en dash. You can type an em dash on a Mac when you press and hold the shift and option keys while pressing the same key as the hyphen or en dash.

What does this have to do with The Last Battle?

Look at the typographical mark between “Marsh” and “wiggle” in the scanned page from The Last Battle. It’s an em dash. It’s way too long to be an hyphen. In fact, there’s an hyphen at the end of the line, in the middle of “disenchanted” for comparison.

Hyphens are used for compound words, like Marsh-wiggle. Em dashes are used for something completely different.

If you own another edition of The Last Battle, can you find this typo in your copy? I’m reading from the 1995 Scholastic reprint.