Gary's "best of" blog posts, appearing at Soho Press

A lot's been happening in the last few weeks.  The Marathon Conspiracy released, it's received a pile of very happy reviews, and I've returned from a trip to the US.

While in the US I was treated to the wonderful hospitality of my publisher, Soho Press.  In return I gave them some Vegemite.  This may seem a cruel exchange.

Here is me in the background, with Abby Koski, who is Publicist Extraordinaire at Soho, and Paul Oliver, Director of Marketing.

Abby snaffled the Vegemite afterwards, and she's still talking to me, so either she hasn't eaten it yet, or she actually likes the stuff.

As it happens, Soho runs their own, very active blog, which is rather unusual for a publisher.  It's not just book promotion; they run a series on how to write a publishable book (from Tim Hallinan) and all sorts of interesting stuff about publishing and language, such as Rachel Kowel's piece on translation.

So we agreed to put a "best of" collection from my blog on Soho's site.  I have 500+ blog posts written, I was amazed to discover when I checked.  Some of them have proven popular, often the ones I least expected.

Soho decided to kick it off with my article on the P.I.E family of languages.

The Strange Case of the Unlaconic Laconians

Spartans didn't call themselves Spartans.  Their own name for their nation was Lacedaemon.  (Or Lakedaimon, spelling being variant in these matters.)  A Spartan was a Lacedaemonian.  There were also the short forms Laconia and Laconian.  That's why Spartan shields had the letter lambda (Λ) painted on them.

I prefer to write Spartan rather than Lacedaemonian in my books, and I'm pretty sure you prefer to read Spartan.  But there's an interesting consequence of them being Laconian.

The Laconians had a reputaion for being men of few words.  That's the origin of our word laconic.  When we call someone laconic today, we're saying that they're as short-spoken as a Spartan.

The most famous laconic statement of all occurred at the Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held for 3 days against an army of 100,000.  (No, I'm not exaggerating the Persian side.)  The Spartans were warned that the enemy was so numerous that their arrows would blot out the sun, to which one soldier named Dienekes replied this was good, because, "Then we will fight in the shade."

A similar situation arose when Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander) sent a message to Sparta suggesting they submit to him, because, "If I win a war against you, I will enslave you all."  Sparta sent back a single word reply:  If  

Philip decided to give Sparta a miss.

The Spartan characters who appear in Sacred Games are not laconic.  There are several reasons for this, first being that a book in which half the characters speak in mono-syllables is not exactly a positive.

The second reason is that laconic Laconians must be the exception if they wanted to run any form of society, and then there's the natural variation of personality.  Not all Italians gesticulate when they speak!

Surviving examples of laconic speech aren't everyday speech; they're all pithy statements designed to hammer home a point.    And that, I suspect, is the origin of the laconic Laconian: when they wanted to make a point clearly known, it was just a cultural thing that they did it with a short, powerful statement.

I very much doubt they were as dour as the laconic reputation suggests for this reason too:  that among the Greeks they were known as "crickets" as a nickname, because the Spartans were always ready for a song and a community dance.  That doesn't say laconic to me.

Gary's word of the day is: sudoriparous

While flipping through the dictionary on an unrelated quest, I came across this thing of beauty:

sudoriparous  secreting sweat; pertaining to the secretion of sweat or to the sweat glands

Needless to say, this is going into my next book.

"His nine millimetre Browning he kept in a holster beneath his sudoriparous armpit."

The floor is now open for the most gratuitous use of sudoriparous.

Adverbs considered harmful

There was a minor local news item recently which quoted a complaint made to the Australian advertisement review board.  The actual complaint was very silly, but the language used bears a look:
"This advertisement is categorically incontrovertibly irrefutably unambiguously unequivocally indisputably indubitably undeniably unassailably and impregnably in breach. of 2(a) and (c) of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) code."
This sentence scores points for vocabulary — perhaps I should say it certainly scores points — but I can't help feeling it tells us more about the person doing the whining than anything about the complaint.  Which is the problem with adverbs.  Though having said that I'm probably at the high end of adverb rates among published authors.

I'm still scratching my head about the impregnably.  Does this mean the rules breach can't be taken?  Or can't be made pregnant?