2168: Reading in the Original

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 14:19, 27 June 2019 by (talk) (Explanation)
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Reading in the Original
The articles are much shorter, but I assume that's because this version predates the merger with the Hawaiian text that created the modern Hawaiian-Greek hybrid wiki-pedia.
Title text: The articles are much shorter, but I assume that's because this version predates the merger with the Hawaiian text that created the modern Hawaiian-Greek hybrid wiki-pedia.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a HAWAIIAN-GREEK HYBRID. Please mention here why this explanation isn't complete. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

Many academics and aficionados argue that studying old texts in the original language is more valuable than reading translations. The argument is that translations are rarely able to fully capture all of the nuances, linguistic subtleties and intent of the original author, and may even alter the meaning in some way due to the translator's interpretation and word choices. The drawback to this is that it requires the reader to be sufficiently fluent in whatever language the text is written in, which is frequently an archaic dialect, and so only really useful for studying old texts. Mastering an obsolete language solely to enhance your reading experience is a big commitment, and so has become something of a signifier of a truly dedicated scholar. By the same token, bragging about such signifiers is often taken as a mark of self-involved academic arrogance. Because many of the foundational texts in Western civilization, including the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Biblical New Testament, and the works of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were originally written in Greek, commenting that you only read works "in the original Greek" has long been an indicator of high-level literary scholarship.

A similar thing happens in countries where English-speaking movies are usually dubbed, and people smugly remark that they instead prefer to watch the original English version of everything from sitcom to hollywood blockbuster.

The joke in this comic is that Cueball has apparently taken the time to learn Greek, so that he can read Wikipedia in that language. However, he is not reading the "original" version of Wikipedia articles, but their equivalent in the modern Greek language edition of Wikipedia. (An Ancient Greek Wikipedia test project also exists, but is not nearly as large as the modern Greek one.) Wikipedia has editions in about 300 languages; many articles link to equivalent articles in other languages, but they are not usually translations of each other, having been written separately by speakers of the different languages. The dedication to appearing to be a committed scholar is contrasted with the ignorance of not understanding that Greek is not the original language of every text. The movie "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" has a joke concerning someone speaking of an obscure, foreign "original" language of something that actually was originally written in English: Chancellor Gorkon says "You have not experienced Shakespeare until you've read it in the original Klingon." (In reality, Shakespeare lived in England, and wrote in English, not Klingon.[citation needed])

The title text is an etymology joke, since "Wikipedia" was coined from two parts, "wiki", from Hawaiian, and "pedia", from Greek. However, words having roots in different languages is common and does not signify any link between the separate languages; for example, while the word "Wikipedia" does have etymological roots in Hawaiian and Greek, there is no hybrid of the two languages which articles could be written in.


[Cueball is addressing Megan. He is holding a hand with a thumb up out toward her. Megan is spreading her arms out as she replies.]
Cueball: It's in the "Languages" box in the lower left. It took a while to learn, but I find I get so much more out of it by reading it as it was intended.
Megan: That's not how that works!
[Caption below the panel:]
People get mad when I tell them I only read Wikipedia in the original Greek.

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I removed this line from the explanation: "The New Testament is often studied in the 'original' Greek, despite most of the protagonists actually speaking Aramaic." Reason: While the "protagonists" likely spoke Aramaic, the actual written text was in Koine Greek. The spoken language is a red herring in this case. 14:34, 26 June 2019 (UTC)

It could be relevant for sections which are basically writing down something said (in Aramaic). -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:36, 26 June 2019 (UTC)
Even if the people being quoted would have been speaking Aramaic, the Aramaic words they would have said may have never been written down, only a translation of it into a form of Greek (presuming the conversation in question ever actually occurred and wasn't invented by a later writer.) However, doing a quick search, I found claimed that 268 verses were originally written in Aramaic (parts of Daniel, Erza, and one verse of Jeremaih, along with a few other scattered words and names). This is out of a total 23,145 Old Testament verses. Most scholars believe the original version of all the New Testament was a form of Greek (though notably somewhat different than what is normally known as "ancient Greek.")-- 05:19, 29 June 2019 (UTC)

There's also a Latin Wikipedia and an Old English Wikipedia. KangaroOS 14:53, 26 June 2019 (UTC)

There would have been an Ancient Greek Wikipedia too if not for Yaroslav Zolotaryov and Siberian - the proposal was effectively accepted, and only a little bit short of fulfillment, when the Siberian debacle had Wikimedia revise their acceptance system in October 2007.
Alas, despite several re-proposals, there is no Ancient Greek Wikipedia to this day, and realistically there would probably only be one if someone raises a child as an Ancient Greek native speaker. (This had happened with Coptic.) 15:47, 26 June 2019 (UTC)

Btw there's no Greek Wikipedia page for Xkcd :) 14:58, 26 June 2019 (UTC)

Well, it would rather be for χκcδ 15:44, 26 June 2019 (UTC)
Rather ξκcδ/ξκσδ as xi (not chi) is equivalent to 'x'. The lunate sigma is rather uncommon. Of course I think if we're talking about ancient Greek there were no lowercase letters so it'd be ΞΚΣΔ. 16:08, 26 June 2019 (UTC)
Am I the only one who read ΞΚΣΔ as being startlingly close (visually) to IKEA? 16:32, 26 June 2019 (UTC)
Nah, first thing I noticed. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:27, 28 June 2019 (UTC)
Nope. Thought the same thing and suddenly wondered if the xkcd name origin story has finally been proven to be a hoax. Have we all been had?Iggynelix (talk) 19:31, 26 June 2019 (UTC)

Hello, everyone! I have been consulting this wiki for a lot of time now, but this is the first time I edit. I edited the 'the New Testament of the Bible being the most notable' sentence because the New Testament is hardly the only notable work in Ancient Greek. In fact, while I'm not familiar with the situation in the U.S., in schools in the EU where I've studied or my mother (who went to Catholic school) has studied, texts from the New Testament were not even taught. Part of the reason for this is that the New Testament uses Koine Greek, which is a later variant of what is commonly called "Ancient Greek". I also think it's worth mentioning that Ancient Greek is quite commonly studied in many European countries even by high-school students, not only by dedicated scholars. AleksanderV (talk) 18:45, 26 June 2019 (UTC)

Made a small correction by removing Socrates from the list of people who wrote in Greek, since Socrates did not in fact write anything! (or, at least, no original works from Socrates survive, even though some of his followers wrote dialogues with Socrates as a character) ~High Falutin Scholar

Man, you guys all got the joke wrong! The ARTICLE isn't in Greek, it's Wikipedia's MENUS and screen ELEMENTS that are in Greek! The article itself is still in English, but you're reading it in a Greek "environment". I added a paragraph to clear that up, while leaving the good wrong stuff still there, since it's not wrong in the right context. -boB (talk) 19:44, 28 June 2019 (UTC)

No, that seems wrong. In the sidebar is the link to the Wikipedia in Greek, it's even more difficult to find the Greek language settings for the menus and such. Also the reference in the title text to the articles being shorter only makes sense of it's a different language version.-- 22:43, 28 June 2019 (UTC)
Yeah, clicking the option in the lower left does change the language of the articles, not just the menu and screen elements. After all otherwise the title text wouldn't make sense, as it is referencing how the amount of content in Wikipedia is much lower in most languages other than English, especially languages with relatively few speakers (there are much fewer people who speak Greek than English worldwide), resulting in both shorter articles and fewer total articles, so many English articles wouldn't have a Greek version at all. In any case, the paragraph you added should be removed.-- 05:19, 29 June 2019 (UTC)
As others have said, you are incorrect and I've removed your changes. You can try the procedure Cueball recommended yourself - it links you to the actual Greek Wikipedia rather than just changing the interface. Furthermore, the alt-text backs this up, since the joke about articles being shorter only makes sense if Cueball is viewing the actual Greek Wikipedia (articles there are shorter due to it being newer and having fewer editors. Obviously they would be the same length if he was only changing the interface.) The joke is that that should have cued him in to the fact that the Greek language was not the original, but instead he invented another ridiculous explanation for it. --Aquillion (talk) 23:35, 29 June 2019 (UTC)
When I did it exactly like the comic said, it changed the screen elements to Greek, but left me on the English wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org), so maybe there are different modes for changing. But I concede the point about the articles being shorter pointing to the original explanation being the correct one. -boB (talk) 17:46, 1 July 2019 (UTC)

I feel very stupid, but could someone explain the reason why Greek is considered to be the "original language"? Greek is not the origin of all the languages in Wikipedia, it's not even the origin of English. Ancient Greece is the origin of much of the western culture, but much of it is still older or coming from differnt parts of the world. Or am I totally on the wrong leg here, and is it just a play on the word Wikipedia? Anyway, the choice of Greek as the original language in this comic could use some explaining. --Pbb (talk) 18:39, 30 June 2019 (UTC)

Encyclopedias (the concept, the word, and the root that lends itself to "Wikipedia") have Greek origins, so Cueball is declaring that since PART of the word is Greek, that this is the original language of Wikipedia. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:38, 7 July 2019 (UTC)

Just a random comment, but I think there is another important reason why one may wants to read the original Greek version of something. That is, when you’re interested in poems. For anyone who actually reads Greek poems even a little, it is VERY obvious that they are “musical” so to speak (this is NOT a pedantic opinion, it’s quite intuitive, you can feel it): the pitch accents of the language and rhythms of the verses (e.g. hexameter of Homer) automatically create “melodies”, and these melodies go magically well with the meaning of the verses — e.g. a furious melody when the phrase is furious, a light-hearted melody when the phrase is light-hearted, and so on. The effect (music-meaning combination) is so overwhelming and fascinating that probably it is untranslatable.

As for the New Testament, I agree that it’s not a good example here, which might cause unnecessary religious wars too, when this xkcd piece is not related to religions at all. That said, just fyi, there are quite a few places where you understand the Greek NT better if you know Aramaic. E.g. “wind” and “spirit” are the same word in Aramaic; knowing that, John 20:22, Acts 2:2-4, etc. suddenly make sense. Also some phrases of the Greek NT are actually written in Aramaic: e.g. in Mark 5:14 Jesus says, in Aramaic, ܛܠܝܬܐ ܩܘܡܝ which might sound mystic, but actually it’s just a normal, daily sentence that simply means “Girl, stand up!” Also in 1Cor 16:22, they say “Our lord, come!” in Aramaic. (I’m not a religious person, just studying Syriac as a hobby. Sorry if this is boring for you.) Incidentally, the word “Holy Spirit” is feminine in Aramaic. When Jesus or John talked about it, they meant “she”. This piece of trivia might interest you.

PS: Another commentator said that Koine and the “normal” Greek (Attic) were different; which is true, but they are not so different. Usually one can use the same Greek-English dictionary when they read whichever (Attic, Koine, and also Homeric Greek). — Yosei (talk) 01:52, 6 July 2019 (UTC)