The Middle Ages

I just finished a book called The Middle Ages, by Morris Bishop. Given that it was a 99¢ Kindle book, I wasn’t expecting much but I really enjoyed it. In particular, I like reading new books about topics I’ve previously read about, and learn new things. With that in mind, I present you with the way time worked in the middle ages.

No one … knew surely what time it was. The Angelus ringing in the village church was a sufficient time signal for most people. Night and day were each divided into twelve hours measured between sunrise and sunset. Thus, the length of an hour or minute varied every day and from one latitude to another.

Morris Bishop, The Middle Ages, 2015

So not only did the length of an hour vary between latitudes, but it would vary as the year progressed. That’s so bizarre.

Badass diplomacy

I’m reading a terrific book about ancient Rome. I hope to discuss it more in the future, once I’m finished reading it. In the meantime, this nicely self-contained passage astonished me.

The style of this imperium is vividly summed up in the story of the last encounter between Antiochus Epiphanes and the Romans. The king was invading Egypt for the second time, and the Egyptians had asked the Romans for help. A Roman envoy, Gaius Popilius Laenas, was dispatched and met Antiochus outside Alexandria. After his long familiarity with the Romans, the king no doubt expected a rather civil meeting. Instead, Laenas handed him a decree of the senate instructing him to withdraw from Egypt immediately. When Antiochus asked for time to consult his advisors, Laenas picked up a stick and drew a circle in the dust around him. There was to be no stepping out of that circle before he had given his answer. Stunned, Antiochus meekly agreed to the senate’s demands. This was an empire of obedience.

Mary Beard
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, 2015

Rome had an empire and an army of such size and efficiency that the mere written demand, delivered by a no-nonsense envoy, that this Greek king and his army go home succeeded with no fuss. And having occurred in 168 BCE, Rome was still a republic. There was not yet a single leader with a Caesar-sized personality and reputation to cow Epiphanes.

The harkening back…

I’m reading The Professor and the Madman1, by Simon Winchester, and given that it details the circumstances around the creation of The Complete Oxford English Dictionary, there are plenty of unusual words thrown about!

I particularly enjoy learning of common words we use today having previous meanings that are virtually unknown now. Take heckling for example. According to Winchester, it meant

…the process of separating the individual stems of the flax plant from each other…2

And then,

…(often in a political context) in the sense of catechizing someone, making his or her arguments stand up to severe scrutiny, as a flax plant might stand for the scutcher.3

Neither of these definitions match how we use the word today, but you can see a progression through the meanings.

Another example I knew of before is broadcast. You certainly know the most common meaning today, but the word was first used in the middle of the 18th century. Like Heckling, it was a farming term:

Of seed , sowing , etc.: sown or performed by scattering widely rather than by placing in drills or rows.4

One would cast the seeds over a broad area. Broad-cast.

I wonder what other words we use today, perhaps in a technical sense, have much older meanings.


  1. Strangely, and inexplicably, the title of this book everywhere but the US and Canada is The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words.
  2. Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1998
  3. ibid
  4. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. 2007

Kanye the philosopher

This is old news, but I’ve just run across it so indulge me.

Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed. I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.1

Kanye West

Can you believe this guy? Even leaving aside what he’s talking about when he says he doesn’t want a book’s autograph, most people are content to avoid the things they don’t like or can’t do. Kanye has to go a step further and be proud about not reading. Because some novels are wordy and self-absorbed, he’s not going to read at all. Not just the novels he doesn’t like, but all novels and all books. Being so vehement about it makes me wonder if he can read at all. He wouldn’t be the first to try to hide his lack of ability.

Don’t be like Kanye. Learn to read, and use the ability to its fullest. Read!

His poor children…


  1. Proud non-reader” Kanye West turns author” from Reuters, May 26, 2009

Wisdom from the Reach

When a wolf descends upon your flocks, all you gain by killing him is a short respite, for other wolves will come. If instead you feed the wolf and tame him and turn his pups into your guard dogs, they will protect the flocks when the pack comes ravening.

King Garth IX, of the Reach.
George R.R. Martin, The World of Ice & Fire, 2014

You’ve got to hand it to Garth IX … he knows how to make lemonade from the lemons!