مرحبا عليكم!

I study languages.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

...And found.

Meet my companion, Al-Kitaab 2 fi Ta'allum al-'Arabiyya.
He and I are rarely apart. We go just about everywhere together. But in the library the night before my massively important Arabic exam, I reached into his familiar home in my backpack only to be shocked that he was nowhere to be found. I legitimately broke into a cold sweat and started hyperventilating. Where could he possibly be?

Please believe that I am the most neurotic person of all time. I am acutely, obnoxiously, pathologically aware of everything. The most positive consequence of this neurosis is that I never lose anything--ever. And I mean ever. Thus, I had no fathomable idea of where I could possibly have misplaced him. I ran out of the library and retraced all of my steps--over and over and over again. I interrupted the dress rehearsal of a play in the Varsity Theater to search the aisles for his thick little body three separate times. I checked all the lost-and-founds on campus and asked every night janitor I met if they'd seen him. But as midnight came and went, I realized I'd have to postpone my search (and spend some time studying for the huge exam that, in my frantic state, I'd neglected).

A desperate Facebook e-mail to my friend resulted in my having access to his book the next day, so my loss didn't ruin my exam (on which I think I performed very well, minus one stupid case vowel I realized I'd misplaced minutes after walking out, which I think is going to cost me top-score honors...I'm still bitter) and then resumed my efforts. I would find him or I would...have to order another one and get it next-day-shipped on Amazon. The prospect almost broke my heart. I didn't want another one. I wanted mine.

I was sad Thursday night. I stayed up all night writing a paper on unity and disunity in the political landscape of first-century Syria and I couldn't even take a break to study the new Lesson 8 vocabulary. I kept imagining my poor Al-Kitaab 2 lying somewhere all alone. And I kept imagining my bank account down $150 thanks to having to pay for next-day shipping.

I didn't go to Andrew's class on Friday afternoon because I was accommodating a student who had to take my exam late, but I definitely should have, because it turns out Andrew had my book. Some well-meaning Arabic student had seen it in the classroom, recognized that it was mine, and given it to Andrew to give to me. I zoomed up to that big TA office in the JKB after class and sure enough, there it was, with a big sign on it that said my name. I was so happy--but not as happy as the BYU lost and found will be, because they will no longer have to put up with me calling them every hour, describing my book in great detail, holding my breath as they check, and then being very disappointed when they tell me they don't have it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Blogger Dies After Long and Painful Battle with Life
heavily inspired by this article

Jessica Sagers, university student and known paranoid stress case, died Wednesday at 20 after a long and painful battle with life.

"She finally kicked the bucket, huh?" commented an ex-roommate, grinning. "She hated cliches." Sagers was born to a nice Mormon family in 1990. Despite participation in high school softball and a 2009 stint in adult figure skating, she was almost totally unathletic, which created a sharp contrast between her and her high-powered, sports-oriented family. An awkward adolescence led her to find unique pleasure in excelling at schoolwork about which no one else cared, a passion to which she would eventually dedicate the rest of her life. Sagers could sing the names of every world country that existed in 1993 and often faked phone calls because she didn't want to talk to people. Soft-spoken but viciously passive-aggressive, she amused herself by imagining excruciating deaths for people who crunched loud food in her immediate vicinity. Before her death she was well on her way to becoming a master of staring off into the distance because starting homework seemed too daunting a task. Her body was discovered Wednesday evening with a stack of papers detailing Arabic case vowelling rules between her clenched fingers. "It's a shame, really," mused her brother. "That world countries song was kind of cool."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

وفيها أستعد

original. i have a pretty version of this classic Egyptian judgment scene on real papyrus...minus Waldo.

قضيت كل اليوم في دراسة العربية و أشعر أني تقريبا جاهزة للجزء الأول لامتحاني الذي سأخذه يوم الأربعاء و يوم الخميس.
سيكون صعبا جدا، لكني أمل أني سأنجح فيه!
علمت المفردات الكثيرة و القواعد و النصوص و الأخبار و غدا سأذاكر الأفعال و سأقرأ الكتاب الاثنين مرة بعد مرة. سأحفظ العبارات الجديدة و سأترجم كل شيء...
في الحقيقة، انا مجنونة الحال و أتمنى أني لا أموت قبل أن الامتحان.
هذا سينتحي قريبا، إن شا الله!

Thursday, February 17, 2011


goodbye, world; see you when I finish reading cheesy love stories in Arabic. ما احلى التجارب العاطفية!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Okay, I believe curse words preclude both eloquence and professionalism. But there's one truth I need to get out there, and it can only be captured by one sociolinguistic characterization. There are not many things out there that I really get incensed about. But bad grammar is one of them.
And I am a flaming bitch of an editor.

I like words to be correct. Perfectly correct. Eloquently, stylistically, fabulously correct. In fact, I am so careful with words that watching someone else throw them around is like dragging my eyeballs over hot coals. So I edit with all of the subtlety and all of the rage of a prizefighting bull trapped in a china shop with nothing to eat but crack cocaine. Misused relative clause? Unnecessary passive voice? Struggling syntax? Don't just expect correction. Expect a SMACKDOWN.

In reality, though, my passion for liberating texts (the Form II Arabic verb حرر means both "to edit" and "to liberate;" you've seen the verbal noun of this verb, تحرير, in the news lately: Tahrir Square) can seriously get out of hand. Whenever I edit term papers for my parasitology students I always have to send them a follow-up e-mail explaining that my direct and often ruthless comments aren't meant to be rude. I never expected this compulsion to display cross-linguistic carryover, as I'm absolutely not so sharply skilled in Arabic composition as I am in English, but on two separate occasions I have gone Rambo on fellow Arabic students' texts (in class, mind you; this is public) and had to apologize afterward. I dare you to make me react the way I do when I'm editing in any other situation--I know for a fact you won't be able to push me into it. But show me a misconjugated verb, a mixed metaphor, and a misspelled relator pronoun, and HULK SMASH!

This fits perfectly into my life's current theoretical framework:


A Truth I Am Learning:
When one eats well one becomes more alert.

I spend most of my life either comatose-like-unto-a-TBI-patient or strung-out-like-unto-a-crack-addict thanks to varying quantities of no sleep, killer stress, and erratic eating, a combination which consistently leaves me a paranoid, hyperemotional wreck (yeah, I know you think I keep my cool, but inside my head it looks like a roller coaster inside a kaleidoscope). But tonight some fabulous people made me a delicious dinner, which included lots of indulgent carbs and fats I usually avoid, which I ate at dinnertime (not 4 PM or 4 AM), and I feel like I can, y'know, leap tall buildings in a single bound and see through walls or whatever. This new Truth is complementary to a Truth I learned in Arabic 102, which goes something like "When one gets good sleep before Arabic class one's at-speed comprehension skyrockets." Since I rarely (if ever) have time to get a full night of sleep, I hold myself to this Truth for the two nights before my major Arabic exams. Biblical Hebrew exams, on the other hand, can be blitzed after two days of no sleep with only the occasional Tic Tac to keep my blood sugar from flatlining. In fact, I'll be taking just such an exam under just such conditions in approximately seven hours, so I'd better get back to the cohortative volitional mood and the infinitive absolute construction.

And thanks, Facebook, for assuming that I might be cool enough to be friends with Jimmer, or maybe for remembering that in a moment of weakness I added him one time. I chickened out and canceled the request at the screen that says "Are you sure you want to add Jimmer Fredette? Jimmer must confirm that you are friends."

Sunday, February 13, 2011


This video never fails to make me laugh. I feel like I've done enough PCR to last twelve thousand scientific lifetimes, but I don't think I've ever reacted like the guy who kisses the thermal cycler.

This response is relatively new and almost as funny, though I don't have the same emotional attachment to the product. Enjoy.

And today's xkcd is perfect for me and my copyediting psychosis.

Friday, February 11, 2011

ألف مبروك يا مصر

A thousand congratulations to Egypt and a thousand hopes for its future.
Celebrations in Midaan al-Tahrir have continued at full force since this went down (5 PM Egypt time, 9 AM my time). We're watching really revolutionary stuff here, folks. 11 February 2011 is a date our children will commit to memory in their history classes.

I'm lucky to have professors who realize its significance:
Join the excitement! Watch al-Jazeera's live stream (English) here.

And if you haven't checked out Google employee and Egyptian protest organizer Wael Ghonim's touching interview, please do so here (subtitled for all y'all English-onlies, and for me when he starts speaking way too fast).

ألف مبروك يا مصر!

Thursday, February 10, 2011


this might as well be my life right now.
Contemporary Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani captures how I feel every night as I complete my Arabic assignments (and how I'm starting to feel more and more as the midterm approaches).

إنني أعرف أنك من أقدم اللغات
ومن أخصب اللغات
و من أصعب اللغات
ولكنني بحاجة حين تكونين معي
أن أصتع معجزة صغيرة...

--الشاعر نزار قباني

I know that you are one of the oldest languages
One of the most fertile languages
One of the most difficult languages
But I need when you are with me
To make a small miracle...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


 Thanks, Dexter. Preparing rows of blood slides for my diagnostic medical parasitology students has never been so entertaining. Also, I'm starting to crave blood oranges.
this is a blood orange cupcake. it's like they read my mind.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Saving non-scientists at work, one e-mail at a time. It's comforting to know that I still have scientific smackdown potential despite my change of major.

The section-heading graphics in Lesson 8 display a beaker of water and a shaker of salt and are captioned “Neutralized Acid and Base,” as if the term “acid” refers to the water and “base” refers to the salt. I’m confused; water can act as both an acid and a base depending on its chemical environment, and table salt (NaCl) is neither an acid nor a base (incidentally, the chloride ion, dissociated, is considered one of the weakest and most negligible bases in chemistry thanks to the strength of its conjugate acid). I don’t get why the picture says “neutralized,” as this isn’t a buffer situation (which is what the lesson is about), except in the very least chemical sense—perhaps the artist is referring to the negligible reaction between the dissociated chloride ions and free hydrogen ions in water, but that’s pretty chemically sophisticated, and unless the artist is a pedantic chemist I don’t think that’s what he/she intends. I would definitely hesitate to label a picture of salt and water “Neutralized Acid and Base” unless you’re presenting a pretty detailed argument. I mean, the lesson itself is about titration, for heaven’s sake; avoid the controversy and just use H2SO4 and NaOH or something.

In Lesson 10, the section-heading banners read “Fe + O2 = picture of rusted car.” Though logical to a non-scientist, this is chemically untrue. FeO2 can’t even form; to satisfy the electronic requirements of the compound Fe would have to appear in a +4 oxidation state (which doesn’t happen). FeO can form (iron (II) oxide), but this is a very rare black powder, not rust. Fe2O4 can form (iron (II,III) oxide), but this is not rust either; it is the mineral magnetite. The artist is probably trying to depict Fe2O3 (iron (III) oxide, or traditional rust).

On a less this-is-wrong-science and a more this-is-good-scientific-practice note, the section-heading graphics for Lesson 3 feature the equation “R=0.0821=62.4=8.31.” This is untrue. 0.0821 does not equal 62.4 or 8.31, though those are all legitimate values of R. Those numbers are absolutely meaningless and totally unequal without correct units attached. This concept (which version of R to use, and where) confuses enough students as it is, and I think a graphic like that gives students the incorrect impression that those numbers are interchangeable and you just use whichever one you want.

Jessica Sagers

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Les Mis/Cairo mashup.

Red, the blood of angry men!
Black, the dark of ages past!
Red, the world about to dawn!
Black, the night that ends at last!

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again
When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drum
There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free!

Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise!

Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Central dogma.

Somehow the Central Dogma has proven itself at least as applicable to a linguist as it is to a molecular biologist.
Transcription (of interviews with study abroad participants, and of news broadcasts in Arabic) and translation (Arabic to English) are as central to my current career as polymerase chain reactions and restriction enzyme digests were to my career in molecular biology. 
Go figure.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Every day I find myself walking along, happy and normal, and then I stop and think to myself, "Hey, the only thing keeping the left side of my abdomen from gaping wide open is a row of spindly black stitches," and I kind of freak out a little bit.

P.S. I think my scar is going to be squiggly in the middle, not straight--kind of like a lateral Harry Potter. Further developments pending. It's probably going to be with me my whole life, so I hope I like the way it turns out!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Art 3.

What Happens When Native Arabic Speakers Are Fortunate Enough To Run Into Me and My Egyptian Colloquial "Skills"
a story in pictures