Aldus Manutius: Italics, the Semicolon, and Pocket Books

So many things that we now find usual and commonplace were once someone’s inventions – maybe even a risky madness, as judged by contemporaries. Take, for example, italics, the semicolon, or pocket-sized books. These were all innovations by the great Venetian printer, humanist, and educator Aldus Manutius (1449/1450–1515).

University of Tartu Library exhibition

Aldus Manutius

The Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. Image credit: Roger Koslowski / Wikimedia Commons

At the turn of the fifteenth century, Venice was flourishing, and so was the art of printing. Dutch humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam, whose name has famously been adopted by the current European student exchange programme, commented that it was easier to become a printer than a baker in Venice.

Erasmus spent eight months at Aldus’ printing house in 1508. At that time Aldus Manutius published the second, expanded edition of Erasmus’ Adagia, a collection of Greek and Latin proverbs, many of which are widely used today, thanks to Erasmus of Rotterdam:

One step at a time;
To be in the same boat;
A living corpse;
Crocodile tears;
To show the middle finger;
God helps those who help themselves;
To sleep on it;
To break the ice;

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Things Not To Do After the Paris Attacks

symbol of Paris attacks

‘ISIS has declared war on Europe!’, ‘If this is not war, what is it then?’, etc. Yes, my friends, ISIS has declared war on Europe; however, it did not happen yesterday, but over a year ago. Europe simply did not want to believe it. Now it is starting to. Whereas I myself, while serious about making such a statement at the time, am rather doubtful now. This is not a war – not in terms of the number of victims nor the scale of military operations. It was just what it was: a coordinated terrorist attack. And it needs to be fought against not by military means, but by intensifying the anti-terrorism fight.

There are two things not to be done now.

Firstly, panicking. The actions in response must be balanced, thought through, fast, and merciless. I would refer to how George W. Bush acted when terrorists destroyed the twin towers. While liberals suddenly forgot all their liberal ideas and required bloody revenge on Muslims or who really knows on whom (Al Gore, who lost the presidential elections by a thin margin, called for using nuclear weapons when it wasn’t even known who should be the target yet), Bush rushed to meet local Muslims to calm them down and did not hurry the response actions until the circumstances became more or less exactly known.

Secondly, we should not rake over the coals, such as: ‘It’s our (e.g. or their own) fault’, ‘We interfered with their business (e.g. kicked the hornet’s nest)’. While this is simply not true, such an attitude is very harmful psychologically: we are not guilty of these events in any way, just as the attendees of the concert or the football match in Paris weren’t. Continue reading

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How Does Breathing Affect Our Conversations?

conversations and breathing

We don’t normally think about it, but breathing helps us achieve certain communicative goals, not just make sounds. Image credit: Tanakawho/Flickr Creative Commons

To talk about breathing more precisely, we first need to determine which function of the respiratory system is actually under focus here. Broadly speaking, breathing has two main functions:

  1. Breathing as a gas exchange system connected to the overall functioning of the body, controlled by the brainstem.
  2. Speech breathing – controlling the airflow to make sounds and to speak. This system, as well as other speech and language functions, is controlled on a higher organisatory level of the brain than the main gas exchange system.

For conversations, it is most important how air is used to speak and influence the course of a conversation.

The basic patterns of speech breathing can be divided into two as well. Silent breathing, usually the characteristic breathing pattern of a quiet listener, consists of inhalation and exhalation phases more or less similar in terms of duration and amplitude. Breathing during ongoing speech, on the other hand, is characterised by very short inhalation periods and rather long exhalation periods.

Breathing patterns

When someone is speaking, the inhalation and exhalation phases of breathing don’t match by length at all, because one usually speaks while breathing out. Silent listening involves breathing in phases of rather equal duration. The image is taken from Estonian data collected at Stockholm University in spring 2015. Image credit: Kätlin Aare

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Two Estonian Gourmet Recipes On a Shoestring

In Estonia, November is a dark and relatively cold period – perfect timing to stay inside and cook something delicious to enjoy with your friends.

gizzards in a bowl

Liver with sour cream

This is a very simple recipe that takes only 15 minutes to cook. The trickiest part is to find fresh (and young) beef liver from the market. It is easier to find pork liver, but it might not be so tender and sometimes even bitter (of course, the bitter taste can be removed if you soak the liver in milk for an hour).

You’ll need:

1 (beef) liver
2–3 tablespoons of real Estonian butter
250 g sour cream (hapukoor)
½ teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A bit of fresh thyme
Fresh parsley for serving

How to cook:

– Remove the membrane that surrounds the liver and slice it.
– Melt the butter in a large pan, then add the pieces of liver.
– Fry for about 10 minutes (do not overcook, as it gets tough!), then add salt, pepper, thyme, and sour cream.
– Cook for a couple of minutes more.
– Finally, add chopped parsley.

Serve with rice or couscous and any green salad.
Liver provides protein, folic acid, iron, and vitamin A, which is good for your vision and immune system. Continue reading

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The Evolution Behind Refugee Intolerance

Animal behaviour has genetic background and is shaped by natural selection. Human behaviour is also affected by our evolutionary history. So what could be the evolutionary background for intolerance towards refugees?

It could be an unconscious avoidance of meeting remote strangers because of the unknown diseases they might carry that our local community can’t cope with, either genetically or due to insufficient know-how. This results in the repellence and distrust of others.

As the environment changes, the traits evolved through evolution might become irrelevant. Nowadays, intolerance towards strangers does not help to prevent the spread of diseases. In this sense it is no longer adaptive from an evolutionary point of view. Airplanes can carry viruses and bacteria to the other end of the world in mere hours.  Hatred does not help to stop them. Medicine provides much more efficient disease prevention measures than isolation does; however, evolution has not taken into account aeroplanes and vaccines while shaping our behaviour yet.

On the contrary, in today’s society, which highly rates humanistic values, an altruistic wish to help others may become beneficial in the evolutionary perspective. Willingness to help also has a straightforward biological background. It is a genetically motivated trait that can improve our breeding success. Thus, it is favoured by natural selection.

Helping refugees is a great way to advertise the good nature and sensibility of an individual or a group that is able to collect resources sufficient also for helping others. In this way a seemingly selfless approach might turn out to be much more beneficial than intolerance towards strangers.

Evolution, why don't we like refugees?Sven Paulus is the editor of the popular Estonian-language science portal Novaator.

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Kristiina Ehin: How to Explain My Language to You

On 1 September 1995 Kristiina felt disappointed: she had spent the previous night learning the ten stanzas of Gaudeamus in Latin and bearing the jokes of her partying neighbours, but only a few stanzas were sung at the opening ceremony of the new academic year in Tartu!

On 6 July 2014 a grand choir of 21,225 singers sang Kristiina Ehin’s own song, “Touch” (“Puudutus” in Estonian), at the national Song and Dance Celebration in Tallinn, written to the tune by Tõnu Kõrvits:

Puuduta mind oma tulise palgega
nii et on ilus ja valus.
Oma silmade sinimustvalgega
puuduta veel, ma palun.

Refr: Kas tunned kuis meile ikka on lahti
kõige kõrgemad taeva teed,
kui tuleme kokku,
kui leiame mahti,
jätame vaevad ja laulame.

Rüüpa mu elust januse sõõmuga,
kõige kaunimad ajad.
Puudutan Sind oma rahu ja rõõmuga
nõnda palju kui vajad.

Puuduta mind oma headuse väega,
ainsaga, millel on väärtust.
Õnnista oma sileda käega
minu karget saatust.

Puuduta mind oma tulise palgega
nii et on ilus ja valus.
Oma silmade sinimustvalgega,
puuduta veel, ma palun.

Touch me if you will with your fiery features,
make it beautiful – painfully so.
Please let the blue black and white of your eyes
touch me again I pray you.

Refr: Do you feel how the heavens’ highest roads
before us lie ever open.
When we come together, when we take the time,
leaving our troubles behind we can sing.

Drink a deep and thirsty draught from my life
of its very loveliest moments.
I will touch you with the peace and joy within me
as much as you may want.

Touch me with the power of your goodness,
of all things the only treasure,
bless if you will with your smooth, sleek hand
my own fate rough and tattered.

Touch me if you will with your fiery features,
make it beautiful – painfully so.
Please let the blue black and white of your eyes
touch me again I pray you.

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Healthy Sleep Recipe: How, When, with Whom?

Sleep is important, but feels old-fashioned. Our lifestyle these days rarely takes sleep into account – we rather try to work as much as we can, then engage in some fitness training, and finally land ourselves in a club or pub. We pump ourselves with coffee in the morning and during the day, so life seems to roll on as if there is not much need for sleep. At some point we eventually feel exhausted, so we book expensive vacation trips and again spend our nights on the dance floor or elsewhere.

We seemingly invest in our health – by staying physically active, eating ecologically grown food, and taking vacations. However, besides all this, we forget what is most important – sleep. Sleep is equally vital to an artist, athlete, car salesperson, scientist, and every one of us. Good sleep helps us make the most of our lives. Let’s see why sleeping is so important and how to maximise its benefits.

sleeping Buddha

Sleeping Buddha. Digital art work by Hartwig HKD / Flickr Creative Commons

Why sleep?

To be honest, scientists are still not quite sure why sleep is so crucial throughout the animal kingdom. There are various theories about sleep function, but let’s just highlight two of them here.

One reason is that our brain cells need rest. They need rest because, contrary to our body cells, brain cells aren’t normally renewed. Although new brain cells are indeed born in a few regions of our brain and thousands of brain cells die daily, the large share of our hundred billion brain cells accompany us throughout our lives. Thus, sleeping gives individual brain cells some rest. One should not get the wrong impression here – during sleep the brain and the neurons are not switched off, they are still very much active, but in some sleep phases this activity permits “time-outs” for the single neurons. Continue reading

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