Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Doing My Duty By Wikipedia

I've always disliked democratically written, pub-quiz trivia reference work Wikipedia, because it has a "knowing" tone, despite having huge gaps in its knowledge. So I have decided to transform Wikipedia from the inside, by writing an entry that it lacks, on "The Middle Voice In Ancient Greek". I'm actually finding it a challenge not to be judgemental about the Middle Voice because I think it is a rather jumped up piece of grammatical crap, but I realise that, despite Wikipedia being an amateurish bag of shite, personal opinion really ought not to come into an informative entry to the work. Here's what I have so far:

"Most languages are satisfied with simply an Active and a Passive voice . In the majority of situations that use a verb to describe them, a person is either doing something to someone, or having something done to them. X is doing Y to Z = Active Voice. Z is having y done to him by X =Passive Voice. Even in an intransitive situation, where the subject of the sentence isn't actually doing anything to anyone else at all - the subject of the sentence is, nonetheless, still doing something, and therefore ought to be spoken about in the Active Voice of the verb. The clearest example of an intrasitive verb, is the verb to be : John is at home "ho Ioannees oikoi" -( I can't find the correct font so fuck off). In the same vein, an example of the Passive Voice "to kreas esthietai" (meat is eaten) does not necessarily require clarification as to by whom or what exactly, it has been eaten. It's just passive meat, sitting there, being eaten by someone or something we are not interested in.

When someone is doing something to themselves, rather than to someone or something else, most languages are content to leave it at a reflexive verb: je me lave le visage, I pick myself up, Ich frage mich ob du wirklich noch 'was Kuchen brauchst, dicke Kuh. However, Ancient Greek prefers to add another voice to the more mainstream Active and Passive - the Middle Voice. So where the verb used in English is reflexive, Greek would use the verb in its Middle form.

If the Subject of the verb both initates the action, and participates in its outcome the verb will be in the Middle voice. In addition to this, when there is some confusion as to whether the supposed nominative of the sentence was really taking an active or passive part in the proceedings, Greek uses the Middle Voice to blur the boundaries of precision. That is why Greek was used in the New testament, as the Middle Voice was required, both to get around Voice-predictingly difficult concepts like "rising" (from the dead) or "being raised" (from the dead), AND the challenges presented by the nominative of a sentence being part of a Trinity, making it hard to tell exactly which of the three possibilities is actually carrying out, or benefiting from the verb. So there you have it -the Middle Voice in Greek. Look in your Abbot and Mansfield for how to create it, and learn your principal parts."

Suggestions for amendment in the comments please.


Well, I was doing something to myself while thinking about eating your meat.

Analyse that, Noreen !
So a greek person might say, for example, "I am pleasuring MYSELF with THIS melon"?

PS "holepooi" = well, I think you can define that yerself
`Ich frage mich' is redundant in that sentence. The word `ob' implies the act of wondering.

`Ich beeilte mich nach Auschwitz, um die Judenfrage endlich zu lösen'

would work I guess
Damon, the point of that sentence as an example, was simply to show the verb sich fragen as an example of a german reflexive verb to mean "I ask myself", where the voice of the verb is Active rather than Middle in its form. The rest of the sentence was irrelevant to the grammatical point and as such could have been left out, but to leave the verb out would be insane in this instance. Your example also showcases a german reflexive verb, this time in the imperfect tense, which is lovely. Thanks for that.
Noreen, definitely not an expert in this.....but you state that "If the Subject of the verb both initates the action, and participates in its outcome the verb will be in the Middle voice."

So.....if we said to Barry "please go fuck yourself" - where would his middle voice be then?
The middle voice is mentioned in the "Ancient Greek" article here. Possibly you should put your changes there.
Aren't you going to find yourself redundant (no, not for wasting hours at work on your Wikipedia entry) by virtue of:


Can you actually substantiate your thesis as to why Greek was used in the New Testament to blur the boundaries of precision? I'm not so sure...

Mick... to preserve the middle voice, the correct sentence structure would be, "Barry fucked himself." Having said that, I'm now wondering if that isn't pseudo-reflexive.

Anyway, back to rubbing myself through my trousers while watching the shelling of Gaza.
Middle Voice...is a rather jumped up piece of grammatical crap

Barry, there's some great stuff in that article, but I think the Middle Voice In Ancient Greek deserves an entry to itself.

As for the use of Greek in the new Testament, the Middle voice gives an air of mystery to a sentence. Did Jesus rise from the dead all by himself or did someone help him? Was it God the Father making him rise or was God the Son just getting his arse out of the tomb all by himself. Without the middle voice for the verb - so in English for example - the question of rising and who rose or was raised hangs in the air like a theologian's dirty undergarment. The Middle voice gives things that, in English, are unmentionable or unfathomable a voice of their own. It's why Greek is great for philosophy. German is good too for precision in philosophy, once a concept has been identified and needs to be nailed down. Greek is a good language for airy fairy waftiness, for the conception and incubation of ideas, before they take on a definite form.
But that's just my opinion and I'm interested in African Tree Frogs at the moment - so if you've got any tips on how to keep them, I'd love to hear them
An ingratiating and smug young man once telephoned my house to try to sell me something crap. Rather than be polite and waste time, I cut to the chase and told him to go and fuck himself. He laughed sarcastically and said that it wouldn't be possible. I pointed out that it would indeed be possible, given that he was a cunt *and* a penis

After this one, me thinks I'll treat myself to a smoke.
Where did Noreen, the queen of coruscating invective go, and who is this boring old cunt droning on about greek grammar?
What a nutjob you are, Noreen. There I was thinking that only Greek teachers had time for thinking about such patently useless (in 'real' terms) things as the Middle Voice in Greek. Not only are you unspeakably rude but you are quite clever too. I suspect the second part may slip past your usual readers...

I'd like to see a forward-looking coda to your article - "Whither the Middle Voice?" Has Modern Greek really neutered it into a clumsy passive/reflexive, or can it be loaned to a people who love circumlocution but lack a voice dedicated to it? The English, for example?
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