Tag Archives: Sanskrit


I had a panini for lunch today, which, as always, set me thinking about grammar.

You’re probably thinking “Oh! Because panini comes from Italian, where it’s a plural, and panino is the singular!” You may also be thinking “He used panini as a singular. What an ignoramus.”

In fact, panini makes me think about grammar because of Panini – which is more properly written Pāṇini (which means the “ah” takes twice as long to say as it otherwise would, and the first n is said with the tongue tip farther back in the mouth; also, since it’s not written with a Ph, the P is closer to an English “b”). He was a Sanskrit grammarian; he lived in India sometime before the Buddha was born (and thus also sometime before Socrates and everyone after that), probably around the 6th century BCE. You could almost say he was the Sanskrit grammarian, though others came after. Panini wrote the authoritative manual on Sanskrit grammar. It is a concise work, effectively an algorithm. It’s an exercise in figuring out a natural phenomenon, and at the same time it’s what computer dorks might call an API (basically a set of instructions on how to make a certain kind of thing work). He observed something, figured out as best he could how it worked, and set down as elegant a description of it as he could, which thereby became a means of standardizing its production in formal contexts. I don’t want to go on too long here; this Scroll.in article on him is worth your 5 minutes to learn more.

Do I think of him every time I see panini because I’m a pretentious self-regarding twerp who is mighty pleased with himself for knowing something to do with Sanskrit? Of course not. I mean, I am a pretentious etc., but the reason I think of him every time is that I knew Panini as his name for years before I ever saw it as a name of a food item. I learned about him in university in the mid-1980s; paninis (or panini, if you prefer) didn’t encroach on my sphere of existence until the late 1980s or early 1990s. Our firstborn impressions of a lexeme have birthright: they get the full baby albums and all the brand new toys and clothes. The later impressions get the hand-me-downs.

So. First the Sanskrit, then the sandwich. When it showed up in North America, the average Anglophone saw panini and took it for the singular. People who know some Italian say “No, panino is the singular,” but they might as well be saying “No, it’s Panini’s monster. Panini is the one who created it.” Ask yourself how often you see biscotto or graffito. Even I, who know enough Italian to pass a graduate proficiency test in it (it was one of my two for my PhD, the other being French), seldom make a point of using the Italian singular. It would almost be like asking for a wedgie instead of a sandwich.

Look, Panini saw grammar as a means to understanding the divine, and thus perhaps good grammar as next to godliness, but he still worked with the data he had before him in the state it was in. He didn’t, for example, try to reverse sandhi. And I won’t try to reverse the sandwich. In Italian, after all, panino just means ‘small bread’ or ‘bread-ette’ and that’s often all they mean when they say it (though they can mean the sandwich too). If you’re going to be a purist, get that meat and cheese out of it.

And if you think someone who takes a word that is one thing grammatically in the source language and makes it another thing grammatically in English is an ignoramus, allow me to remind you that ignoramus is, in Latin, a verb in the first-person plural indicative, meaning ‘we don’t know’ (it comes to us by way of a character named Ignoramus in a 17th-century play of the same name). And you have just used it as a singular noun, sans critique. You’ll have to eat your words.

“ಠ ಠ what is that alphabet?” “ ツ easy!”

Another article for The Week! Actually, I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but it took a while getting posted because they were busy with the thing I wrote my other piece this week about, which shall not be mentioned here.

Anyway, this piece is the necessary sequel to the “How to identify languages” piece. That one focused on the Latin alphabet. This one looks at all the other alphabets. (Well, most of them. The Cree and Cherokee syllabic alphabets were cut to save length. And I skipped a few others that you really are unlikely to bump into.) It even has tips on telling apart languages that use the Cyrillic alphabet – and ones that use Arabic script!

How to identify Asian, African, and Middle Eastern alphabets at a glance


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Question: from GoLeefs95
OK so my friend dragged me to see this opera movie thing today called Saythagr or sumthin like that and it was dum, they just stood around singing for like OMG FOUR HOURS, but anyway it was all in sandscript, and the interviews were talking about how hard it is to learn and sing this language because it’s like, from nowhere and ancient and everything. And it had no verbs or someting. So what is it? And why do they call it sandscript?

Answer forum:

Its not sandscript you dumb blond its sans script cuz it has no writing. OK? Sans, like not have. Script, like writing. Learn French. Duh.

It too is Sandscript! They wrote it in the sand. India is a desert country and all they had to write in was sand. So they would take their notes in sand and then at the end of class they would open the door and it would all blow away. Which is why it took them so long to learn anything. I saw this in a movie about the Dolly Llama, called Sanddune.

Actually, it’s Sanskrit. It’s a really ancient language. A lot of world wisdom was written in it. It was the language that the Buddha and Gandhi spoke. The word Sanskrit is a Sanskrit word for “written together,” because it was written all joined up. If you learn it to perfection you get to see Nirvana.

OMG Aleeshya21 ur so dumb! Nirvana sang in English and Kurt Kobain is dead. Learn some music!

Aleeshya21 is right that it’s Sanskrit. The word Sanskrit comes from the roots sama “together” and krta “made” and means not just “put together” but “well put together”, i.e., perfected. Sanskrit is basically the Latin of India – it’s even related to Latin. Its grammar is quite similar in many ways to that of Latin, and was analyzed and refined into a formalized standard by Panini, who was really the first linguist. There was, as you say, a school of thought that it was the language of the divine and proper usage was a path to divinity; similar attitudes can be seen towards modern English in some quarters. And, like Latin, Sanskrit is the classic language of many sacred texts and religious observances. Just as Latin developed more common forms that eventually became modern Italian, French, Spanish, etc., Sanskrit had common forms called prakrits, among which was the language the Buddha spoke (Pali), and many modern languages are descended from Sanskrit, including Hindi. It originally evolved as a purely oral language, and its great texts have traditionally been passed down orally, but it has been written in all the different writing systems of India, and is commonly written now in the devanagari alphabet, which is what Hindi is written in.


WTF OMG ur so dumb. Panini is a kind of samwich, not samscratch. Learn Italian!

How can you say something so racist as that Sanskrit comes from Latin! Sesquoitic you need to learn some things. You think that all knowledge has to come from the Europeans. Well, I’ve been to India, and it’s nothing like Latin. They have a deep wisdom that no one in the west understands. That’s the whole point of Satygrha and what Ghandhi was saying. You have to have freedom of the spirit and be who you are and follow your desires and stand in the way of western racism.

Sanskrit is not descended from Latin; they come from the same source, as do Greek and of course all the other Indo-European languages. Sweden is nothing like Italy, but Swedish and Italian are both Indo-European languages. There is a lot of great wisdom to be found in Sanskrit literature, although there is much in it and in Hinduism in general that probably does not match your values, for instance the caste system. The Bhagavad Gita, which was very important to Gandhi and which is used as the text for Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha – which I also saw today, and I really loved it, but different people like different things – has a central lesson that you must be who you are, yes, but that means doing your duty and surrendering the ego and desire. Your duty done poorly is better than another’s done well. It, and Gandhi’s following of it, has played an important role in many movements for freedom and equality; Martin Luther King Jr. was also influenced by Gandhi, as Satyagraha indicates. At the same time, the lessons of the Bhagavad Gita can be read in a few different ways. But there is far, far more in Sanskrit than just that one text.

Sesquotic you are such a hateful racist. How dare you invent this Indo-Europan idea. Sanskrit isn’t from Sweden! Look it up! How dare you say I value the caste system! It’s things like that that Sanskrit works against. You haven’t been to India. You need to go and see. And how can you talk about grammar when you write such bad English. You need to take a couse in grammar. GoLeefs95 Sanskrit is so hard to learn because it’s like no other language. It is sans kriteria, which means unequalled. It is the language of the divine. You need to find the divine in yourself and put yourself first. And by the way Buddhism uses Tibetan which is not the same.

It’s sam’s skirt cuz the guys wear skirts and the girls don’t.

Rachelle u need 2 get laid.

Sanskrit isn’t actually that hard to sing for the most part, though it does have some sounds Anglophones will have to put some effort into learning. Russian is at least as hard for Anglophones. If, at any time, you would like to stop screaming at people and start reading things, start with something like this useful brief run-down of the connections between Sanskrit and European languages and how they were discovered. And if you’re interested in the English versions of the texts from the Bhagavad Gita that were used in Satyagraha, the Metropolitan Opera has a nice PDF of them. Here’s one great quote: “Let a man feel hatred for no being, let him be friendly, compassionate; done with thoughts of ‘I’ and ‘mine,’ the same in pleasure as in pain, long suffering.”

Sesquitic you should know you can’t trust everything you read on the web. And thanks for the sexism “let a man.” You should go to India and open your eyes. HedKrushr: DIE.

Responses closed.

Favourite responder chosen by GoLeefs95: RachelleJrnl.

Favourite answer chosen by GoLeefs95: “Sanskrit is so hard to learn because it’s like no other language. It is sans kriteria, which means unequalled. It is the language of the divine.”

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