Accents Matter in Ancient Greek

January 18, 2010

St. John's College in New Mexico, ever proud of its emphasis on the classics, printed a T-shirt last year that in Attic Greek (theoretically) said: "If you can read this, you're overeducated." As The Santa Fe Reporter detailed, however, someone at St. John's needs some help with Greek. The accents were wrong, so the phrase doesn't read as intended, as the college discovered when someone sent a T-shirt to Thomas G. Palaima, a professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin. He sent word back and the T-shirts are off the market. Via e-mail, Palaima said that the error didn't make it impossible to understand the meaning of the phrase, but was the equivalent of writing the college's name this way: "sT' joHns. College."

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