From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Felicitous Felinity (3)—Polymath

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series Felicitous Felinity.
A year ago on Round and Square (8 July 2012)—Asian Ethnicities: Han-c
Two years ago on Round and Square (8 July 2011)—Le Tour de la France: A Disappointment for the Boys
[a] Eclectic RF

No, this is does not mean "lots of math." Well, in a way—sort of—it does, but it actually refers to even wider ranges of of knowing beyond the beauty of mathematics itself. Polymaths are not quite as common these days, what with almost comical forms of academic specialization and jargon-laced journal publications that would make all but the six people focusing on a small fragment of a tiny subfield...throw up (mostly their hands) in despair.
[b] Ploy math RF

No, polymathy was different back in the good ol' days, when giants named Aristotle, Sima Qian, Thomas Aquinas, Ban Zhao, Ibn Khaldun, and Immanuel Kant roamed the earth. How many people do you know today who could write first-rate political science and literary theory? Or treatises on canals in one breath, followed by imperial annals on the other? Or reflections on "just war" and the nature of god? Want more polymathy? Well, how about a writer so versatile that she wrote treatises on proper social conduct and completed the massive historical tome her father and brothers couldn't finish? Or a theory of social conflict and the history of his people? Finally, how about the guy who "solved" they mystery of human knowledge and dabbled in anthropology on the side?

This is the meaning of "polymath." A polymath is not just someone who is "smart." It takes much, more work than that—decades and decades of reading, writing, thinking, experimenting, and writing some more. This often occurs with cats as companions.

Polymath. Now we come to the twist that I didn't tell you about in the introduction. If your native language is not English, go to the comments section and give a rough translation that "works" for you. I am hoping to get a whole passel of approximations for "polymath" in languages ranging from Armenian and Farsi to Nuer and Taiwanese. Of course they will be approximations. Language doesn't have exact equivalents. That would be boring. So what's a word that means something like "knows a ton of stuff" in your native language?

And, if you really want to think about how to make use of vocabulary, use a sentence that you might actually speak or write

          A sixteenth century polymath and essayist, Michel de Montaigne wrote his
          reflective essays in a tower on his estate. His only companion was his cat.

Polymath. If kitty knows how to read and write—and possesses an unusual drive toward (nine) lifelong learning—s/he may join Montaigne's cat among an elite group of polymathic felines (or at least cats "owned" by polymathic humans). 
[c] Fieldnotes RF


  1. Have you considered throwing up links to multiple dictionaries? That would highlight the "in-between", dense meanings of these words. Plus I just really love American Heritage.

  2. Thanks, Jack. This was my original plan...until I realized that the OED is only available through subscription (this is not too high a bar for people associated with college/university libraries, but won't work for "the world over"). The AHD is terrific. It is my favorite dictionary, by far, after OED. The thing about the MW website, though, is that it is easily accessed all over the world. I have added a link to AHD and OED, though, with a note about the challenges. You are absolutely right that a person needs to see the words in action (OED) to understand the beauty and complexity of these words.

  3. Cool! Didn't know the online dictionaries were factionalized in such a way