Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi

Sup y’all?

The weather is bad, a new variant of Covid is rife and we all need a bit of cheering up. So it’s time to parse some Latin.

And if that doesn’t cheer you up, or at least focus your mind, then I don’t know what will;)

As I have mentioned before, I have a copy of the Vulgate (a real paper copy) and have even made a frequency list containing the 100 most frequent words used.

And as maybe you already know, terra autem erat inanis and so on above crops up at the beginning of Genesis, so I haven’t had to look far for suitable parsing material.

The Vulgate has punctuation, so let’s make use of it and parse :

Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi


Terra autem erat inanis et vacua


et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi.

Terra ‘earth’ is a first declension feminine noun.

It looks like a nominative, so without even worrying about declining it, let’s assume that is it is in the nominative and the subject of the sentence. I’m guessing nominative because it makes sense and the Vulgate *wasn’t supposed* to be complicated. Terra could be an accusative but would that work with erat? No it wouldn’t, so let’s ignore that possibility.

Erat ‘he/she was’ is the third person singular imperfect of the verb ‘to be’.

Autem ‘but, moreover, also’ is a conjugation.

Inanis, inanis, inane is an adjective with various meanings. It will come as no great surprise to you to learn that one of these meanings is ‘inane’. There is another which is ’empty, void’.

I’m going to leave the declension of Inanis, inanis, inane for the interested reader;) It might help you to know that back in the day, the model adjective that we used was tristis, tristis, triste, and that these are in the nominative case. In other words, they agree with and describe terra.

Vacuus, vacua, vacuum ’empty, vacant, unoccupied ‘ is a (I think) a first declension adjective. I don’t want to mislead anyone with this, so if you think it is something else, you are likely correct.

However, vacua is a feminine nominative singular, and I am certain of that, meaning that it agrees with terra.

And finally, I’m reasonably certain that the correct grammatical term for the use of vacua and inanis in this context is a predicative adjective. They describe the noun terra and have the verb ‘to be’ in between the two. You don’t need to know that, but it might come in useful when you have to impress the cool kids.

And so we have something like , ‘But the earth was empty and unoccupied …’

Ok. That’s part one complete, and now onto:

tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi

Tenebra, tenebrae ‘darkness, gloom, night and so on’ is a first declension feminine noun.

Tenebrae is the plural form of tenebra which explains why the version of esse ‘to be’ used is the third person imperfect plural. It has to ‘agree’ with the noun in number and gender.

‘Darkness was … ‘

Super ‘over, above’.

‘Darkness was over …’

Facies, ei ‘shape, appearance, aspect’ is a fifth declension feminine noun. Crucially for us followed by the accusative case, and faciem is a very standard accusative singular ending, but let’s decline facies to be sure;)

Facies, facies, faciem, facei, facei, face


‘Darkness was over the face …’

Abysssus, abyssi ‘abyss, sea, chaos’ is a second declension feminine noun. This gives us various possibilities as Abyssi is either a genitive singular or a nominative plural. Abyssi ‘of the abyss’ as a genitive singular seems the more plausible option to me.

And so we can translate:

Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi


But the world was empty and unoccupied and darkness was over the face of the abyss.

Besos, baci and pax.


Posted in Latin, Parsing, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A summer language project


One thing that I have learnt about myself, is that (in general) I am very, very, very bad at doing more than thing at once.

This applies to most areas of my life.

So, as an example, if I’m learning Croatian and at the same time actively trying to improve my Italian, it stresses me out. Or actively trying to learn a new computer language, it stresses me out. Or actively trying to …

And with the language example, as this is something that I do for fun, this kind of defeats the object of learning languages. I also don’t actually achieve very much of whatever that I have set out to do.

I have also belatedly discovered that I am much better at doing one thing for a short period of time.

And so for the next ten weeks (or so) I have decided on a summer language project. I won’t do anything else – actively 😉

As a slight aside, in case you were wondering, and despite my brave talk of having ‘given up Croatian due to the pandemic and lack of travel possibilities’, I miss it! And so after the next ten weeks are up, I will return to my Croatian. It is without doubt my favourite language.

So my ten week project will be to learn as much German as I can over the next ten weeks, bringing me roughly to mid October.

I am a false beginner. I have attempted to use Assimil German, and played at learning German. At one point I even decided that German would be one of the five languages that I would learn. This hasn’t materialised. I have now all but forgotten the German that I learnt with Assimil. But still, I would like to learn a little more, and so it beckons as my perfect summer language project.

I came across a language app called Speakly. It is, I think, really good, so good that I paid to become a lifetime member.

I like the basic premise behind it, which is that you learn words in the order of frequency of use.

Obviously, in reality there is no such thing as absolute word frequency list. It will change depending on context. There will however be a large overlap between all frequency lists.

I have been using Speakly for about ten days, and the app tells me that I now know 215 words. I’m aiming to learn approximately twenty a day, which would give me a respectable end figure of somewhere over 1000 words learnt by the end of the ten weeks.

My maths isn’t bad, and I’m fully aware that twenty multiplied by seven and then again by ten gives 1400.

I’m assuming that I will end up using the app five days a week.

The second cool feature I like about speakly is there is an emphasis on listening to a series of monologues three or so times a day. This is cool. Comprehension is important.

There is more which I will mention over the coming weeks, along with the number of words that I have learnt and the progress that I have made.

Beso, baci and pax.


Posted in German, speakly, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What is the Croatian word for bird?


So there I was sitting in the garden enjoying the fruit of my labour. Birds were cheeping, the sun was shining and the only thing disturbing me was the occasional cloud.

In short, I was pretty chilled when all of a sudden this thought popped into my head:-

What is the Croatian word for bird?

It was totally random, and maybe if I practised mindfulness this wouldn’t have happened. My internal monologue would have been non-existent and instead I would be focused on the sun beating down on me, the sound of the aforementioned birds, leaves rustling and the general relaxing vibe.

I’ll leave out the sound of traffic, and the sound of rocks being smashed for the purposes of this bucolic scene.

But it happened.

I couldn’t remember the (Croatian) word for bird, and that was despite having recently proudly declared myself as having a B1 level in Croatian.

I could remember it in Spanish, Italian and French (pajaro, ucello and oiseau) but not in Croatian.


It’s not exactly a disaster, but it brought home a rather unpleasant fact, and it left me feeling distinctly dechuffed.

My basic Croatian vocabulary is starting to drift away.

Like the clouds.

Croatian isn’t a straight-forward language for numerous reasons. One of these is vocabulary acquisition. I am not trying to improve the Croatian that I know (for the now), nevertheless I definitely do not want to forget the vocabulary that I have so painfully learnt.

Of course, I immediately looked up the Croatian for bird which is ptica with and for the sake of completeness a plural of ptice.

The act of looking the word up (as I didn’t have a phone, dictionary or access to the internet) to hand, disturbed my tranquil state and also made me consider language maintenance. My comfortable period of loafing about in the garden brought abruptly to an end.

My Croatian is most definitely not at the level where I can read, listen to the radio or carry out any of the fun, accessible and obvious ways of maintaining a language.

For example with Spanish, I read the news, listen to the radio and occasionally chat with friends. Ditto with Italian. I learnt most of my French at school many moons ago, and it has remained firmly entrenched in my skull (as has Latin) ever since. Perhaps a passing neuroscientist could explain why this is so?

But Croatian!

My most recent and favourite of all languages is disappearing fast.

I need to halt this slide – especially as at some point I want to continue learning and improving.

So in essence I’m talking about language maintenance. This would have made a better title for SEO purposes but is too obvious for my liking.

The slightly tangential link appeals to me.

So how am I going to do maintain my Croatian?

And crucially do so without spending too much time on it.

I don’t know.

I have various ideas, which I will outline in my next post.

By the way, if you read Spanish I thought this article was interesting. It can be summed up by ‘stop looking at your phone the time kiddos!’.

And finally, if you are in the UK and are an EU citizen who hasn’t applied for pre-settled status, do it now!

The deadline for this expired on June the 30th 2021 but the government is likely to be lenient with late applications. Apparently.

Besos etc.


Posted in Language Learning | Leave a comment

Realistic expectations

Sup y’all?

Well, today, dear reader, I’m going to write about realistic expectations in general, and in particular how this leads to learning a language to a B1 level.

This is something that I have been giving some thought to recently, as I go about my daily life. As you might or might not know although I am interested in languages, enjoy learning lists of words, studying grammatical constructions, parsing Latin, among other activities.

However, I am not obsessed and I am not a linguist. In fact, languages are not a big part of my life in terms of time. I mean obviously I run Surface languages and Easy Afrikaans as hobby projects but I am largely occupied with other non language related activities.

This presents something of a conundrum. I like to learn languages, and I don’t have a lot of spare time so what do I do? How good should I expect to get in a given language – given the time I am willing to spend.

It’s taken me a while to get to this point which only make sense of you know what a B1 level is. If not the ubiquitous wiki gives a good explanation.

If you want to avoid extra reading, a B1 level can be summed up as good but not fluent. It will take you between 350 and 600 hours to reach depending on the language, whether you know similar languages, your aptitude for learning and so on.

In other words, a B1 level is very, very reachable, and you don’t have to dedicate your life to learning language to reach it. It is a reasonable expectation that you can reach that level by spending 30 minutes a day for two years or so.

Having lived on this planet for a considerable time now, and if not having gained particular wisdom, I have at least gained a sense of perspective. It is easy to have unrealistic expectations of what is achievable in a given time frame, and what you should achieve. It is also then easy to be overly harsh on yourself if you don’t achieve whatever it is that you set out to achieve, or if you fall short in some way.

It is easy to fall into this trap with languages, and to feel that your level isn’t quite good enough. The beauty of learning is that you will never finish, and this applies very much to languages. There is always something else to learn and practice, slang, specific vocab, improved comprehension. The list is endless, and infinite.

You will never know *everything* about another language. You will *never* understand absolutely everything. Everyone’s language ability falls within a continuum from hello/goodbye to educated/widely read mother tongue speaker.

This leads me back to where I started and the point I am trying to make (to me as much as to you) which I will illustrate with my Croatian level.

I have spent the last two years learning Croatian, and with a bit of a warm-up (let’s say a week) can speak at a low B1 level. I could continue, and I do really like the Croatian language, but nowadays am particularly motivated more than anything else by a planned visit. We had intended to visit Croatia last year, next year and maybe the year after.For obvious reasons this hasn’t happened, and for other reasons France is likely to be my destination next year and the following.

I had realistic expectations of the Croatian, and the Croatian I could learn, in the time that I was spending. I never expected to become *fluent* or even *near fluent*. I’m happy with my level. I had intended to carry on for two more years and maybe reach B2 to perhaps feel like I had learnt enough the language. Again this was a realistic expectation.

In the current circumstances, I no longer have the impetus to spend (due to changed travel plans) my language learning time solely on Croatian. I will maintain it, and with luck very gradually improve over time, but it is no longer my primary focus.

It is fine to have a realistic expectation that is a B1 (or A1/A2) or whatever works for you. It is fine to reach that and move on.

My aim with languages is to speak Spanish well, and others at a B1 level. This fits in with my lifestyle, interest in languages and time available.

And in other news, I’ve been struggling with my solar powered pond water feature. The battery, converter and solar panel are nicely wired up, fused and working.

The (second) pump however is not connected.

There is a helpful phrase ‘measure twice, drill once’. This is as you would imagine applicable to any measurements, not just to drilling. It is very applicable to pipe sizes.

I have guessed/roughly measured three times the bore of the pump for the water feature, and three times have wasted £5 ordering tubing which doesn’t quite fit.

I now have some calipers arriving tomorrow.

Besos and Baci,


Posted in Language Learning | Leave a comment

Verbum sapienti sat est


Or should we say:

Verbum sapienti satis est?

It’s up to you really.

Be that as it may, its time to parse a short Latin phrase which I want to remember.

Verbum (word) is a second declension neuter noun. Back in the day, bellum was used as the model for declining such a noun, and here it is in all its glory in both the singular and plural:-

bellum, bellum, bellum, belli, bello, bello,

bella, bella, bella, bellorum, bellis, bellis.

Let’s assume that verbum is a nominative, and so the subject of verbum sapienti … and parse from there.

sapiens, sapientis (wise, judicious … ) is an i-stem adjective and declines like ingens. Ingens was the adjective used as a pattern that I was forced to learn a lifetime ago, and which has surprisingly remained firmly entrenched in my brain.

And here it is in the singular :-

ingens, ingens, ingens

ingens, ingens, ingens

ingentem, ingens, ingens

ingentis, ingentis, ingentis

ingenti, ingenti, ingenti,

ingenti, ingenti, ingenti

Well look we can use a little initiative here. Sapienti could be either in the dative or accusative case, but dative makes sense as is translated as to giving us:-

Verbum sapienti A word to the wise.

You can use this on its own.

As in:-

Hey you, verbum sapienti, you need to water your geraniums.

Don’t spoil it by adding ‘a‘ as in:-

Hey you, a verbum sapienti …

satis (enough)

est (is) is from the irregular verb esse (to be) which you should know by now, but here it is in the present anyway:-

sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt

The parsed Latin is fairly clear and is :-

A word to the wise is enough.

In other news, I have been planning and starting to build a water feature, as a bid to make part of our garden more interesting.

But, verbum sapienti, solar powered pumps can be more tricky than you think – especially if you want to avoid draining a battery also being charged from the same panel.

The naive implementation of attaching one pump directly to the battery isn’t a great one. The pump can drain the battery, and once a lead acid battery drops below a certain voltage, the charge controller will stop working. This is bad!

The trick, or so I think, is to have two pumps. The first is a more powerful pump directly connected to the solar panel. The second will be activated by a motion detector and is less powerful and only used at night. The sounds of water can then be heard in the darkness. This pump will be connected to the load terminals on the charge controller (fused obvs.), and fall within the allowable tolerance of the controller.

Food for thought!

And finally, I have added a Sindarin crossword to Surface languages, which is possibly the only one on the internet:)

Oh, and just one more observation: I personally prefer Verbum sapienti satis est to verbum sapienti sat est. The second is to my ear a bit chi chi.

Chi chi isn’t acceptable either. It just happens to neatly encapsulate my thoughts.

Besos and baci,


Posted in Latin, Parsing, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And now I know!


I don’t know if you remember, but I was recently musing on whether or not I should continue learning Croatian. The very fact of putting pen to paper helped me make my decision, which is to park it for a while or until we have some concrete plans to visit the country.

And so what now?

Obviously I have a new language project:-


I have set myself the gentle goal of reaching an A1 level in Welsh by the end of the year. This is more than achievable.

But won’t you miss Croatian?

Yes I will:( The thing is that without a definite goal (e.g. a visit, friends I can practice with etc), my motivation stalls and my attention wanders.

So back to the subject of Welsh!

I’m not Welsh. I did however have a Welsh speaking (or understanding) grandmother (who I never met), and my mother was born in Cardiff.

It follows that Welsh should have been one of my languages by default, so I can reclaim a little bit of my language heritage.

The only word that remains having passed down the generations is ych y fi (yuck), and its time to build on that.

Dw i’n mynd i dysgu Cymraeg:)

Knowing where to put the emphasis on the word gwasanaethau will also be a bonus. I’m not going to tell you why it is important, but if you need a clue think motorways.

In other news, having finished building a (large) woodshed and decent raised bed, I’m going to build a water feature of some sort. Our garden isn’t that big (13 x 6 metres) so planning is key.

Still, I’ve always wanted to have a …

… stream.

I’m an ex-automation engineer remember:) And I have an extremely large solar panel and controller to make use of …

Pictures to follow at some point.

And on that thoughtful note, I bid you farewell.

Baci ‘n besos,


Posted in Language Learning, Welsh | Leave a comment

What should I do now?


It’s been a while, and I hope that you are all keeping well. I’ve been extremely busy and am metaphorically putting pen to paper as I can’t decide what to do next (language wise).

Let me set the scene with a few factual sentences setting out the situation.

I have been learning Croatian for about two and a half years and have reached a lowish B1 level. It is a difficult language, and needs time and effort to improve. B1 to B2 would take me another two years.

I learnt a few words of Croatian before a visit to Croatia, and enjoyed it so much that I continued.

We had planned to visit Croatia again in 2020 but due to the pandemic changed our plans instead to visit this summer (2021).

This is looking increasingly unlikely as the pandemic rumbles on.

If we don’t visit Croatia this year, it is unlikely that we will visit over the following two years (for various reasons that I won’t bore you with).

Following this thought process, our next likely visit would be in 2024!!!!

This is hardly a disaster in the overall scheme of things, and I fully appreciate how lucky I am to be thinking about something so trivial, but from a language learning perspective it has knocked my motivation.

I love the Croatian language, but I need a purpose to learn a language, and various visits were the purpose and motivation to keep me on the straight and narrow.

I can’t decide what to do.

Much as I love the Croatian language, I’m not sure if I can continue learning in a vacuum.

Learning a language is never pointless, but personally I need a reason to help me continue.

I’m leaning towards maintaining my level of Croatian, and maybe language dabbling with purpose over the coming year.

Besos i Baci,


Posted in Language Goals, Language Learning | 2 Comments

Never trust what you read on the internet

Dear All?

Forget anti-vexers and other conspiracy theories for a moment. This isn’t the real danger of the internet (unless you are easily swayed).

The real danger on the internet is people writing for SEO purposes without any understanding of that they are writing about – in other words 99 percent of article and content creation is generic papp.

Sense check everything you read.

Long gone are the days when *most* people wrote about subjects of which they had an understanding. Nowadays, the majority of internet content is written primarily to try and attract the google gods and so sales/money.

Remember that and read critically, especially if you are looking up anything to do with health, finance or basic DIY.

I have no objection to people writing to increase traffic to their websites (to increase sales) provided the information is in some sense useful – and not generic platitudes copied from other site.

I wonder when or if Google will ever improve their algorithms to filter out the wheat from the chaff. There doesn’t seem to be much weighting as to quality, but more importance placed on where ‘key sentences’ are placed in the text.

Here is a good example of what I am writing about.

I wanted some specific information about changing or substituting a transformer in a ceiling light (and yes I know how to do this).

The first result returned by my search was full of wisdom such as:-

Turn off the power. Remove the transformer. Install the replacement.

It is generic rubbish written for SEO, and clearly by someone who has never swapped a transformer out. Fine, you need to follow all these steps, but the information is hardly enlightening. It does not help anyone achieve the task. It is not adding anything.

The way article writing for SEO works, and it is easy to do is (in essence) as follows.

  • Type in some sort of relevant search term.
  • Open the top ten result pages in different tabs.
  • Copy, paste and rewrite theses pages into a new *article*.
  • Improve the on-page SEO slightly.

This is why so many articles appear to be the same. The research is in fact a quick trawl through similar articles, and the author has no knowledge of experience of what he or she is writing about.

The situation is so bad that if I want information I will always prefix my searches with:

NHS for health.

WIKI for information.

And so on.

Or I will go to specific sites that I know are of high quality.

I, for example, have been a lawyer, games programmer, automation engineer, worked in manufacturing, and have studied languages formally. I can write about those subjects with some degree of knowledge, and while it might be imperfect is based on practical experience and exposure.

If I write outside these areas, I am on more shaky ground.

This doesn’t matter normally, but when you are looking for advice on how to do something important, it would be useful to find it high in the search rankings.

I would never (for example) write an explanation of how to do anything electrical with mains voltage.


I am not an electrician. FFS. I don’t want to inadvertently mislead anyone with bad information in an area where is matters.

Fine, if you want to automate your water butt like I intent to do and water spills over your garden does it matter? No. If you wire up a transformer the wrong way, it might …

This is exactly the reason, that I won’t publish the circuitry for the water butt/greenhouse projects on my blog. It’s not secret nor is it particularly sophisticated.

The thing is that while I am confident that I know what I am doing, I don’t want to mislead anyone.

Just don’t trust the internet (and you know what the same applies to all the conspiracy theories floating about).

Your irritably,


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Removing enormous ivy roots


Presumably you know the story of Jack and the beanstalk? If not shame on you, and maybe you should look it up. These old amoral fairy tales are perfect for our time. They are truer to life than the sugar coated stories that children are reared on nowadays. There is no messing around with right, wrong and undue moralising. It is left for the reader to decide, and think about.

In Jack and the beenstalk the giant was a bully and thief. Jack kills him. Was Jacks response proportional to the theft of a magic harp committed by the giant or not?


The definition of murder in UK law is ‘one person kills another with intention to cause death or serious injury unlawfully’.

Jack cut the beanstalk down when Gogmagog was on it. There is intent, and it would be very difficult to argue otherwise. He knew the giant was on the beanstalk. He knew the beanstalk would crash to the ground when chopped down. He knew that death or serious injury would result.

I used to love academic law.

Behind our shed something akin to the beanstalk had sprouted. Not as quickly, for sure, taking more like twenty years as opposed to the days required when magic beans are planted.

Gogmagog might have been at the top for all I know and ready to roar:-

I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he alive, or be he dead
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread

In case you hadn’t guessed, back in the real world, English Ivy had sprouted, unreachable and untouchable growing as it did behind the shed inches from the fence at the Back of Beyond.

The shed has now gone. The ivy hasn’t.

Wondering if there was an easy way to remove english ivy (Hedera helix), I chanced across a post suggesting that it would be possible to gently remove ivy and brush away the leaves.

After smiling to myself about this for the briefest of moments, I moved on, checking my L & S for the meaning of Hedera. I discovered that Hedera is the literal Latin word for ivy, so zero out of ten for the botanists originality quotient.

L & S also told me that Hereda was sacred to Bacchus and hence wound around the thyrssus. Thryssus being a bacchic wand tipped with ivy.

Ignoring the wise words whispered by the internet, I started to gently persuade the ivy to leave the fence with an axe and saw.

The roots are thicker than my arm, and are not keen to be persuaded. Dark and deep they go into the earth, grown and entwined around small pebbles and larger bricks. And this linked to the vulnerable fence is making them difficult to remove.

I’m sawing the roots out in chunks. Good for me physically and probably helping me to develop mental fortitude as well.

I’m digging down to below ground level, removing as many roots as I can, and will spread poison over the stump. I’m not entirely chuffed, in fact distinctly dechuffed with spewing venom in the garden. There is no other way of removing enough of the roots to stop the ivy, resurfacing under the woodshed (and fence) like a phoenix or more likely Hydra.

I have nothing against hedera which is good for wildlife and in the right quantities adds a certain dark something to a garden. Despite our gardens small size (13metres long and 6 metres wide), there is plenty more on the run so its not going anywhere soon. I will keep enough for wildlife purposes.

It gets dark early at this time of year, and when it did and the temperature dropped, it was time to do something inside.

More ivy removal pix coming soon …

Besos, baci and Pax,


Posted in Garden, Ivy, law | Leave a comment

What next?


I woke up bright and early today (not by choice), and wondered as I lay there what next for me?

No doubt a lot of people are thinking the same. Another year. Another lockdown. The same pandemic. Limited employment prospects.

OK. Well, I can’t control that but I can control the content of this blog and Surface Languages.

Surface languages will continue as before and I will add bits ‘n pieces as and when something tickles my fancy, such as the Dalmatian language or Lingua Ignota.

My language learning goals will continue as before, that is an interest but not something that dominates my time.

The water butt automation project will continue (as will the yet to be mentioned woodshed building project),

But what of this blog?

Up until now, I have mainly written about languages, but this has always been a bit of an uneasy fit for me.

It has felt a bit limiting.

I give you fair warning, that as well as including my thoughts on languages, Latin parsing and so on, from hereon in, this blog will include politics, law, automation, programming, crosswords, gardens, pandemics, brexit …

Let’s pretend it is a diary.

Think Samuel;)

Besos, baci i pax,


Posted in diary, Uncategorized | Leave a comment