Better off in Brussels
I am in Brussels for most of this week, interviewing for the European Research Council Starting Grant programme (and what you see is the view from our interview room in EuroTower; the less scenic aspect below). Which is probably just as well, as it means I escape the rumpus caused by my last post on the sigma on the new Faculty doors (or rather the absence of the sigma).
This little squib has now been picked up by the Cambridge News, The Mail, The Telegraph, Corriere della Sera, and Anglia TV News -- to name just a few. That itself has a moral. In the old days bloodhound reporters would get out in all weathers to track their scoops down (or that's the myth at any rate). Nowadays it's easier to find them via Google.
But why on earth did this particular little item of news capture the imagination?
Well, in part, it must be that the idea the boffins getting it wrong always has a certain pleasure. In this case a load of journalists who didn't have the foggiest clue about the difference between a Roman 'S' and a Greek 'Sigma' laid into Cambridge classicists for getting their spelling wrong. (In fact The Mail was so muddled that the first version of its headline said that we had got our LATIN wrong . . .)
In any case it wasn't a question of spelling -- and my first blog never said that it was.
The word 'phusei' was spelled completely correctly with an S. The problem was that the wrong alphabet was used -- a Latin letter was used, where there ought to have been a Greek one. (Embarrassing yes, but there are a good number of ancient precedents for mixing up the alphabets).
What had almost certainly happened (and I can now fill you in) was an electronic error. The guys making the stick-on letters (and sadly -- or happily in the circumstances -- we can't afford proper engraving) had been sent a correct Greek text electronically. It was fine on the screen, but there must have been some coding error, which meant that it came out wrong when it went through the receiving machine which produced the letters.
Anyway the poor offending S has now been removed (not -- so far as I know -- a Faculty decision, but one -- I think -- made higher up the University food chain). A pity in a way. It was beginning to have the kind of celebrity that a misprinted postage stamp has, and more people had looked at our doors than ever before.
And maybe they had reflected on that great quote from Aristotle.