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Silent Crows

Well, well, well! We had some mighty fine entries this time around. I had a hard time deciding on who the winners would be. Nevertheless, decided I have, so announce them I shall!

I don’t have time for a big long post this time around, but I very much enjoyed reading all the entries, which you can find in the comments section here. A big thank you to Char, JLategan, Joel W., KuraiHeka, Smoya Targaryen, Tim, and Zhalio for submitting haiku this year.

A couple honorable mentions. Our very first haiku was by Zhalio, who had an amazingly topical haiku about my current bird feeder problems (which, by the way, have not been resolved. The birds won’t go anywhere near the damn bird feeder). It’s a High Valyrian haiku, and here it is:


havondo lentrot


Here’s the intended meaning:

May many a bird

at thy gen’rous feeding house

alight and tarry

Tickled me to death, this one. Unfortunately, there are a couple small issues. First, you were looking for tīkorto for the first word, not tīkorzo. The subject of a permissive imperative must be in the dative. [NOTE: As was pointed out in the comments below, Zhalio was looking for a simple third person command rather than a permissive, in which case the vocative is appropriate. My bad there!] Also, given that I just have the one small bird feeder, lentot would be more appropriate than lentrot. Clever solution for “feeding”, though! I like the idea of a little food hamlet.

Next, two honorable mentions for Dothraki. I will say, the Dothraki competition this year was the tightest. Three of the best Dothraki haiku I’ve had were done this year. One of them was Tim’s, listed below:

Zir zhokwa kazga
Ovetha oleth olti
She felde hafi

The intended meaning is below:

Large black bird
Flies over hill
On quiet wings

This is nearly perfect. Rather than she felde, though, I would do ki feldi. Tiny error, but, as I said, competition was stiff this year.

Next is JLategan’s outstanding haiku below:

Charo! Chaf chafki
hola hoyale hafa
ha haqakea

With the intended meaning below:

Listen! Autumn’s wind
is blowing a quiet song
for those who are tired

Nothing at all wrong with this grammatically, but the winner was too good to pass up. All the same, I love this haiku. Wonderful imagery.

Now for the winners! First, winning the Dothraki haiku competition for the second year in a row, congratulations to Zhalio for this gorgeous haiku:

Az ahhaf yera.
Fin vahhafa athnithar
mra zhor anhoon?

A blade silenced thee.
Who shall now silence the pain
left inside my heart?

Athzheanazar! I absolutely love it. As the winner of the Dothraki haiku competition, Zhalio has earned the coveted Red Rabbit!

2016 Red Rabbit Winner Zhalio

Now, for a first time winner, I’m pleased to announce that Joel W. has won the High Valyrian haiku competition with this excellent haiku cycle:

mērī iōrtes

Pār pȳdza
va bantī

Se elēna
lāruno tolmiot

In the mist
alone it had stood
still waiting

Then leapt
the prey
into the night

And the voices
of some distant crows
were screaming

Very well constructed! I’ll note that I would not use the form pȳdza (it should be pȳdas), and also might not use va bantī, but it certainly works. You were spot on with your use of the instrumental passive in ahīghilis, which I thought was inspired, and your construction for “prey” was likewise praiseworthy.

As the winner of the High Valyrian haiku competition, Joel W. has earned the Golden Owl:

2016 Golden Owl Winner Joel W.

Congratulations to the winners, and to all those who entered! We’ll do it again next year, and I’m sure things will go much more smoothly on my end (Meridian will be more than a year old! That’s easier than two months, right?). Geros ilas ma dothras chek!


UPDATE: It appears that all comments are being moderated, for some reason (it’s usually just new commenters that get moderated). I’m not sure why that’s happening, but I’m looking into it. As long as your comment gets into the moderation queue within a week that counts for the contest.

Another year, and another season in the books! The finale happened yesterday, there are a number of important characters who are now dead, and I’ve got a book to give away (more details on that at the end of this post!), but I first want to talk about something that happened in episode 509.

With the Sons of the Harpy closing in around her, Daenerys’s goose looked cooked, until Drogon showed up from the sky and started blasting everybody. With Drogon getting hurt (poor dragon!), Dany mounted Drogon’s back and told him, “Fly!”, and then she took off. At least, that’s what I heard when I saw it, and I didn’t question it. Later on I started hearing from people that she said something different, which I thought was weird, because it sounded and looked like “fly” to me. I dismissed it, until I saw something extremely bizarre: In the closed captioning, the word “VALAHD” had been added, as shown below:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I found this utterly baffling for a number of reasons. For starters, she obviously does not say “valahd”, unless it’s a French word with a silent “d” (I have accepted that she does say something “v”-like at the very least, even though I didn’t catch it in my initial viewing). Second, “valahd” is not only not a word of High Valyrian, it’s not a word in anything (or so I thought, though more on this later). It looks like gibberish and its inclusion confounded me—especially as I had some behind-the-scenes information about this scene.

Initially, I had translated the High Valyrian command “fly” for this scene, and that’s what was in the materials I sent off (the word is Sōvēs!, which you can hear in my official recording here—and, in fact, it already appeared in the series in episode 310, albeit in the plural: sōvētēs). This wasn’t a pick-up line or something added in ADR: It was a part of the script whose translations I sent off last August. For whatever reason, though, that line didn’t make it into the recording that day, and what Emilia Clarke did say was “Fly!” in English. (It happens sometimes: Scenes get busy, lots of activity, sometimes a word gets forgotten and that take turns out the best, etc.)

Many months later when they were doing ADR for that scene, they decided to try to add the High Valyrian back in. I sent the post-production folks the original line and MP3, but there was a problem: Dany’s mouth didn’t match the word sōvēs, as what she said was English “Fly!” They asked me for something shorter, so I offered Jās!, High Valyrian for “Go!”, and they said they’d try it.

Anyway, I guess that didn’t work, so we got “valahd”, and I was wondering where the heck it came from—until I found it.

Dothraki has about 4,000 words, many of which are quite obscure and would never make it into a scene (nhizokh, “raven plumage”? I mean, maybe…?). I’ve probably forgotten over half the words I created—especially as I haven’t translated into it recently. I was looking through the dictionary, though, and came across an entry I’d forgotten: valad.

Valad is the word for “horizon” (among other things), but I came up with it initially when I was creating a bunch of horse commands for the Dothraki. The reason is that I wanted two different words for “giddyup”. We already have hosh or hosha, which is used to urge a horse on (usually when it’s already going), but then there’s this expression: Frakhas valad! That translates to “Touch the horizon!”, and it’s used at the outset of a journey. The interesting thing is the note I added to the end of the definition, which is “often just valad“. And that makes sense: You typically don’t speak in full sentences to horses when you’re riding. Valad! is a much better horse command than Frakhas valad! But yeah, basically it’s just a word that urges the horse to get going.

Back to our “valahd”, here’s what I think happened. Everyone on the production has access to all my materials. I think they just went through and found something that fit Emilia’s mouth movements that seemed like it was close to the original meaning. And hey, if the Dothraki rode dragons, I could imagine them using Valad! to urge them to take off. And it is pretty close to “Fly!”, aside from the final d. So overall, pretty good!

Some open questions, though: Why the “h”? I’m guessing since this didn’t come from me directly, someone was trying to sound it out and spelled it that way? Works for English speakers! Why Dothraki, though, instead of Valyrian? I think it was because of the similar meanings and the mouth movements. True, the dragons are supposed to only understand High Valyrian, but I mean Drogon probably got the gist of it. Plus, he’s named after famous Dothraki speaker Khal Drogo, so maybe he’s got a little Dothraki in him. He’s probably heard Dothraki a bunch growing up, too. And what better reason to switch to Dothraki than when riding a dragon like a horse? I’m still confused as to why the closed captioning was even added. Is that usually done with the languages? Wouldn’t the subtitle that’s already there convey well enough what’s being said? Was it for foreign audiences…? I don’t know—there’s a lot I don’t know about that process. Either way, our “valahd” appears to be Dothraki valad, and it works, in context, so all’s well that ends well.

Regarding the finale, I did want to make one Valyrian note. For this episode I got to translate one of my favorite exchanges, and I wanted to show you how it worked. When Tyrion, Missandei, Grey Worm, Jorah and Daario are left awkwardly in charge of Meereen (I loved this scene. They’re all sitting there like, “So…”), Missandei begins saying something in Valyrian and fumbles over what to call Tyrion. This is because she knows what she would say, but feels awkward calling him krubo, “dwarf”, as he’s standing right there. She ends up calling him byka vala, which literally translates to “little man”. Tyrion jumps in and helps her out, though, saying the following:

  • Krubo. Nyke pāsan kesor udir drējor issa? Munna, nya Valyrio mirrī pungilla issa.
  • “Dwarf. I believe that’s the word? Apologies, my Valyrian is a bit nostril.”

You know I love translating intentionally ungrammatical stuff. A better translation of the above would be “Dwarf. I do believe that is the correct word? Sorrows, my Valyrian is a little nostril.” Missandei then corrects him with:

  • Mirrī puñila.
  • “A little rusty.”

The English dialogue above is exactly as it was written, so I got the chance to create this near-miss. I started with “nostril”, which is actually formed from the word pungos, “nose”, via a suffix associated with byproducts. After that it was a matter of creating a word that had a pronunciation that was kind of close to that. What I came up with was the adjective puñila, which means “worn” or “weather-beaten”—and also, when used in conjunction with a skill or a language, “rusty”. I figured this would be a good pair for a non-native speaker to confuse. First, a double ll vs. a single l would be tough for a speaker who isn’t used to doubling consonants. Second, ñ is a non-English nasal consonant somewhere in the vicinity of the nasal you get when pronouncing ng. Although ñ will just come out as n before i in casual speech, it would be taught as something different from plain n, meaning that it would be remembered by a second language learner as something different from plain n—thus giving rise to the possible confusion, in this context, between puñila and pungilla.

So, I found that fun! Thank you for indulging. I love doing stuff like this, so I was delighted when I saw it in the script!

Posts here have been infrequent, I know, but I have been busy! Today I’m happy to announce the launch of my new website I’ll still have posts to add here, but I’m moving full speed ahead as I’m preparing to promote my new book The Art of Language Invention, which you can preorder now. As a part of that promotion, I would like to give away to a lucky commenter here a galley copy of The Art of Language Invention. Can we get a shot of those galleys?

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

There we are! A bunch of galleys being lorded over by little Roman, my feisty feline!

Now, as this is a galley, it isn’t a final copy of the book, but that makes it quite unique. I’ll sign the book and write something in Dothraki or Valyrian and mail it off to you for you to keep! All you need to do is leave a comment below (if you can’t think of something to write, tell me your favorite flavor of ice cream or sorbet). Leaving multiple comments doesn’t count as multiple entries, so I’ll choose one random commenter among each unique commenter and contact them. In order to be eligible, you have to leave at least one comment here that wouldn’t get screened out via my usual screening methods (so nothing offensive, no rants, etc.), and, if you win, you have to be willing to send me a mailing address. The deadline is one week from today. Otherwise, that’s it! Thanks for reading, and geros ilas!

We Have a New Winner

I said in our last IRC chat that today would be the deadline for submissions, and since Qvaak has not submitted a haiku, we will have a new winner this year! But who will it be? First, let’s take a look at the contenders. Starting with Dothraki…

First, we have this entry from Zhalio:

Khal vezhven akka
laz drivo ki zisoshi
kash me vos villo.

The intended meaning is:

Even a great king
could succumb to a mere scratch
when his wisdom failed.

I don’t see how the last line works… It literally translates to “While he isn’t wise”. I would have used arrek for “when” rather than kash, but that would’ve exceeded the syllable count. I think kash could work in this way. Nevertheless, a nice reference to the untimely death of the mighty Khal Drogo, felled by a zisosh (or, maybe, a maegi).

Next, we have an offering from first-time haiku submitter vaqari:

Javrath aranas
fansa zin fredrilates
yer chir chafaan

It’s tough to understand, but I think what’s being said is, “Drop the reins! Let the dapple continue to gallop! You will nearly be the wind!” If that was the intended meaning, first, punctuation would’ve helped, and second, though a little unorthodox, I would’ve recommended Yer achafoe. That kind of turns chaf into a verb, but I think it works. I’m trying to wrap my brain around whether or not this works, but I very much like the aesthetic.

Now for High Valyrian, the number of entries of which absolutely dwarf Dothraki this year. What happened?! A lot of people turned in themed haikus, or multi-part haikus. I’m still looking for the best one, though. Let’s see what we’ve got!

Starting with Danny, check out this poem:

Gevives aōhon
Iderēpta issa
Ābrar bē.

The intended meaning is:

The beauty of yours
It is chosen
By the people.

Close! It should be aōho (the genitive of the second person possessive pronoun aōhon), although this technically could work as a kind of “Oedipus the King” construction. That’d be more “The beauty yours”. So yes, you’re good there. The second line, though, should really just be a verb. The “to be” plus participle strategy really isn’t done in High Valyrian, though it remains a plausible strategy for languages descended from High Valyrian. “It is chosen” can be done with a single verb form. Also, I know there are problems with the whole applicative thing. Let that lie; I’ll take care of it. I like your use of ābrar for “people” (it’d mean more “humanity” rather than “populace”), but I haven’t seen used for the reintroduced agent of a passive verb. That’d be new territory for High Valyrian. Innovative, though!

Next, let me turn my attention to what I’m calling Zhalio‘s Fig Cycle. For those unfamiliar, I gave a talk at Google where I talked quite a bit about dried figs, for which there is a word in Dothraki (kemis). For the record, I spent a year in my youth in Fresno, where my step-grandmother and step-grandfather owned a house on which were kept many, many fig trees. The smell of rotting figs is…unmistakable. So is the joy of not having to ever eat figs. What an ugly word: fig. It’s like “pig” plus some dirty word that starts with “f”… Anyway, playing on the theme of figs (the word, for which, in High Valyrian is rōbir—one of the earliest High Valyrian words, oddly enough), Zhalio produced this brilliant quartet of haikus:

yne sȳngus daor,

Relgot ñuhot
Dārenka jeme
ynot kessi.

Dōnykton ynot

«Sparos», limā,
«Rōbir angotas?»
— Nyke gōntan.

His fanciful English translations are even better than their comparatively spare High Valyrian counterparts:

Your unsightliness
Doth nothing to deter me,
O figs, fruit of gods!

Upon my palate
adorned in kingly splendor
you shall seem to me.

Hard-won victory
How much sweeter is your taste
Than all the world’s figs.

«Who», I hear thee wail,
«did bite this fig, mine by rights?»
— ‘Twas no-one but I.

Honestly, I don’t even know what to say. This transcends brilliance. There is a word for “ugliness” in High Valyrian, but Zhalio‘s use of qringevives I think adequately expresses the ambivalence a fig lover must have upon viewing the mawan that is a fig. Gevives (the High Valyrian challenge word) means “beautiful”, and qrin- is a kind of pejorative prefix. It doesn’t mean “un-” precisely, it’s more like “mis-” in “misinformation”. Very well chosen. Also, I love sȳngus supposedly from sȳngagon, which isn’t a word. I may add it as a backformation. The word for “royal” is actually dārōñe, but everyone would understand dārenka. There is a verb for “seem”, but the translation you chose works well. Masterful use of the instrumental collective of “fig”. I knew that case/number combination would come in handy one day. And finally your use of the independent pronoun in the nominative in the last sentence of the last haiku in conjunction with the regular conjugation of gaomagon was marvelous. Very well done! Truly better than figs!

Zhalio also gave us this non-fig-based haiku:

Valar iāris
hae jesot jelmiot
keso glaeso.

The fanciful translation is below:

All men must needs fly
like dust in the fickle winds
of this vengeful life.

In this case, though, I like the Valyrian better. Much sparser; to the point. Very nice poem. I also really like the use of the verb iāragon. Nice job!

Moving on to Joel W‘s submission, first we have:


Which is:

continue to see ourselves
in all beauty

I think the English translation of this one is clumsier than the Valyrian, which is good. I also like how “in all beauty” was put at the end; it’s a better capper for the poem than the verb. Very nice poem! Here’s the next:

The next is a cycle of poems called Zaldrīzero bē, “On Dragonkind”. Here they are:

Zaldrīzero bē

iā perzenka;
skorion issa?

Gīmin daor
Kostilus lantra
iā daorun

Yn otāpan
lo mirre drēje;

And here is the intended meaning:

Like flesh
or like fire;
which is it?

I don’t know
Perhaps both
or neither

But I think
if either is true:
what great beauty!

This is a great idea, but there are a few problems here and there. The first is the first verb should be gīmion (subjunctive), and the second is that I swear there’s a “to be” verb missing in the second half. Maybe it could work? The meaning would be “Perhaps both or none”, though. I think that works. The same is true of the next sentence, with a missing “to be”. In truth, the haiku format is simply unsuited to High Valyrian; it’s not as economical as Japanese. There are no null copulas in High Valyrian, so sometimes you just have to go without, and the result is a little clunky. I really like your use of the vocative in the last line, though! I’m not sure if that’s something I’ve done before (i.e. “what a x” or “such a x”, but I like it! I may add that to the official grammar. I like the first of these haikus the best. I think it works the best as a haiku and works the best grammatically. Excellent job!

To close, let’s look at Papaya‘s 12 (yes, 12) haikus. The first four were presented in a group, though they’re not thematically linked. Nevertheless, I will present them together, to make things easier on myself:

bantī gevives
jēdro gō.

Iosr’ issa
se sōnar māzis.
Skoriot ilā?


Se pikīptan
Raqan lī tembī
Se geviar udra.

The meanings are:

Your eyes,
beauty in the night
under the sky.

It’s cold
and winter is coming.
Where are you?

We fought
We were victorious.

And I read
The pages I love
And beautiful words.

Some notes: As Papaya realized, the fourth poem breaks the mora count, because what was initially lua should indeed have been . All good, though! The first and third are my favorite. I like how simple the third one is. It just takes an idea and expresses it. Very nice! By the way, after you had composed this poem—and for a totally unrelated reason—I created a new word: ēbrion. It refers to the sky specifically at night. Of course, ēbrio gō still works!

Up next is an epic eight haiku cycle called Embro gō, “Under the Sea”. Here they are:

Embro gō

Embar kesor
Dekossa rizmot

Embār glaeson
Dōnon ynot

Vestris hae
Dōnot averoti
S’ynot morghon

Tolmiot jagon
Se morghūljagon.
Kesir jaelan.

Kirine iksan
Yn iosre tolī
Embro gō

Yn skoriot iksan?
Kempr’ iēdro gō
Gīmion daor

Yn sparos iksan?
Zōbrȳr embro
Gō nyk’ ilan

Ñuhor lōgor
Ojūdan embrot
se qrimbughen.

And here are the intended meanings:

This sea
Kisses my feet
In the sand

Like silver
A life in the sea
Would be sweet for me.

It seems like
Sweet grapes
And death to me

To go far
And to die.
That’s my wish.

I’m happy
Although too cold
Under the sea

But where am I?
Under this heavy sea,
I don’t know

And who am I?
I lie
Under this dark sea.

I lost
my ship in the sea
And I sink/drown.

Wow. Stunning. Unless I’m missing something, these are flawless. A lot of nice choices made here. Some of the elisions are a little rough (in the sixth poem in particular), but they work! Excellent job.

And now the heavy burden falls to me to choose two winners. As I said before, from now on there’s going to be one winner for Dothraki, and one for High Valyrian. Competition was, uh, niqe for High Valyrian; not so much for Dothraki. First, then, I shall award the Mawizzi Virzeth—the Red Rabbit—given to the annual winner of the Dothraki Haiku Competition. This year’s winner is Zhalio!

Red Rabbit 2015 Winner Zhalio

Hajas, zhey Zhalio!

And now announcing a new award: The coveted Golden Owl (Āeksio Atroksia), given to the annual winner of the High Valyrian Haiku Competition. This year’s winner of the Golden Owl is Papaya, for his second haiku from the “Under the Sea” series!


Rijes aōt, Papayus!

It was tough to choose a winner for the High Valyrian side, but I thought that haiku of Papaya‘s was perfect, even apart from the greater context.

Fantastic work this year! Perhaps some of these may end up in the Game of Thrones Compendium? Here’s hoping!

(Note: I’ll still do recordings, but I’ll have to do them later today and add them. No time!)

Asshekhqoyi Anni Save…Save…Save!

Today is my birthday once again; I’m now 34 years old. Since there are no snappy songs associated with the number 34, I think it’s about time for me to stop announcing my age… (Well, except Charles Barkley’s number was 34 on the Suns). I received a nice gift from a fellow conlanger, Andrew Gerber, whose tales from Mongolia helped to inspire a number of Dothraki terms (including the separate words for wet and dried animal dung!). He sent me a card he wrote in Dothraki…

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

…and in Mongolian:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Veteran Dothraki speakers might spot a few errors in the first message, but give him a break! He’s still learning. I thought it was pretty good! As for the Mongolian, I have a hard time even pronouncing it (Mongolian’s use of Cyrillic is…unique). Wildly impressed how fluent he became in three years in Mongolia with the Peace Corps!

Now to business. It is time for this year’s Dothraki haiku competition. This year I’ve decided to throw a twist into it. We will have the haiku competition in Dothraki, as usual, where the prize will be the coveted Red Rabbit (Mawizzi Virzeth), won all three years by the amazing Qvaak. Will this be the first year he’s dethroned?! Be interesting to see if we get any from Living Language Dothraki users this year! (Though it’ll be understandable if there aren’t any: It’s only been out about three months.) Anyway, that competition will run per usual (rules at the end of this post). What I’m adding this year is an official High Valyrian haiku competition. It will not be for the Red Rabbit, but for some separate prize of my choosing (I haven’t decided yet). This way the different languages won’t be in competition. There will be separate rules for the Valyrian entries, so pay attention to those at the end. Feel free to submit one of each.

But before all that, here are my haikus for the year. First, Dothraki:

Lajaki laqi
Achrakh ozokhi she yash
Glas rayim rissa.

Words that may not be available in there: yash is “air”; ozokh is the corpse of an animal; and rayim is like ray, but also passive. Now for High Valyrian:

Hūro gō
Tubī kȳvana

A new word here is kȳvanon, which means “plan” or “strategy”. (And I think tubī works for the meaning I intend. Don’t you judge me! It’s my birthday!)

All right, this year’s challenge words are niqe, “stiff”, for Dothraki (take note of the rules regarding epenthetic vowels below) and gevives, “beauty”, for High Valyrian. Now here are the rules, reposted from years prior:


For the purposes of this contest, a haiku is 17 syllables long, with the syllable counts for each line being 5, 7 and 5, in that order. If you need to fudge, go for it, but I will weight exact syllable counts more highly..

Also (and this is important), since this is Dothraki, we are definitely going by syllable count, not mora count. Regarding syllable-counting, in Dothraki, a syllable is defined as a vowel plus one or more consonants on either side. A syllable cannot contain more than one vowel, which means that a word like kishaan is trisyllabic, not disyllabic.

If it helps, you may or may not contract the various prepositions that contract. So, for example, mr’anha (two syllables) is the usual way of saying “inside me”. For your haiku, if you wish, you can separate the two out, i.e. mra anha (three syllables). You can also drop purely epenthetic e vowels (so the past tense of “crush”, kaffe, can be rendered as kaff’). Feel free to play with word order and drop pronouns, as needed, bearing in mind that such language is figurative, and the reader will still need to be able to figure out who’s doing what to whom.

For Valyrian: Long vowels count as two mora, and a vowel with a coda counts as two mora, but a syllable will not have more than two mora. So a long vowel plus a coda consonant will still be two mora, for the purposes of the poem. If you can’t do the poem using mora, do it with syllables, but I’ll weight those done with mora more highly. This will make it more like a real Japanese haiku. If you need a particular word in a particular number/case combination or a verb in a particular conjugation, please let me know and I’ll give it to you.

Addendum: Rising diphthongs count as two mora (i.e. ae and ao); falling diphthongs count as one (e.g. ia, ua, ue, etc.). Also, word order is certainly freer in poetry than it is in everyday speech, but the rules about adjectives still apply (i.e. you use the short forms if the adjective appears directly before the noun it modifies; otherwise they’d take their full forms). And, finally, word-final consonants are extrametrical. Thus if a word ends in -kor, that counts as one mora, not two.

Shieraki gori ha yerea! Fonas chek!


Firesof athvezhvenari! Happy New Year! 2014 was a pretty swell year for Dothraki, as it saw the publication of Living Language Dothraki, the official introductory guide to the language, but onward we ride!

To start the new year off, I thought I’d go back and do a post I’ve been wanting to do for some time. A while back, Monserrat Vargas asked me for a translation of the famous Star Trek phrase “To boldly go where no man has gone before” into High Valyrian, as she intended to get it tattooed. I provided the translation here, and shortly thereafter, she got it tattooed—and sent me the pictures! Since I had her on the line, though, I decided to turn her new acquisition into an interview.

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Click to enlarge.

You see, I, like the majority of Americans, do not have any tattoos. (A poll quoted here says about 23% of Americans have tattoos, as of 2010.) This is not something that’s likely to change, as I can’t imagine getting a tattoo, and my wife is opposed. Unlike the majority of people who actively do not want to get tattoos, though, I think tattoos are the absolute coolest things in the world. I have opinions about what makes a good tattoo, and how much is too much, for my aesthetic tastes, but in general, I find tattoos fascinating and, well, badass. Nothing’s tougher than a tattooed biceps.

Because of this fascination, I’m always curious as to why those with tattoos get them, why they chose the tattoos they chose, etc. In the case of Monserrat Vargas, the choice is doubly interesting—not merely because she decided to get a tattoo in High Valyrian, but because this was her very first tattoo! I’m not certain, but I think that may be a first, for my languages (as far as I know, everyone else who had something tattooed in one my languages already had other tattoos). To learn more about why she made this decision and what went on behind the scenes, I conducted an interview with Monserrat Vargas over e-mail, which is copied below (with pictures!). Enjoy!

Q: Is this your first tattoo? If so, why did you decide to get a tattoo? If not, why did you decide to get your first tattoo? (Feel free to go into the meaning, but I’m also curious why you thought a tattoo was the way to go.)

A: Yes, this was my very first tattoo. I’ve always known that I wanted tattoos. They do tend to get a bad rap because they’re so permanent and that’s an intimidating thought. But to me, they’ve always represented the wearer at their deepest—most honest—level. I wanted my tattoos to be a visual representation of who I am. However, I also wanted it to be subtle. Truly an art piece. Everyone chooses how best to express themselves—I chose tattoos! The decision to FINALLY get my first tattoo was made because I was about to embark on a new stage of my life. I was leaving my hometown of Los Angeles, California to move to Seattle, Washington. It felt right to get my first tattoo as a tribute to my hometown. It would be the ultimate reminder of family and friends!

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[Note: I didn’t know you lived in LA! But now that you’re gone, I’m going to be in Seattle this April for Norwescon. We should meet up!]

Q: What’s your connection to Star Trek—and what’s your favorite instantiation of the series?

A: I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek from a very young age. It inspired my love for the stars and most especially for the science-fiction genre. Of course I love TOS (Star Trek: The Original Series). That was how I discovered Star Trek and that’s a bond that can’t be matched. But, as sacrilegious as it may be to say, I especially loved Enterprise because I was old enough to catch the real time broadcasts as opposed to discovering it via re-runs. It was always such a thrill to be a part of their next, great, space adventure!

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Q: You kind of answered this already, but why this quote in particular? And then why around your ankle?

A: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” The quote that encompasses and defines Star Trek. This was a quote that followed me as I grew up. It became more than a symbol for the show—it became a value I chose to live by. It encouraged me to not do things just because they’ve always been expected and done. To genuinely consider new, and even scary, possibilities. It’s what gave me the courage to pack up and leave the home I’ve always known. The choice in placement… I’ll be answering that part of your question in question 7. ;)

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Q: Who did the lettering? It’s gorgeous! Did you do it?

A: The lettering is intended to be Elvish from Lord of the Rings. I say “intended” because there are some slight modifications that needed to be made. When you get a tattoo you can’t just tell the artist, “I want this!” Certain alterations need to be made. What looks good on paper won’t necessarily translate well to skin. I researched heavily before I got my tattoo and I finished my journey at Ink Monkey Tattoo in Los Angeles (on the corner of Venice and Lincoln). I came across artist Juan Ramón Solano (goes by Ramón). He’s a magician when it comes to line work and lettering. When I saw his portfolio I knew I was in good hands.

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Q: I’ve always been curious. A tattoo artist, in effect, has to be able to do every type of art—and well—in order to reproduce others’ drawings. And furthermore, they have to do it without making a mistake. So, like…how? How nervous are you of the tattoo artist making a mistake? Can you get your money back if they do make a mistake?

A: You’re putting a permanent piece of art on your body, of course you’re going to be scared that something’s going to go wrong! But you do your best to mitigate that fear beforehand. You REASEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. I can’t stress that enough! Do NOT go into some random beach tattoo parlour, do NOT make this choice when you’re inebriated. Do NOT make this choice unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure it’s what you want. If you interview with an artist and you’re not comfortable, don’t do it. There was an artist I interviewed with whose portfolio was promising and seemed capable—but their station was a mess! That immediately drew me away. There were establishments I didn’t even consider for more than a minute because the entire place was a mess. If you sense a tiny bit of unease, red flag that place and walk away.

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When I walked into Ink Monkey it was immediately welcoming. The atmosphere was clean, professional, and fun. Ramón sat me down and we talked at great length about what I wanted and what options I had. We worked together on reworking the idea in my head into something that would complement me. He knew I was nervous so he thoroughly explained every part of the process and repeated himself as he began every step. He attended to my needs and helped keep me calm and happy. We build a bond of trust between artist and canvas.

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He actually did make a slight mistake! Sometimes no matter what you do—mistakes happen. But Ramón handled it like a pro! In the word nēdenkirī what he thought was an n was actually the . Ramón immediately realized his mistake—confirmed with me that it was a mistake—and set it right. He mixed an ink color that perfectly matched my skin tone and broke the line between the two letters. When he was done, you couldn’t even tell that there had ever been a mistake! When mistakes do happen, any reputable tattoo artist has methods in place to correct it and make sure you walk away absolutely thrilled with your decision. There are even tattoo artists whose portfolio consists of fixing the shoddy work of other (less talented) tattoo artists!

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Q: And, of course, the top question on the mind of anyone who’s never gotten a tattoo: On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being most), how much did it hurt?

A: In regards to pain, that depends on the location of your tattoo. If you get it in a location with more fatty tissue or muscle to cushion you, it will hurt less. But if you get it somewhere where there’s very little to cushion the bone, then be prepared for it to sting! Since I got my tattoo on my ankle, I was in quite a bit of pain! The WORST bit was closer to the heel. I was handling it like a champ until he got to that part. Ultimately, it’s a needle piercing just underneath your skin. If you can’t handle a shot—then I’d rethink a tattoo. In answer to your question I started out with a 6/10 but it definitely ended with an 8/10!

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Q: Any ideas for another tattoo if you’re getting one?

A: As far as other tattoos I plan to get… Now that’s where this gets pretty dorky. I got the tattoo around my ankle because this tattoo will be part 1 of a 3 part tattoo. This part is a matrimony of 3 television/book series that I deeply enjoy (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Star Trek), all represented in a way meant to represent my love of language.

Part 2 (which I’ve already gotten as of July) is a representation of my love of music. It is located on my other ankle and it’s a musical arrangement containing pieces from Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who.

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The final part—which is still in the planning stages—will represent my love of symbolism in art and it will be an homage to some of my favorite video games (Gears of War, Bioshock, and World of Warcraft) that will be located between my shoulder blades. Thus turning myself into a visual representation of a Triforce. The ULTIMATE homage!

[Note: As a ten year WoW player, it’d better be the Horde emblem you’re getting, and not the Alliance!]

Thank you for taking the time and sharing your photos, Monserrat Vargas! Your tattoos are awesome! You’re a lajak tawak in my book.

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Click to enlarge.

Coming soon: The Dothraki Haiku Competition. Maybe now that Living Language Dothraki has come out, we’ll see even more challengers trying to knock Qvaak off the throne!

The Valyrian Word for Hamster

As the title portends, I will be talking about Monty Python in this post, but first a brief commentary on “The Laws of Gods and Men”, written by old friend Bryan Cogman—who, by the way, is back on Twitter, so give him a follow!

There were some great speeches in this episode, but I feel like Tyrion’s trial overshadows the awesome scene with Stannis, Davos and Tycho Nestoris at the Iron Bank. It’s really awkward and uncomfortable for Stannis, which is the point, but then Davos comes back with this incredible save out of nowhere. And while we don’t know what the outcome is precisely, we get the sense that he made a positive impression—which is made all the more powerful after you think about how Tycho has just gone over how they at the Iron Bank are swayed by nothing but numbers. Yes, Davos does give him some facts, but he also lays his heart out there in front of these stuffshirts—and it works. It’s a Hail Mary to end all Hail Marys, and I loved it.

In Dany’s scene, I didn’t know we were actually going to see the dragon doing dragon stuff. That was pretty intense! Though I can’t help but feel bad for the sheep. They even have him bleating as he’s being carried away in the dragon’s claws on fire… Or wait, was that a goat? Let me check… Take that back, it was a goat. I know this because I just searched my Low Valyrian dictionary for a word for “sheep” and came up empty. “Goat” is there, though. (And hey, that’s the second time that word has been used—but only the first time in reference to an actual goat!)

Hizdahr zo Loraq looks a lot younger than I pictured him in the books. Then again, since I listened to the audio books, all of my mental images were painted by Roy Dotrice (or John Lee, for one book), so my mental images were dependent not just on the words but on the performance. The—

Whoa, hang on. Just realized I was about to write something spoilery. This is always a tough one. I’ve only read each book once, so when I start watching the show, I sometimes get confused about stuff that has happened or hasn’t—and whether it was in the books or the show. I had that confusion during the Theon scene, actually. Did that happen in the books? Also, from that scene, Ramsay was all cut up before that fight started, right? What was he doing beforehand?! That dude is straight up creepy; I love him.

Oh, and another question: I missed the “red shirt” punchline that the girls shout. What is it?

Back to Dany, looking back at the script, it looks like a couple of the Meereenese Valyrian lines with the goatherd were cut (likely for length). Still a lot left in there. Here’s a few of those lines. Dany first speaks to the goatherd in High Valyrian:

  • Zūgagon daor, ñuhys raqiros. Skoros ynot epilū?
  • “Don’t be afraid, my friend. What would you ask of me?”

And he responds saying that he doesn’t understand:

  • Yeng shijetra, osh eghlish. Tha shifang.
  • “Forgive me, your grace. I don’t understand.”

I was really fond of that osh eghlish for “your grace” or “your highness”. It’s the characteristic phrase of MV. Then Missandei says:

  • Ye Thal poghash koth nyesha she yedhra.
  • “The Queen says you may approach and speak.”

Funny how close thal is to khal (total happenstance), but with this line here, Miss Nathalie Emmanuel became the most linguistically diverse actor in all of Game of Thrones! She has officially spoken:

  1. Common (i.e. English)
  2. Astapori Valyrian
  3. High Valyrian
  4. Dothraki
  5. Meereenese Valyrian

Or, hmm… Actually, I guess Dany never speaks AV, so I think this was a title Missandei already claimed, but still, it’s further cemented here. She’s the only actor who’s had to deal with all of the Game of Thrones languages, and for that, I salute her! And, in fact, if the White Walkers’ language and Asshai’i were not used in the show, as I suspect, she’s also the only actor to speak every language featured in the show. That is boss!

Before leaving this episode, Tyrion’s trial was incredible (everyone knows that Tywin is my favorite character, so him doing anything is a treat), but I feel like the things I want to say about it are going to spoil at least one thing from the remaining four episodes… And since I’m liable to get confused, I’ll just hold off. All I’ll say for now is that I think Shae’s progression is done better in the show than it is in the books—either that, or I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the books. Frankly, it feels that way a lot when I’m watching the show (e.g. like the time I actually said, “Wait… Renly’s supposed to be gay?”). Also, “trial by combat” are possibly my three favorite words from Game of Thrones.

If you’ve read this interview with me over at the Making Game of Thrones blog, you’ll know about yet another one of Dan Weiss’s practical jokes. The insults that the Meereenese champion was hurling at Daenerys et al. were translations of the French Taunter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you don’t know what Monty Python and the Holy Grail is, you should probably stop reading this blog and find a way to watch the movie immediately. At the very least, you can see the speech being referenced here.

Also, I know I mentioned this in the interview (which, by the way, D&D gave their blessing to), but just to be clear, I don’t get credit for coming up with this idea; that was all Dan Weiss. Usually after I’m done translating the bulk of the material for a season, Dan gets an idea for something fun after the fact, and I get an e-mail starting with something like, “Hey, I had an idea for a joke…” I know I’m generally a stickler for realism when it comes to the languages, but when this opportunity presented itself, it was just too good. I like to think (though I don’t know either way) that Emilia Clarke, Nathalie Emmanuel, et al. had no idea what the champion was actually saying. This would amuse me to no end. But anyway, if you’re wondering, “Does this mean there are hamsters in Essos?”, or “Does this mean there were elderberries in Valyria?”, I honestly have no idea. I had to Wikipedia “elderberry”—both when I coined the word, and just right now again, because that’s how much I know about elderberries. The relevant words lie somewhere in between the holy mountain of Canon and the dry wastelands of Non-Canon. I’ll not sort it out beyond that.

Without further ado (and I’m not sure exactly how much of this made it onscreen):

  • Byjan vavi demble eva o, trezy eme verdje espo jimi! Oa mysa iles me nýnyghi, si oa kiba tuziles espo tomistos!
  • “I fart in your general direction, son of a window-dresser! Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!”

So you don’t have to look for it, “hamster” is nýnyghi (which may have been inspired by the Knights who say Ni). Also, tomisto, from High Valyrian tōmītsos, was an homage to my friend Tom (a.k.a. Tommy) Lieber. I’ve found a way to work him into each one of my languages, but “elderberry” is the best, I think.

  • Já si hojgá oa gundja, trezy eme mero dovodedha!
  • “Go and boil your bottom, son of a silly person!”

Note to the Wiki folks: If it’s got a j in an odd place, it’s probably Ghiscari in origin.

  • Kiman nya másina orvorta va oi sodjistos!
  • “I wave my private parts at your aunties!”

There were some edits made to the text:

  • Do eban av kimívagho dombo, o doru-borto pame espo gruzi evi havor espo begistos!
  • “I don’t want to talk to you no more you empty-headed animal food trough wiper!”

And finally:

  • Ghorgan ji pungo va o, nynta Dare espo Zaldrizes, o si une oi dovodedhi, Vesterozi azzzzzantys.
  • “I blow my nose at you, so-called Dragon Queen, you and all your silly Westerosi kaniggets!”

And there it is.

But let me apologize to the Valyrian students out there. In the interview, I said that I didn’t think anyone had figured it out, but I sold you short! Mad Latinist and at least one other person did guess right; I guess I just didn’t hear about it (probably because I was traveling at the time). Well played! And you didn’t even have the words for “hamster”, “elderberry”, “aunty” or “fart”… That’s excellent sleuthsmanship!

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