About

sesquipedalian-short

Sesquipedalian. What a bizarre word.

From the Latin sesqui pedalis, the literal translation is "one and a half-footed". Aside from its apparent uselessness, the word does have one intriguing quality: after a completely unremarkable existence (or lack thereof) in Roman literature, sesquipedalian was rediscovered by the Classical scholars of the Renaissance and applied to describe long, polysyllabic words. As such, sesquipedalian bears the remarkable quality of being a word which describes itself (autology is the proper term).

Somehow, this combination of 14 letters on a page has achieved what we might call "self-awareness" - which is more than can be said of many humans I know. In a world of ever-growing external complexity, this ability to look internally at yourself - as championed by the word sesquipedalian - is being forgotten. But really it should be the opposite: it is especially when we are beset on all sides by conflicting influences and persuasions, that this idea of introspection and "knowing thyself" is more important than ever.

The ancient Greeks knew this: the exact words "γνῶθι σεαυτόν" - know thyself - were inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The ancient Chinese knew this: "知彼知己,百戰不殆" - if you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear a hundred battles - advised Sun Tsu in "The Art of War". But today, we appear to have all but forgotten about the importance of self-awareness.

And so back to this website. Yes, this is ostensibly a site about science and rowing and literature and travelling, and I hope the musings here will be interesting, useful, and thought-provoking for those of you who wander here. But amidst all that, I want these pages to exhibit - and hopefully also to inspire in you - the rare sense of self-awareness that graces their namesake.

A Caveat...

I wonder if South Park's disclaimer is appropriate here: "The following program contains coarse language and due to its content should not be viewed by anyone".

I write on things that I find interesting because it helps give focus to my thoughts; I put them here because I think other people might find them interesting too. A lot of these interesting things will be about the four diversions that I spend most of my life obsessing about: physics (as a proxy for all things maths, science and tech), rowing (and other sports too), words (literature, politics, classics, philosophy, art and the like) and adventure - but in none of these things am I expert - nor do I purport to be.

And so a caveat for the reader: take everything here with pinch of salt, and never forgo the liberal application of your own critical judgement and independent thought to everything that I present as truth or fact. This is a good policy to hold towards anything that you read (especially if it comes from a purported expert). If you manage to adhere successfully to this intellectual integrity, then you are more "Mighty" and more "Brave" than I am, and perhaps you will be able to find somewhere among these writings a glimmer of the "Wisdom" and "Succour" that has been so elusively promised.

About the Author

This entire enterprise began as a personal website, which in truth probably would have amounted to little more than a glorified online CV. It was only when I began writing that I realised it would be much more rewarding for me, and for anyone with the (mis)fortune to visit, if I tried to make a little more of it.

In the spirit of the "self-awareness" that has been so fervently and unashamedly advertised, I expect writing here will help me find out more about myself and who I am. Paradoxically, this is probably best done if I don't make the website too centred around me. That way my readers will judge me, not by who I ostensibly present myself as, but by the substance of my thoughts and words - which to me seems far more illuminating and worthwhile. And so this is how sesquipedalian was born.

A note on the choice of title: as well as offering a convenient excuse to go on a self-righteous rant, the word sesquipedalian also bears a degree of emotional significance for me. I was first acquainted with it as a 13-year-old schoolboy in a dreary Friday afternoon Latin lesson - the sort where you're struggling to keep your eyes open, and the sort that you definitely don't expect to remember many years later. But I do remember it. I remember the passage that we were reading, Baucis and Philemon; I remember our teacher the inimitable Dr Atkinson; and most of all I remember the way he rolled that monstrosity of a word - sesquipedalian - off his tongue with the ease and spontaneity that only a Classics master can possess. When I came to think of an appropriate name to christen my website, for some reason, that word, and that memory, sprang easily to mind - so I ran with it. If after all these years, I can still recall exactly when and how I learnt of sesquipedalian almost a decade ago, there must be something at least a little remarkable about the word (or the man who taught it to me).

Perhaps this story tells you something about me, and hopefully the content in these pages will fill in the rest. But if you must know, then here are some facts: I was born in Shanghai, China in 1994 but spent much of my childhood growing up in Glasgow, Scotland. I later attended boarding school in England and went on to study Aerospace Engineering at St John's College, Cambridge. I've recently moved to the other Cambridge - in Massachusetts in the US to pursue a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Now, and most likely for the next five years, I'll be working on exciting new electric propulsion systems for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's). I've spent a lot of my university years rowing - with my college club Lady Margaret BC, MIT Lightweight Varsity Crew, and also the Cambridge University Lightweight RC. In the holidays, I try my best to read, write, and travel - rare luxuries that university life ill affords.

Faithfully,

H

December 2016