Kalepa ta kala

Joel Spolsky posts an interesting essay on why it’s important for computer science students to learn the hard way (through languages like Scheme), rather than the easy way (Java). I know very little about programming or CS, but Joel’s essay struck a chord. Not least because of this passage:

Heck, in 1900, Latin and Greek were required subjects in college, not because they served any purpose, but because they were sort of considered an obvious requirement for educated people. In some sense my argument is no different that the argument made by the pro-Latin people (all four of them). “[Latin] trains your mind. Trains your memory. Unraveling a Latin sentence is an excellent exercise in thought, a real intellectual puzzle, and a good introduction to logical thinking,” writes Scott Barker. But I can’t find a single university that requires Latin any more. Are pointers and recursion the Latin and Greek of Computer Science?

As Jerome Karabel explains in The Choice, Latin and Greek were also an effective way to exclude both the horny-handed sons of the soil, however bright, and immigrant kids from the cities. Only private schools, and a handful of old public institutions like Boston Latin, taught Latin and Greek. So Harvard, Princeton and Yale could rely on excluding those undesireables without being too explicit about it.

Of course, if Joel had studied his Latin and Greek he’d know there’s a perfect Greek aphorism for what he describes: kalepa ta kala. It translates as “beautiful things are difficult”, or more loosely “naught without labor”. It was the first phrase I was taught when I took ancient Greek and it holds true both for that great language and many other things.

7 thoughts on “Kalepa ta kala

  1. Kimberly Gordon

    That was a good post. I am not programming literate. I would love to learn though. I started marketing online 5 years ago and I still have to pay someone to build software and write scripts for me. I really would love to learn. I can do everything else. Build lists, build websites, market products- mine and other peoples, but programming is very foreign to me.

    In His Grip!
    Kimberly Gordon

  2. P.L.Hayes

    Spolsky appears to have (inadvertently, I suspect) given a wrong impression of the relative merits of Scheme and Java as pedagogical languages. I, at least, feel fortunate to have learned many concepts in programming the easy and enjoyable way (through languages like Scheme), rather than learn them the hard and dreary way (through languages like Java). It may be that the simple, elegant and powerful Scheme is just well suited to those who already have a background in mathematics or science – but I doubt it. Before I was introduced to Scheme, like Natasha Chen (http://www.trollope.org/scheme.html ), I found programming to be all too often a chore, and I’d advise anyone else who has an interest in exploring the subject, but who may not have mathematical background enough to enjoy SICP, to visit the http://www.teach-scheme.org site.

  3. Terrell

    Interesting post. I stumbled across it randomly and then noticed “Kalepa Ta Kala”. Which is an open motto of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, one of which we hold dear, at least at my chapter. We use the loose translation “naught without labor”. Otherwise, interesting post.

  4. Anthony

    I have a feeling your professor who first taught you that phrase in ancient greek is an alumni of Lambda Chi Alpha. Just a hunch.

  5. Lance Knobel

    Anthony, I think your hunch is wrong. Unless Lambda Chi Alpha had a branch in Ceaucescu’s Romania, where my professor was educated.

  6. Graham Berry

    I recently received my degree in ancient Greek (also studied latin, and the ‘loose’ translation you offered is, in a phrase, wholly wrong. No good student of Greek would translate ‘kalepa ta kala’ as ‘naught without labour.’ If I translated that sentence ‘loosely’ on a test, I would get yelled at and my answer would be marked wrong. This is nitpicky though. I do agree with you about taking the hard way rather than the easy way. I truly know how my own language works and encourage all those who read this post and have children to find a latin/greek tutor for them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *