From: Marc Okrand
Date: Thursday, July 09, 1998 02:58 PM
Subject: Re: maHeghlaw'lI'
Qov (and others) bring up an interesting point about
writing in Klingon.
The verb for "write" in the sense of "compose" is /qon/,
literally "record." This is used for songs and also for
literary works (poems, plays, romance novels, and so on).
As has been pointed out, it's as if the song or story is
somehow out there and the "writer" comes into contact with
it, extracts it (to use Qov's nice phrase), and records it.
The verb usually translated "write," /ghItlh/, refers to
the physical activity of writing (moving the pencil around,
The question is, if you can /ghItlh/ it, must you also
/qon/ it? That is, is everything that is written down the
result of composition (in the sense described above)?
The answer is "not necessarily." There's another verb,
/gher/, which doesn't have a straightforward equivalent in
English, but which has sometimes been translated (not
entirely satisfactorily) as "formulate" or "compile" or
"pull together." The idea seems to be that of bringing
thoughts together into some kind of reasonably coherent
form so that they can be conveyed to someone else.
Thus, one would usually say /naD tetlh gher/ "he/she
compiles the Commendation List" or "he/she writes the
Commendation List" (/naD/ "commendation," /tetlh/ "roll,
scroll, list," /gher/ "he/she compiles it").
(Maltz laughed at, but accepted, /Soj tetlh gher/ for
"he/she writes the grocery list" .)
One would probably /gher/, rather than /qon/, a suggested
list of readings, a gazetteer, a simple menu, or the
instructions for assembling a toy (assuming the latter is
not really an exercise in creative writing).
One might also say /QIn gher/ "he/she formulates a message"
or, more colloquially, "he/she writes a message" (/QIn/
"message," /gher/ "he/she formulates it"). But now it
begins to get tricky. Using /gher/ here implies that the
writer of the message was passing along some information he
or she got elsewhere, such as scribbling down a telephone
message. Saying /QIn qon/ "he/she composes a message" or
"he/she writes a message" (literally "he/she records a
message") suggests that the writer is presenting some new
information as opposed to merely passing something along.
It may also imply that the written message has some sort of
literary merit, and thus be a compliment.
But not always. /HIDjolev qon/ "he/she composes the menu"
(/HIDjolev/ "menu," /qon/ "he/she composes it") suggests
that the speaker thinks the list of available fare is
written with a certain literary flair. This is not likely
to be said of menus in Klingon restaurants (whose menus, if
posted at all, tend to be rather pithy), and thus could
easily be taken as an insult.
Similarly, something like /bom gher/ "he/she formulates the
song" (/bom/ "song") would be taken as a disparaging
comment about the song or its composer (and is, in fact,
sometimes heard when the song in question is of non-Klingon
This should help somewhat, but it will no doubt raise
additional questions about usage. Maltz seems to be
willing to try to tackle them as they come along.