Universal Soldiers: The Individuals Keeping the Esperanto Language Dream Alive

Anarchist Émile Chapelier teaches Esperanto to the members of his Libertarian commune.
Anarchist Émile Chapelier teaches Esperanto to the members of his Libertarian commune.
Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

For a language meant to serve as a means of universal communication, Esperanto is frequently—and ironically—misunderstood. The most popular constructed language in the world was created in 1887 by L.L. Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist by day and passionate polyglot by night. He came up with the Esperanto language by cherry-picking features from other tongues he had studied that could, in theory, be learned and mastered by everyone. But this is where the misunderstanding comes in.

Zamenhof had no desire to replace anything. The erroneous idea that everyone would speak Esperanto instead of their native language is what leads to it easily being dismissed either as a hippie-dippie utopian dream or a scary desire for a monoculture. However, the whole point of Esperanto is that it’s an auxiliary language—a second language for everyone speaking it.

Esperanto innovator L. L. Zamenhof.Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

“I don't doubt that there have been one or two zealots over the years who have said something daft, but it's never been the case that Esperanto is supposed to be the one and only language,” Tim Owen, director of the Esperanto Association of Britain (or rather, Esperanto-Asocio de Britio) and co-author of Teach Yourself: Complete Esperanto, tells Mental Floss. “Person X and Person Y have a chat in Esperanto, then go back to using their own language once the meeting is concluded.”

 

A universal second language allows for people from different cultures to communicate on an equal footing without one having to learn the other’s language, and in the process removes any unfair advantage the native speaker might have. There are no Esperanto monoglots, and someone raising a child to exclusively speak the language would be misguided at best. Rather, the central idea of Esperanto has a lot in common with positive changes people are trying to bring to the modern world.

“I suspect that most people who invest time and energy in learning Esperanto today are probably sympathetic to the idea of people not being different on the basis of where they're from, the language they speak, or the color of their skin,” Owen says. “However, they're not under the illusion that Esperanto will become the international language which brings about that realization to the world.”

Esperanto posters housed at the Esperanto Museum in Vienna, Austria.Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in Esperanto thanks to the internet, with language-learning app Duolingo even adding an Esperanto course for English speakers in May 2015. That course registered its one millionth learner two and a half years later, and currently has 285,000 active learners. As Owen explains, that doesn’t mean you can expect to find a million active Esperanto speakers, but it's certainly indicative of some degree of interest in the idea of a universal language.

While some people are undoubtedly learning Esperanto to aid international communication, others are learning it simply for learning’s sake. One Duolingo learner is Azriel Johnson, who is dabbling in Esperanto alongside 15 or so other languages. “I have no immediate plans to travel anywhere Esperanto is spoken,” Johnson says. “I am aimless aside from gaining new information and helping to shape the way I think, for better or worse.” Having previously learned Spanish, Johnson is finding Esperanto fairly straightforward, noting the grammar is similar to English.

While it is sometimes seen as something that was popular and then fell out of favor, the truth is that Esperanto never really caught on in the first place. Some of the people whose imaginations were captured by it went on to feature it in fairly notable works—it pops up a lot in science fiction, from Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series to cult sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf. It’s occasionally used where an alien language is needed, as in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (where it stands in for Kryptonian) or Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s comic Saga, where it represents the Blue language of the planet Wreath.

 

Esperanto is typically used optimistically, as in the opening song to Final Fantasy XI, or to create an otherworldly feel, as in the unnamed setting of Blade: Trinity, which sports bilingual signs. The single most enduring item of Esperanto pop culture, however, is the 1966 horror movie Incubus, in which every phonetically-learned syllable is mangled by a pre-Star Trek Captain Kirk.

“I was aware of Esperanto, but only because of the not-very-good William Shatner film,” filmmaker Christopher R. Mihm says. "But I had no idea how many people spoke the language or even really understood what it was before I started using it for my films.”

Mihm initially wanted to use Esperanto on signage on the sets of Attack Of The Moon Zombies, a retro-futuristic movie set in a 1950s version of a 1970s moon base. A request to an online Esperanto club for help translating a few signs led to an Esperanto subtitle track, an Esperanto audio track, and subsequent collaborations on multiple films. Mihm has seen massive enthusiasm from the global Esperanto community, with the relative dearth of media released in the language leading to a huge uptick in international sales.

This enthusiasm is what drives the online Esperanto community. For instance, the language-sharing app Amikumu was developed and crowdfunded by Esperanto speakers. There are Esperanto versions of beloved children’s books, Esperanto anime fandubs, and Esperanto memes.

"Esperanto isn’t going anywhere," Owen says. "It has its speaker community, the only planned language which can boast that, and an imposing cultural heritage. Whatever the true number of competent active speakers is, it will never reach the critical mass or obtain the governmental endorsement required to complete its original mission of being the commonly agreed-upon language to be used in international conversation. And that's okay—for a lot of us, it already does that job.”

Owen recently lost a colleague, another British Esperanto speaker who worked for many years on Esperanto-related historical projects with a Japanese partner, neither of them speaking the other’s native language. Even on the small scale of one relationship, that’s a perfect example of what L.L. Zamenhof had in mind, all those years ago: a way for people to share what they have in common, rather than let their differences keep them apart.

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

6 Punctuation Marks Hated by Famous Authors

F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a fan of the exclamation mark.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a fan of the exclamation mark.
ChristianChan/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Punctuation marks are not the most important tools in a writer's toolkit, but writers can develop some strong opinions about them. Here are six punctuation marks that famous authors grew to hate.

1. The Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, inspires passionate emotions on both sides, but more frequently on the pro side. James Thurber, a writer for The New Yorker and author of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, made a case against the Oxford comma to his editor Harold Ross, in a discussion of the phrase “the red, white, and blue.” Thurber complained that “all those commas make the flag seemed rained on. They give it a furled look. Leave them out, and Old Glory is flung to the breeze, as it should be.”

2. The Comma

Gertrude Stein had no use for the Oxford comma, or any kind of comma at all, finding the use of them “degrading.” In her Lectures in America, she said, “Commas are servile and they have no life of their own … A comma by helping you along and holding your coat for you and putting on your shoes keeps you from living your life as actively as you should lead it.”

3. The Question Mark

The comma wasn't the only piece of punctuation Stein took issue with; she also objected to the question mark [PDF], finding it “positively revolting” and of all the punctuation marks “the completely most uninteresting.” There was no reason for it since “a question is a question, anybody can know that a question is a question and so why add to it the question mark when it is already there when the question is already there in the writing.”

4. The Exclamation Point

In Beloved Infidel, Sheilah Graham’s memoir of her time with F. Scott Fitzgerald in his later years, she describes the things she learned from him about life and writing. In a red-pen critique of a script she had written, he told her to “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

5. The Apostrophe

Playwright George Bernard Shaw thought apostrophes were unnecessary and declined to use them in words like don’t, doesn’t, I’ve, that’s, and weren’t. He did use them for words like I’ll and he’ll, where the apostrophe-less version might have caused confusion. He made clear his disdain for the little marks in his Notes on the Clarendon Press Rules for Compositors and Readers, where he said, “There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli.”

6. The Semicolon

Kurt Vonnegut, in his essay “Here Is a Lesson in Creative Writing” (published in the book A Man Without a Country), comes out forcefully against the semicolon in his first rule: “Never use semicolons.” He insults them as representing “absolutely nothing” and claims “all they do is show you’ve been to college.” Semicolon lovers can take heart in the fact that he may have been kidding a little bit—after using a semicolon later in the book, Vonnegut noted, “Rules take us only so far. Even good rules.”