Commie's 'Eoten' Explanation

May 29th, 2013
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  1. The “Eoten” Manifesto
  2. By Margaan
  3. A Dialogue (and thus manifestly not a manifesto)
  5. Karphos Anēr: So Margaan, what are you going to call the Titans in “Attack on Titan”? “Titans,” right, since that’s what everyone else is calling them?
  7. Margaan: Nope. “Eotenas.” I’ll be changing the title to “The Eotena Onslaught” too.
  9. KA: Wut.
  11. M: What?
  13. KA: Are you insane?
  15. M: Yes.
  17. KA: OK, but… “Eotenas”? WHY?
  19. M: I’m very glad you asked that!
  21. KA: Aw, crap, at some point in this “conversation” I’m going to say, “yes, Margaan, it must surely be so!” aren’t I?
  23. M: Most likely. Now let’s start with “Titan.” Why does it sound “right” to you?
  25. KA: Because the name of the manga is “Attack on Titan.” It’s even printed on the Japanese cover.
  27. M: Except the Japanese title is “進撃の巨人”—”Shingeki no Kyojin.” The word “巨人”—”kyojin”—is written with two kanji meaning “big” and “person,” and literally translates (obviously) to “giant.” That’s the only word used in the manga to describe its oversized antagonists. The Japanese word for Titan is just “タイタン,” and it occurs nowhere in the manga.
  29. KA: OK, but given the official English title, I think we can safely assume that Isayama Hajime intended “kyojin” to be translated as “Titan” in this case, probably because “Titan” sounds pretty sweet.
  31. M: About that title… where is “Titan”?
  33. KA: What do you mean?
  35. M: I mean, the preposition “on” in “attack on” tells us that the next word is a proper noun, unless it’s in a plural form or preceded by “the.” It might be a place (“Attack on Pearl Harbor”), or colloquially an idea (“Attack on Freedom!”), person (“Attack on Albert Einstein”), or institution (“Attack on Parliament”), although properly we should use “attack against” in these latter instances. In this case the final word is a singular noun, which means grammatically that it CAN’T be anything but a proper name. I mean we wouldn’t call Kristallnacht an “attack on Jew”; it’s colloquially an “attack on Jewish people” (or just “Jews” if you want to sound racist), and most properly an “attack against Jews.” That means that the English title here either has to be, “Attack on the Titans” (and even then it would sound kind of bad), or it is indicating that “Titan” is a place (or, conceivably, an individual person named “Titan”) that is at some point in the story attacked. And I assure you that the moon of Saturn is never an object of assault in this manga.
  37. KA: That was incredibly unclear, but I think you’re just saying that “Attack on Titan” is bad grammar.
  39. M: Yes. No native speaker would ever produce that title.
  41. KA: So what?
  43. M: So clearly Isayama, or more likely the random staffer at the Bessatsu Shounen offices who slapped that English text below “進撃の巨人,” does not have terribly adept English. I might also point out that “進撃の巨人” actually indicates that it is the giants who are doing the attacking, not being attacked, and that “進撃” is more like “charge” or “advance” anway. Grammatically speaking, in this new Engrish title “Titan” might not even be the word for the “巨人.”
  45. KA: But just because it’s not a direct translation and the grammar is poor, does that really mean you get to ignore it?
  47. M: Yes, because it tells me that Isayama Hajime does not speak English and therefore is not qualified to find the best English rendering of “巨人.” I speak English.
  49. KA: I still think it’s a bit weird to ignore the official translation, no matter how wrong it might be, just because you want to stroke your ego and show off your obscure English knowledge.
  51. M: Hee-hee-hee. I was hoping you’d say that.
  53. KA: You are an asshole.
  55. M: That’s as may be. You have your copy of the Japanese manga?
  57. KA: Of course.
  59. M: Open up the first volume of the manga to the second chapter, towards the end, and look at the page just after the timeskip to 850. What do you see?
  61. KA: It’s a chart of the various walls, written for some reason in English, with the inside labeled, “Human Field” and the outside labeled…
  63. M: Yes…?
  65. KA: I hate you.
  67. M: You are not contributing to a healthy debate here.
  69. KA: …”Giant Field.”
  71. M: Exactly. That’s the only place within the manga that any term other than “巨人” is used for the creatures, it’s English, and it’s not Titan, it’s “Giant.” It’s also much more likely to have actually been written by Isayama himself. In fact, while we’re skirting the edge of an intentional fallacy, I should mention that in an interview with Isayama (originally for Bessatsu Shounen Magazine, and included in the back of the first English volume of the manga), he fields the question, “why did you decide on giants as the theme of this work?” His answer: “Well, giants are kind of gross, aren’t they? That’s why.” He didn’t choose the word for any reason beyond the slight “grossness” of oversized humans. It’s extremely unlikely that “Titan” represents any attempt to make a mythological reference in English; someone just thought the word sounded cool. Most importantly, you can’t even call it the “official translation” of “”巨人.”
  73. KA: I guess I can’t argue with that. I expected you to gloat more.
  75. M: I can do that if you like.
  77. KA: Thanks, I’m good. But wait, even if you have a decent argument that you’re not REQUIRED to translate “巨人” as “Titan”—
  79. M: Next you’re going to say, “why not just make it ‘giant’ if that’s what it means?”
  81. KA: —why not just make it “giant” if that’s what it means? DAMNIT JOJO.
  83. M: Good question. There’s nothing wrong with the basic concept of rendering “巨人” as something besides “Giant” in English, so long as it 1. accurately conveys the meaning of the original and 2. fits the conceptual framework of the story. Wouldn’t you agree?
  85. KA: OK, I can accept that. I am intelligent enough to understand that there’s no such thing as metaphrase in translating from Japanese to English.
  87. M: Then you are a particularly enlightened leecher, Mr. Anēr. Now, “Titan” neither conveys the meaning of “巨人,” nor provides a useful mythological reference. The Titans were amongst the oldest gods of Greek mythology, born from the Earth (Gaia) and the Sky (Uranus). There were twelve major Titans and their king, Cronus, was the father of Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, and some of the other deities in the pantheon you know. Cronus liked being king and tried to keep his children from inheriting his throne by eating them as infants—
  89. KA: Ew.
  91. M: —I know, right?—but Zeus tricked him and set off a 10-year war called the Titanomachy, which ended with the Titans’ defeat and imprisonment in Tartarus and the ascension of a new generation of gods, the Olympians. According to most myths, this happened long before humanity even existed, so the Titans had essentially no direct contact with humans.
  93. KA: But the Titans were really big.
  95. M: Actually, maybe not. Some sources DO talk about Titans stepping over mountains and whatnot, but their size was not really an important element of the old legends. The English word “titanic” developed as a result of a confusion between the Titans and some of Gaia’s other offspring, the Gigantes, from whom we get the English “giant”. The Gigantes rose up against the Olympians in the time of Heracles in an attempt to bring back the age of the Titans, but they failed and the Titans remained imprisoned.
  97. KA: Cool story, but what does it have to do with “巨人”?
  99. M: Absolutely nothing.
  101. KA: Wut.
  103. M: The “巨人” in “The Eotena Onslaught” are corporeal-yet-otherworldly, terrifying, (mostly) mindless man-eating monsters who live only to feed on the very humans with whom they seem to share an eldritch and unsettling connection. They directly assault the bulwarks of human civilization, and they have no connection with the hyper-intelligent, supernatural, primeval gods before the gods. Even to make the comparison is ludicrous. It is true that Cronus ate his sons, and there’s also a myth of Dionysus in which he’s stolen as an infant (and/or possibly turned into a bull) and eaten by the Titans, but chowing down on a few kids doesn’t make the Titans cannibal nightmares—EVERYONE eats children in Greek mythology.
  105. KA: I see where you’re going with this. So “Titan” doesn’t convey the meaning of “巨人” because the Titans may not even have been giants, and it doesn’t fit the conceptual framework of the story because the Titans were gods, not monsters?
  107. M: You took the words right out of my mouth.
  109. KA: So how does a made-up word like “Eotenas” do both those things?
  111. M: It’s not made-up. “Eoten” is the Old English word for “giant” or “monster,” and it still survives as the slightly more recent “ettin.” If you’ve read either “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Chronicles of Narnia,” you’ll recognize the name “Ettinsmoor” or “Ettenmoors”: places where giants live. “Ettin” also gets used a lot for video game monsters, although not always with the original sense intact.
  113. KA: So it means “giant.” That’s the first criterion dealt with, but how is it conceptually relevant?
  115. M: Oh, it is just perfect! Bear with me for a bit here.
  117. KA: Yes, it seems I am here to bear with you.
  119. M: …Was that a reference to that one “Xam’d” ED?
  121. KA: No, of course not. But see, you’re writing both sides of this “debate,” so as your fictional punching bag I have no choice but to listen with rapt attention to everything you say.
  123. M: Wow. It’s kind of creepy that you’re self-aware about this.
  125. KA: Nah, it’s nothing special. I mean, you’re just stealing the idea from half-remembered childhood readings of Simon Hawke’s “Reluctant Sorcerer” series, aren’t you?
  127. M: OK, now the two of us are definitely too close for comfort.
  129. KA: While we’re off-topic, have you noticed that this isn’t really a Socratic dialogue? If it were, you’d be asking all the questions and gently guiding me into agreeing with you, but as things stand I’m posing most of the queries and you’re just yelling at me.
  131. M: Hey, I never actually said it was a Socratic dialogue. Now let’s just back up a bit and return to this “Eoten” thing.
  133. KA: As you wish, Master.
  135. M: Stop it. Anyway, see, the word “eoten” occurred to me the very first time I saw a poster for the “進撃の巨人” manga in Tokyo (the image on that poster is the cover of the fifth tankoubon now). The way this weird giant was intruding into heart of civilization reminded me of Grendel and his mother coming out of moors and meres to destroy the halls of Men. “An eoten!” I thought, and immediately went and re-read “Beowulf.” “Eoten” and its variants reappears again and again in that poem, in exactly the kind of disturbing context in which the word “巨人” is used in “進撃の巨人.” Eotenas are not only physically huge, they are seemingly stupid (yet often worryingly clever) bestial terrors that live to devour people and destroy their works, sometimes with no motivation at all. Eotenas smash the walls! They are bone-breakers, death-dealers, skull-splitters, gore-guzzlers from the primal side of the English language! None of this refined Classical/Hellenistic niceness here, just gore and dread and flesh and splintering—
  137. KA: ENOUGH.
  139. M: Sorry, kennings arouse my baser instincts. Anyway, what’s really interesting about the word “eoten” is its somewhat amorphous nature: while the literal meaning is most certainly “giant,” it’s used in various instances to refer to man-eating monsters in general, to a specific tribe of Giants associated with Noah’s flood or with the jötunn of Norse mythology (and here we should note two interesting factoids: that “jötunn” is actually cognate with “eoten,” and even more interestingly that the jötunn spring from a primeval figure named “Ymir”… also the name of a character in “The Eotena Onslaught”! Coincidence? I think not—
  141. KA: I think so.
  143. M: —but I’m tired of seeing you interrupt me with weird triple-hyphen dashes and this parenthetical comment has gone on quite long enough so I shall end it here), and even through some odd linguistic confusion to the Jutes, a race of human beings. Thus the very word “eoten” holds within itself “The Eotena Onslaught”‘s narrative confusion about the origins, nature, and true purposes of the Eoten. Furthermore, the word “giant” doesn’t have any particular positive or negative connotations in modern English, but eotenas are ALWAYS creatures of hate and fear (except when they’re Jutes, I suppose). Check out the notes at for some more thoughts on “eoten” in this context.
  145. KA: Ah, so that’s why “giant” just isn’t good enough for you. It has the right meaning in modern English, but lacks appropriately terrifying connotations.
  147. M: Exactly. A lot of people think “giants” are probably nice. Apart from that, there’s another huge, basic advantage “eoten” has over “Titan” and “giant”: it’s Anglo-Saxon. A basic rule of thumb in English writing is that if you’re describing a scientific, cultural, elegant, or intellectual item, you want to select a word of Latinate or Greek origin (example: “endeavor”), but if you’re talking about something everyday, deeply-felt, fearful, or weird you want to call upon words from the deep Anglo-Saxon (that is, Germanic and Norse) roots of the English tongue (example: “work”). The old, Anglo-Saxon side of English forms the grounds of the language in a way that even 1066 couldn’t destroy, and it’s always peeking through the intellectual veneer of the newer Latinate words… exactly as the Eotena’s hoary truth can’t be kept out by the humans of “The Eotena Onslaught.”
  149. KA: Hang on, though. I’m looking back at this diagram of the walls you used to embarrass me earlier.
  151. M: Oh, so can I gloat now?
  153. KA: Shut up. I’m just noticing something rather suspicious: the busts on each wall have a distinctly Hellenistic flavor. Actually, the human culture in this manga doesn’t look Anglo-Saxon at all—it has a very Roman orderliness to it, and there’s none of that battlelust stuff Beowulf is full of.
  155. M: That’s true, but the Eotenas are antithetical to that very human civilization. They seek to destroy it and they are impossible for humans to understand. I’ll happily use words of Latinate origins for the humans and their works (er, “labors”), but the Eotenas deserve something more befitting their outcast status.
  157. KA: You might be pushing it there, but that actually does sort of make sense.
  159. M: Thank you. Here’s the kicker, too: according to some OE scholars, most notably Heather Blurton in “Cannibalism in High Medieval English Literature,” “Eoten” is a word carrying strong connotations of cannibalism. As some of the Eotenas in “The Eotena Onslaught” are actually people, this is too good a connection to pass up!
  161. KA: Fine, fine, “Eoten” is a pretty good word. But hang on, what’s with this “Eotena Onslaught” business? Based on what you’ve said so far, isn’t “Eoten” the singular and “Eotenas” the plural?
  163. M: That’s right, but if I’m going to use an OE word I had better use it properly. “Eoten” is a highly inflected word.
  165. KA: A what?
  167. M: It has a stronger declension than modern English words.
  169. KA: I’m about one word of incomprehensible linguistic parlance away from socking you in the mouth.
  171. M: Sorry, it’s a sickness. “Declension” is when nouns change form based on their grammatical usage. Modern English isn’t really a very “inflected” language anymore, so we rely on word order to tell us the grammatical value of nouns instead of checking the nouns’ form. We now only modify (countable) nouns for number, as in “dunderhead” and “dunderheads.” But in Old English, nouns had four cases—that is, four ways they could be used. When used as a subject, they were in the “nominative” case; as an object, in the “accusative” case; and as an indirect object (well technically as a “recipient,” but let’s not split hairs), in the “dative” case. The fourth case was the “genitive,” which signified that they were modifying another noun (and often denoted ownership like the modern “apostrophe-s”).
  173. KA: Gahhh.
  175. M: Think of it like this: in the sentence, “John showed Bill Eric’s book,” Modern English doesn’t allow us to change the word order at all. We know that “John” is the subject, “Bill” is the indirect object, and a “book” which belongs to “Eric” is the direct object solely based on the fact the words occur in that order. (We could rearrange it somewhat if we added more words, of course: “John showed Eric’s book to Bill.”) But in Old English, each word would be in a different case: “John” in the nominative, “Bill” in the dative, “Eric” in the genitive, and “book” in the accusative. That meant you could move the words around into almost any order you liked and the sentence would still make sense.
  177. KA: I’m not sure I’m 100% on this, but how does it work with “Eoten”?
  179. M: Well, for “Eoten” it’s easy: the nominative and the accusative are identical, so most of the time you’ll be seeing “Eoten” as the singular and “Eotenas” as the plural. (For example, “That Eoten is eating her!” or, “My God, she’s being eaten by the Eotenas!”) For the dative case, the singular is “Eotene” and the plural is “Eotenum,” so you might occasionally see lines like, “We’ll bring the attack to the Eotenum!” or, “I can’t believe he’s sacrificing his own mother to that Eotene just so he can escape!” or, “I’ll give this Eotene a taste of my blade!” Finally, in the genitive the singular is “Eotenes” and the plural is “Eotena,” but with the exception of the title I’ll use modern English apostrophe conventions for possessive forms: “That Eotenes’ teeth are huge!” or, “All the might of the Eotena cannot overcome the courage of mankind!” or, “The Eotena’s assault just won’t stop!” or, “The mind of this Eotenes is most likely focused solely on devouring people.”
  181. KA: Are you doing this to torture yourself? Or do you just like making people think you’re crazy?
  183. M: I am crazy, remember?
  185. KA: Excuse me while I roll my eyes. So why “onslaught” instead of “attack”?
  187. M: Because “onslaught” is an amazing-sounding word, and etymologically it actually confuses the original Middle Dutch meaning of “strike” or “violent attack” with the Norse root of “slaughter.” That one word has every subtext I could possibly desire.
  189. KA: But you’ve missed a major problem here.
  191. M: Oh dear, have I? What did I miss?
  193. KA: It’s your turn to bear with me here, because I’m about to get a bit technical myself.
  195. M: Shoot.
  197. KA: NO ONE KNOWS WHAT “EOTEN” FUCKING MEANS. You make fansubs. It’s your job to change Japanese into English that people actually understand.
  199. M: Language! Well then, did you know what “Balrog” meant before you read “The Lord of the Rings”?
  201. KA: Obviously not. Wait, how did you know I’ve read “The Lord of the Rings”?
  203. M: Intuition. So how did you ever understand the word?
  205. KA: Because the Balrog shows up, and Legolas starts screaming, “ai! ai! a Balrog! A Balrog is come!”
  207. M: Oddly enough, the very first time the word “巨人” is used in “The Eotena Onslaught” is when an Eoten shows up, and the main protagonist starts screaming, “ah… it’s one of THEM… it’s AN EOTEN!!!”
  209. KA: Oh.
  211. M: But thanks for the idea. Maybe I’ll edit the subs to, “ai! ai! an Eoten! An Eoten is come!”
  213. KA: Please no.
  215. M: Fine, fine. At any rate, even if people don’t know what “Eoten” means before they watch the show, they’ll learn pretty quickly. They don’t even need to be aware of all the technical stuff I just went over.
  217. KA: Even though you’re filling the subs with six different forms of the word?
  219. M: You would have to be an idiot not to work out that all the variants on “Eoten” probably refer to the same thing, wouldn’t you?
  221. KA: Um…
  223. M: WOULDN’T YOU.
  225. KA: Yes, Margaan, it must surely be so.
  227. M: Where’s my exclamation point?
  229. KA: Yes, Margaan, it must surely be so!
  231. M: Thank you.
  233. KA: But one last gasp here. When fans seek out “Shingeki no Kyojin,” they’re probably going to be searching for “Titan.” Purely for the sake of consistency with everyone else in the universe, isn’t it a good idea to use the same word?
  235. M: But I don’t really want to produce exactly the same thing. The fans can watch “Attack on Titan” anywhere, but only Commie can give them “The Eotena Onslaught.” I’m hoping that the onomastic disparity will actually highlight the superiority of our product. Any more questions?
  237. KA: Not about “Eotenas,” I guess. So. What happens to me when this text file ends?
  239. M: That is a profound ontological question, and one which aestheticians have pondered long. According to some philosophers (Hartmann or Sartre spring to mind), you never existed in the first place; others (Margolis) claim that you are a figment of readers’ imaginations, “existing” only while they perceive the text; still others view you as a “collaborative” production between the readers, me, and the text itself (most everyone else, from Heidegger to Beardsley and beyond); the most literal-minded (like Gilson) might say that you actually DO exist permanently in the noēton topon.
  241. KA: And what do you hold?
  243. M: I hold that you are my little mind-slave, and now that I’ve finished using you to promulgate my own ideas, I can close this file and discard you like so much mental mucus.
  245. KA: Are you seriously that horrible a human being?
  247. M: Nah. I wish you all the best, my dear homunculus, whatever you may become, not become, or never have been. Have you made your peace with “Eoten” yet?
  249. KA: I suppose I have. I’ll be looking forward to watching “Atta”—er, “The Eotena Onslaught!”
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