The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

December 26, 2012
California DMV employee invents language, loses control of it

If you tend to stereotype state workers or know someone who does, refer them to "Utopian for Beginners," a recent story in The New Yorker about John Quijada, a former Department of Motor Vehicles employee who spent decades creating his own language, Ithkuil.

Writer Joshua Foer weaves Quijada's life story into a tale of how he gains notoriety among linguists and then loses control of his invention. At one point in the narrative, Quijada describes explaining to his managers that he is a conlanger -- a person who invents language -- and that he's been asked to speak at a conference in Kalmykia in the Russian federation:

"People at work now held me in some sort of state of half awe, because this guy obviously has more going on in his head than being a manager at this dopey state agency, and half in contempt, because I've now proved myself to be beyond whatever state of geekery they might have previously thought about me," Quijada said. " 'You're a what? A con man?' 'No, boss, a conlanger.' "

Click here to read the story from the latest edition of The New Yorker.

Editor's note, Dec. 21: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referenced Quijada as asking his DMV managers for leave. Quijada has also worked for the Board of Equalization. The story doesn't say from which department's management he requested leave.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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