It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”, for instance. If you have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well — better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not.
– George Orwell
I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.
Peter De Vries
The more languages you know, the more you are a person.
Čovekãt e tolkova pãti čovek, kolkoto ezika znae.)
Belladonna, n.: In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.
– Ambrose Bierce
My God! The English language is a form of communication! Conversation isn’t just crossfire where you shoot and get shot at! Where you’ve got to duck for your life and aim to kill! Words aren’t only bombs and bullets—no, they’re little gifts, containing meanings!
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“Writing — Crafting with Words“
According to How To Write A Sentence: And How To Read One, by Stanley Fish (reviewed here on NPR’s Talk of the Nation), artistic skill (referring to painting and writing, respectively) begins with a feel for “the nitty-gritty material of the medium, paint in one case, sentences in the other.” Why sentences? Well, “just piling up words, one after the other, won’t do much of anything until something else has been added.”
This makes good sense, but I still stand by my notion that even individual words can be powerful.
However, here’s an artificially powerful word, and perhaps, as the clever juxtaposition proposed in this example suggests, the trend we are witnessing signals one of the dangers language faces in this day and age.
Given the murky resolution of the above, I’ll repeat the quote here:
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. [Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead.] Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.“
George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 5.
Who knows? If we’re not careful, “just piling up words” will be our new form of language.
Funnily enough, we can –apparently– count on the world’s abundance, to offer more examples of diminishment.
Here’s a case where the LIKE button is banned, not because it diminishes language, of course, but because it “was declared in violation of [Germany]’s strict privacy laws.”
Yet again we may salute the great George Orwell.
lingoLee – Newsletter
is titled “Words Inspire”
Wishing You a Year of Inspiring Words!
The recently completed work of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, that is, the translation of the entire Talmud, one of Judaism’s most important texts, from Aramaic to Hebrew, can only be described as a feat inspired by words. According to the article, the project, which included also his own explanations as well as references to rules derived from the text, took “45 years of 16-hour work days.” One must assume that this dedication stemmed from his love for these words. “In addition to the full Hebrew translation, Steinsaltz has rendered parts of the Talmud into English, Spanish, French, and Russian.”
Actually, it is probably fair to say that most –if not all– professionals whose work involves verbal forms and expression find words inspiring. I am a firm believer in the power of words and, therefore, I’d like to share here some wonderful examples that demonstrate this amazing gift that words can bestow.
For a wonderfully lyrical essay that analyzes the power of words, I recommend reading Found in Translation, by author Michael Cunningham.
Words inspire thought
Or do they? In other words, can there be thought without words? Is there such a thing as a non-verbal thought? The issue is considered from different angles in the following two discourses.
The question Does Your Language Shape How You Think? isn’t exactly the same as examining the possibility of Life without Language. The former article looks at examples when language constraints “routinely force you to be attentive to certain …aspects of experience, [these are]…habits of speech [that] are cultivated from the earliest age…[and which create]… habits of mind that go beyond language itself, affecting your experiences, perceptions, associations, feelings, memories and orientation in the world.” Then the article asks: “BUT IS THERE any evidence for this happening in practice?” The author focuses on the example of “geographical languages”: while in these languages spatial relationships are not attached to the perspective of the speaker (as in: to my right), the same meaning (or location) can be conveyed using a different set of terms. The author leads us eventually to conclude that it is the culture that shapes the language.
The second title is from a blog on neuroanthropology and it presents a fascinating and up-to-date review, by looking at cases of individuals raised entirely without language. There is no outright, clear-cut, single conclusion, but the discussion is inquisitive and intelligent, as are, by the way, some of the comments to the blog.
Words inspire art
This blog post features “Words,” a video poem, which is both short and beautiful! What could be better than a pleasant 3 minute pause in your hectic day to muse about words?
Words inspire curiosity
A young translator who was interviewed on a Spanish language blog was asked to give the readers advice about and insight into the world of a translator. Here’s (my translation of) what he said: “Be curious about everything; I think that’s the best advice. I read everything, from shampoo containers to car manuals, from inserts in medicine packages to real estate brochures, anything I can get my hands on. I look for unfamiliar words, I watch movies that don’t interest me, I read the subtitles of [TV] series…It’s a never-ending list, because we never know when a certain word might come in handy. Therefore, all words are useful. The translator has to have a mind like a sponge. Like children, we always have to be asking questions about anything and everything.”
The power of words: inspiring univocal unity?
In his review of the book Globish, Roy Blout disagrees with the book’s author, Robert McCrum, who apparently welcomes the emergence of the new world language, “Globish.” As the title of the review tells us, Globish gives us One World, One Voice. Blout, for his part, laments the fact that this development also drains words of their power:
“It’s easy to see how Globish benefits emerging go-getters abroad and international corporations. That doesn’t mean it will be good for readers who value more interesting English. ‘Microsoft + Dow Jones = Globish,’ McCrum writes. If that sounds promising to him, we are speaking only roughly the same language.”
Interestingly, the article How translation is changing the world looks at the same phenomenon, that is, globalization through the Internet and digital media, and sees a different process developing. Where Blout sees “One world, one voice,” Nataly Kelly sees the ability to communicate in, with and despite multiple voices as the key to creating “one world.” “Why is translation so important? Information is power, but the amount of information that is currently inaccessible to the world population is mind-boggling. Much like scientists who discover more each day about the mysteries of the human brain, translation enables us to tap into more of our collective repository of human knowledge.”
All proverbs from the Omniglot
Did you know that on September 24th, 2009, people
in the in the U.S. celebrated
National Punctuation Day ?
What a notion!? What a nation! Isn’t it marvelous?
If you want to find out more about this special day and
its celebratory events (including a baking contest!), go to
Once you’re there, don’t forget to scroll down to see
highlights, such as this: Errant comma costs
*** *** *** *** ***
If you explore the NPD site further, you might notice
that the phrase included above, “what a notion!?”,
could also be punctuated using the mark appropriately
It is, apparently, the appropriate mark for experessing
a question with a sense of wonderment, suggesting
that the question asked seeks not an answer
per se but rather an emotional response.
Well, who knew
According to its age, the interrobang should be a
veteran punctuation mark by now, and yet it hasn’t
achieved the recognition it so obviously merits.
For a formal introduction to the interrobang, read
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