Wordplay

Note: This post is part linguistic exploration, part intellectual masturbation.  You’ve been warned.

Did you know that the Japanese have no word for the color green?  Instead, the sky and the sea and the grass are all called the same thing: ao (blue).

Blue.

Seems legit.

There’s no “G” in ROY G BIV.  Novices are blue. Recycling is going blue. Blue around the gills. Giving someone the blue light. Blue with envy.

This kind of blue blew my mind when I heard it from a professor of mine recalling the years he spent living and working in Japan. (Big ups, Prof. Plugh!)  How could a language that does not have a word for the color green have any hope of even beginning to describe this nuanced world in which we live?

Before I get on my English high horse and risk sounding ethnocentric, I want to acknowledge some awesome Japanese words.  For example, Koi No Yokan is the sense upon first meeting a person that a future love between you is inevitable.  Wabi-sabi is an abstract way of viewing the world which strives to find beauty and acceptance in imperfection. A Nito-onna is a woman who is so focused on her career that she has no time to iron blouses and thus only wears knitted tops. (I found all of these and a lot more on a great little blog called Better Than English.)

So, which is it? Is language competent in describing our perception of reality, in communicating our ideas and expressing our thoughts? Or does it fall short?

Inefficiency of Language

Not too long ago, I received a text message:

“We need a word for that feeling you get when you ask someone to do you a favor and they f*ck it up.”

We do, don’t we?  I did a little social experimenting and found that everyone I asked was well aware of this feeling.  When I asked a few to describe it, they said:

  • “It’s so frustrating and there’s nothing you can do. There’s no confrontation or resolution.”
  • “You’re disappointed but you’re not allowed to be.”
  • “It’s like a struggle in your brain between anger and awkwardness.”

So many long explanations for a seemingly universal emotion. I cannot help but think that this proves that language, at least the English language, is inefficient in this way.

But there is a reason I received this text in the first place.  Language is open to evolution, and everyone can contribute.  If my friends and I wanted to make up a word for this phenomenon, let’s call it “favrustration” [fay-VRUS-chray-shun], we could do it.  We could start using it aloud, write it into our lives via social media, and maybe it would get picked up by other people and enter into the vernacular – or at least make it’s way on to Urban Dictionary – which leads me to my next point.

Efficiency of Language

If I were to refer to a picture taken by someone on their smartphone as “instagold,” they might know that I mean, “That picture is really good, and if you were to post it on Instagram it would get a lot of likes.” (That’s a weird sentence that did not exist in 2009.)

This got 10700 likes. #instagold.

This one got 10700+ likes. #instagold

Rapid advancements in technology, obsession with pop culture, and my generation’s ceaseless ability to embrace and adapt to “newness” all account for an ever-increasing vocabulary of extremely specific terminology.  Catfishing (maintaining an online relationship with someone using an alter-ego), bromance (a loving relationship between two heterosexual males), and even synergasm (expressing oneself by speaking in a string of corporate buzzwords) are all words that I have heard, and understood without explanation, in the last twenty-four hours.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.

So?

I don’t know. I supposed I’m just a logophile.

Do you have any words or phrases of your own, used around friends or colleagues or on Twitter, that makes communication more efficient?

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.

*This post is dedicated to he who told me my writing is needlessly wordy.*

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3 thoughts on “Wordplay

  1. Hey…this is good stuff. One minor correction: The Japanese word for green is “midori” but it’s not used in an equivalent way to our English usage. Things that are green in English are sometimes “aoi” in Japanese (blue), while other things that are green in English are also “midori.” The right way to think about it is, there isn’t a 1:1 correspondence between languages in most cases, and so translation is often cosmetic and beside the point. Why is an inexperienced person called green in English, but “blue” in Japanese? Why are unripe fruit the same? One leads to the other metaphor. But…why, then are some things green and “midori” as equivalents? That’s the eternal mystery of human communication…and you get at it here. Great.

  2. Did E.B. White tell you your writing is needlessly wordy? That guy just won’t shut up about brevity….get it [elbow nudge] get it??

    I think a word/phrase needs to be coined to describe how one’s personality can shift dramatically from waking to evening. I mean beyond calling yourself a morning person or a night owl. Klosterman writes about the feeling in an essay. He says he is not the same person when his head lifts from the pillow as he is when it hits it again at night.

    Or maybe I should be consulting some sort of manual of psychiatric terminology.

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