A couple of posts by The Talented Mr. Lowenkopf have me thinking about words: his post on IEDs (Improvised Exploding Devices) and another on the "Son of a bitch" gift-giving plateau he hopes to attain this Christmas.
This particularly in the light of - firstly - the latest confrontation between LG and M which reached its own plateau with LG stomping upstairs and calling him - in a muttered subtone - a bastard, and with M deciding that such nomenclature was not, on this occasion, to be overlooked or tolerated.
The disagreement in question was concerning whether or not it was advisable for LG to buy cannabis lollies as Christmas gifts for her school friends. The context of the disagreement includes LG's hour-long detention after school today with a group who signed up to some club mandating social exclusion of and possibly further discrimination against one particular fellow pupil. LG says that she didn't know about the agenda of the club when she signed up, and certainly it doesn't seem likely to us that she would have done this knowingly, but nonetheless we fully support the school taking a hard line.
We are not very happy that there seems to be some staff complicity in scaremongering about the possible longterm effects of this incident: LG claims to have been told that this could go on her criminal record and on her permanent school record and that she could be excluded from school. At the very least she has learned, early on, a crucially important lesson about words (the power of), reading (the importance of), and signatures -(the need to be cautious with).
This context alone seems to make caution about the gift-giving advisable, it remains to be seen whether or not LG accepts our verdict on this one.
In other contexts, of course, use of the word "bastard" might have been received (and intended) rather differently.
[excursus : its so so very hard sometimes, this parenting thing of choosing your battles wisely... In other LG news, there is an almost adamantium-hard frost this morning, but still she will not will not wear a coat to school...]
The - secondly - other light casting interesting and illuminating shadows on this topic is a recent discussion with students in a class on science fiction. Suzette Elgin, by profession a linguist, has written a science fiction trilogy which begins with Native Tongue. The book explores gender issues and relationships and the power of words.
Living in a Handmaid's-Tale-esque future America of near-totally oppressive patriarchal power, a group of women begin to invent their own language. Giving them power to name and share their own distinctively female experience, this language has crucial liberating and revolutionary potential. Words, the author explains, are magical; they have the power to make visible things - experiences, concepts - which have before been invisible. In a reversal of the way in which Orwell imagined the annihilation of the concept of freedom through the forbidding of the word, these women (over generations) grow a language full of words ("encodings") which name their experience. Here are some examples of "Laadan", the new language:
Raduth = "to non use", "to deliberately deprive someone of any useful function in the world, as in enforced retirement or when a human being is kept as a plaything or a pet".
Ramimelh = "to refrain from asking with evil intentions; especially when its clear that someone badly wants you to ask".
Dooledosh = "pain or loss which comes as a relief by virtue of ending the anticipation of its coming."
Doroledim - has no equivalent English meaning. “Say you have an average woman. She has no control over her life. She has little or nothing in the way of a resource for being good to herself, even when it is necessary. She has family and animals and friends and associates that depend on her for sustenance of all kinds. She rarely has adequate sleep or rest; she has no time for herself, no space of her own, little or no money to buy things for herself, no opportunity to consider her own emotional needs. She is at the beck and call of others, because she has these responsibilities and obligations and does not choose to (or cannot) abandon them. For such a woman, the one and only thing she is likely to have a little control over for indulging her own self is FOOD. When such a woman overeats, the verb for that is “doroledim”. (And then she feels guilty, because there are women whose children are starving, and who do not have even THAT option for self-indulgence…)”
and here is the festive bit:
Radiidin = "non-holiday" - "a time allegedly a holiday but actually so much a burden because of work and preparations that it is a dreaded occasion; especially when there are too many guests and none of them help".
I'm happy to say that this latter is not my experience of Christmas, though I'm sure it is for many. Particularly many women. This example always elicits a response of laughter but also recognition from students.
Are there words or experiences which you would want to incorporate in a new language?