March 4, 2013

"David Brooks Wishfully, Wrongly Believes the Chinese Have No Word for ‘Nerd.'"

"Whenever you hear someone explain that a concept is so foreign to this or that culture that people cannot even use their language to describe it, it is safe to assume your passport has just been stamped for entry into the Land of Bullshit."

96 comments:

betamax3000 said...

Good thing for Brooks that every culture has a word for "asshole."

Lucien said...

Perhaps this misstep will turn out to be both a crisis and an opportunity for Brooks.

Nonapod said...

David Brooks is such a shūdāizi.

edutcher said...

He doesn't remember egghead or four-eyes

chrisnavin.com said...

Sounds like Brooks has been hanging out with Thomas Friedman.

Skookum John said...

The Japanese certainly do, "otaku", the honorific form of "house". "Your honorable house" is used in very polite speech to indicate "you and your family", especially upon first introduction. A socially awkward individual will use this extremely formal way of speaking long after more confident and sociable people shift over to the informal mode. It also carries the double meaning of one who would rather stay home with his computer and anime than set foot outside. In Japan's conformist society, the term is even more pejorative than any word we have for the same sort of person, although it is in the process of being claimed and co-opted by the otaku culture.

Lem said...

I dont like Brooks, but, the NYT editors went missing... in China.

Tank said...

Chris

Brooks sounds more like Friedman every day.

PS Not a compliment.

Lem said...

and another thing...

Is it possible that the word is as new as the internet the may have brought it there and so is the concept?

EMD said...

I'm shocked, shocked, to find that David Brooks was wrong about anything.

Lem said...

Did Gawker consult an authority like the Chinese Embassy?

I very much doubt that... too lazy.

Zach said...

Even if they didn't have such a word, what would Brooks's point be? The rewards for education in the Chinese system are utterly incomparable to the American system. The threat of poverty is very real.

When I was in grad school, I shared a lab one summer with a Chinese student who had grown up as a peasant. He had competitive examinations to go to third grade. He was a professor in Hong Kong last time I spoke with him; if he had flunked the exams to go to third grade, he'd be on the southern side of a northbound water buffalo.

Alexander said...

I'm sorry; it's not my habit to defend Brooks, but in this instance it's Gawker who is lame. The one commenter on Gawker who actually seems to know Chinese well basically confirms that Brooks is right, and that the only term that really comes close is a loan word from Japanese (from "otaku," natch). Looking at a Chinese-English dictionary is an incredibly dumb way to investigate this, as anyone who has ever learned a foreign language should know; none of the listed words have the same connotations or are in common use.

St. George said...

But do the Chinese have a word for "clusterfuck"?

Alexander said...

English speakers should instinctively know this. Have you ever noticed how many words we import from foreign languages? Why import "sensei" if "teacher" will do? Because a sensei and a teacher are very different things, as any conversation with someone from Japan will tell you. I run into it all the time in my own work because I teach ancient Greek classics pretty frequently and I have to deal with these difficulties constantly. For example, Aristotle's Politics begins by stating that it is concerned with the "Polis," the most authoritative form of association, or koinonia; how do translators render this? Usually as "State" -- which is complete nonsense! -- sometimes as "City" or "City-State" either of which are sort of true, but not really. There is no good translation for "polis" in English, or for "politikon" or "logos" or any of these terms. Deal with it, people. You can translate these as phrases or sentences or paragraphs, but that just goes to show you how foreign the concept is to ordinary English usage. It's bizarre to assume that English doesn't have its own concepts that are difficult to translate into other languages because of different cultural inheritances and experiences.

rhhardin said...

Americans have a thousand words for sorrow.

link, from a 1986 program doing thesaurus clustering.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Fish have no word for fire.

Gabriel Hanna said...

The idea that you don't have a concept if you don't have a word for it is part of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Long ago discredited by empirical evidence, the idea is so entrenched in popular thought it might never go away.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Of course, they have no word for anything else, either, being entirely unable to speak.

betamax3000 said...

The Chines have a word for detergent, but it is an Ancient Chinese Secret.

Paddy O said...

What's the word for "a concept that a language does not have a word for"?

pduggie said...

"In my opinion, David Brooks has an unparalleled ability to shape an intellectually interesting idea into the rhetorical arc of an 800-word op-ed piece."

Language Log

KenK said...

I enjoyed reading Brooks' Bobos in Paradise, and which is probably the best thing he's ever written. BBP kind of reminded me of P.J. O'Rourke's style, though not nearly as funny. Brooks is in way over his head when he tries to drill down on the deeper meanings of things he doesn't know that much about, and it clearly shows here. You can read a few books, websites, and then write a column or a TV talk show and sound like an expert but doing long form writing on a topic you aren't truly knowledgeable about exposes you every time. And by Gawker of all things too.

Chip S. said...

Indeed there is such a word. It's a pictoglyph that's a 5-stroke caricature of David Brooks' face.

Sorun said...

There are ~1.3 billion people in China, and they're all the same. David Brooks met him, I mean, them.

Chip Ahoy said...

I do not see a word for "hint" or for "clue" in ASL.

I looked for both words in the five top dictionaries that are open right here. So that's ten looks, and no sign.

But that doesn't mean the idea is not conveyed with "help" "assistance" "offer" "offering" "support" "idea" "suggestion" "give" "present" or "gimme" or "scoot" or "h-i-n-t" or "c-l-u-e." And if I see someone make up a sign on the spot, I betchya I'll get it right off, and if I make up one myself on the spot, I betchya it won't be questioned. You should take the bet because I lose a lot of bets.

Balfegor said...

RE: Skookum John:

The Japanese certainly do, "otaku", the honorific form of "house". "Your honorable house" is used in very polite speech to indicate "you and your family", especially upon first introduction. A socially awkward individual will use this extremely formal way of speaking long after more confident and sociable people shift over to the informal mode. It also carries the double meaning of one who would rather stay home with his computer and anime than set foot outside. In Japan's conformist society, the term is even more pejorative than any word we have for the same sort of person, although it is in the process of being claimed and co-opted by the otaku culture.

Otaku is for people who are maniacally obsessed with some subculture, whether it's anime/manga, trains, whatever.

I think the "nerd" translation you'd use here (for someone who studies too hard) is gariben (ガリ勉).

edutcher said...

St. George said...

But do the Chinese have a word for "clusterfuck"?

We, her loyal commentariat, ought to ask Ann what she finally used in class.

Guimo said...

If David Brooks were a woman, instead of a nerd, he would be Ruth Marcus. But then I repeat myself.

Balfegor said...

Re: Alexander:

I'm sorry; it's not my habit to defend Brooks, but in this instance it's Gawker who is lame. The one commenter on Gawker who actually seems to know Chinese well basically confirms that Brooks is right, and that the only term that really comes close is a loan word from Japanese (from "otaku," natch).

One of the other commentators gave 屌丝 (diǎo sī) as a word used by Chinese netizens. But if that's like otaku, they're picking up on the wrong attribute of nerd-dom in the first place. Brooks' point is about studying, not obsession, and that's the meaning of "nerd" that needs to be translated.

I'm certain Chinese does have a term for grinds, just as Japanese has, but I don't speak Chinese so I don't know what it is. Maybe it's 屌丝.

Michael K said...

" Blogger Ignorance is Bliss said...

Fish have no word for fire."

In Watership Down, a wonderful book to read the children and for adults for that matter, rabbits are said to have two words, "Hawk" and "Not Hawk."

Nomennovum said...

Well, in Brook's defense, the Eskimos don't have a word for snow, the Arabs don't have a word for sand, and the Greeks don't have a word for vacation.

Paddy O said...

Brooks' point is about studying, not obsession, and that's the meaning of "nerd" that needs to be translated.

If only we had a word that really indicated this particular usage of "nerd".

Nomennovum said...

"If only we had a word that really indicated this particular usage of "nerd".

Brooks had a word in mind: "David Brooks."

OK, that's two words, but still.

Balfegor said...

Re: Paddy O:

If only we had a word that really indicated this particular usage of "nerd".

The word is "grind," but it's fallen out of use in favour of the general use of "nerd," partly -- I think -- because the image of grind-nerds and fan-nerds overlap heavily in the US. This is not the case in Japan, where they seem (to me, at least) to be two quite separate types. I don't think "good grades" or "studies hard" is part of the stereotype of the fan-nerd at all in Japan. Meanwhile, the stereotype of the grind-nerd is that he has no hobbies but studying.

BDNYC said...

English is a rich language.

Henry said...

I'm curious whence comes the idea that a loan word isn't a word. Americans have no word for "goulash"

elkh1 said...

betamax3000 said...
Good thing for Brooks that every culture has a word for "asshole."

Each one fits Brooks perfectly.

Mark O said...

That's simply ineffable.

Freeman Hunt said...

Ha ha ha. I take it he's not a fan of Chinese movies.

pduggie said...

Here's a question.

120 years ago, did English have a word for nerd?

No it did not.

pduggie said...

200 years ago, did english have a word for "gay male"?

Did that word express the same concept that "gay male" expresses?

No it did not.

virgil xenophon said...

Yes, elkhl, Betamax3000 won the thread right out of the chute, didn't he?

Unknown said...

I usually stop reading anything as soon as the words "David Brooks" appear, but betamax3000's first comment made it worthwhile this time.

elkh1 said...

Paddy O said...
What's the word for "a concept that a language does not have a word for"?

schadenfreude? coffee?

Import, incorporate the word that is missing. That's how language evolves. Chinese has a perfect word for Brooks: idiot.

Come to think of it, Brooks was technically right. He was saying "a word", but the Chinese usually use more than a word (a single character) to name a thing, e.g. a woman is a "female person", a man is a "male person". Would Brooks say the Chinese has no word for "woman" or "man"?

Joe Schmoe said...

Geez, the Chinese beat us again. We have one word, and they have a bunch to indicate various types of nerds.

Joe Schmoe said...

In an attempt to catch up in with China, one of Obama's education czars is going to propose a new word to Merriam-Webster:

woodward: lying, backstabbing nerd.

ex.: Bob Woodward is the biggest fucking woodward on the planet.

pj (lowercase) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Balfegor said...

RE: pduggie:

120 years ago, did English have a word for nerd?

No it did not
.

Yes it did -- by 1893, the English had developed schools and exams, and with it, the associated term "swot," which is attested (in Google Books) in an 1890 Dictionary of Slang, Jargon, and Cant on Google Books.

If you had gone back 200 years, though, I doubt English had such a term, since the English hadn't yet borrowed the idea of standardised exams from the Chinese Empire in 1813. I don't think the (British) Imperial Civil Service examinations were instituted until 1853, about 1,200 years after the Chinese first started the process. There was some kind of bar exam out in the US as early as the very end of the 18th century, but I don't know what type of exam it was, and whether it occupied the same cultural space as exams do in the West today, or have done in the East for the last 14 centuries. My guess is it did not.

Balfegor said...

"Swot" is attested even earlier, in some 1883 pamphlet of some sort called the "Denstonian":

I hope you do your best in School and go in for hard study; if anyone calls you a "swot" don't you stand it. Take my advice, it's the "swots" who score in the long run. I have seen it since I got out in the world, and I will I had "swotted" more when I had the chance.

Meaning seems pretty close to the study-side meaning of nerd today.

KLDAVIS said...

While trying to open a Chinese office for her company, my wife has encountered the apparently entirely normal concept of paying other individuals to take school exams for you. One person she was interviewing told her she was not available at a particular time, because she would be sitting for an exam for someone else. They said that it is apparently quite common for people to essentially buy their degree, then learn any necessary skills on the job. Talk about an alternative view toward education.

Sam L. said...

Referred to as a "scholar". Dumbass seems to be a better fit.

William said...

Teddy Roosevelt, according to the Norris biography, read a book a day and wrote a 500 page biography of Oliver Cromwell on his summer vacation. TR falls under the rubric of nerd, but the word doesn't feel right when applied to him. I bet the Chinese have a word that more closely describes a high functioning nerd like TR....Weren't all the mandarins nerds? My guess is that just as eskimos have many words for snow and Democrats have many words for taxes, the Chinese have many words for nerds, each with a more delicate and refined sense of meaning. Brooks can't see snowflakes for the snow.

Richard said...

This is fantastic.

Reminds me of when the 2004 tsunami hit, there were island tribes that managed to avoid the impact by seeing what the ocean was doing and getting to higher ground.

Reporters had a collective orgasm over the story. These simple people who live life differently than us were able to see and react to things that us modern age assholes were blind to.

So, loads of reporters romanticized the tribes for a while. As always, showing the rest of the world how better off nonindustrial people were than us.

And the most annoying report I saw was that they "didn't have a word for 'possession.'" Which is maybe the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Because if that reporter had decided to take off with one of those canoes, I am sure someone would have let them know what that word was.

mrkwong said...

KLDAVIS - it's not 'alternative' at all.

Just over here you pay $50K+ for four years, then you get to learn on the job.

http://www.harvard.edu

Lem said...

I googled "David Brooks nerds" and found a Brooks article on Nerds from 2008.

In 1950, Dr. Seuss published a book called “If I Ran the Zoo.” It contained the sentence: “I’ll sail to Ka-Troo, and bring back an IT-KUTCH, a PREEP, and a PROO, a NERKLE, a NERD, and a SEERSUCKER, too!” According to the psychologist David Anderegg, that’s believed to be the first printed use of the word “nerd” in modern English.

The (English) Language log seems to believe Brooks is full of it.

What are the chances the Brooks would repeat a mistaken conception about Nerds, despite two chance at being corrected by editors, fact checkers and the readership of the web?

Do the Chinese have a word for rush-to-judgement?

Lem said...

I'm putting my money on Brooks on this one.

Bob Ellison said...

But do they have a word for "noid"?

It's a homophone for "nerd" in some places.

84829942-3a88-11e0-83da-000bcdcb5194 said...

Paul Elam, A Voice for Men- the biggest conjob in the MRA and disinfo agent

http://www.crimesagainstfathers.com/australia/Forums/tabid/82/forumid/107/postid/4658/scope/posts/Default.aspx

A short commentary on MRA leaders
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ElZzB4P2D4

The so called "Leaders" of the MRA area are lying to you all. They are telling you that governments make legislation that you HAVE to obey and that they can FORCE you to obey using the police FORCE. This is a lie. They know it is a lie. And they are telling you lies that they know are lies.

The TRUTH is that legislation is NOT LAW and you do not have to obey ANY legislation. Here are links to videos that go into this in detail. This is not a new idea. Many people KNOW that legislation is not law and have been telling you so for a long time.

The excuse offered is usually "well the guvment can hurt you if you do not obey" is just that. An excuse. The only reason that guvments do hurt men who do not obey is because men have TOLERATED these crimes and not formed new courts to put criminals in guvment on trial. Men only have themselves to blame.

Blue@9 said...

Didja know the Japanese have a word for hamburger? hambagu.

I always find this shit annoying, like that stuff about "the eskimoes have x many words for snow!" Well yeah, we can functionally do the same thing, "Wet snow" "Dry snow" "Sleet". How many words do the eskimoes have for "snow-mobile" and "internal combustion engine"? My god, the non-overlapping vocabularies indicate that we're so different we're almost like separate species!

Ever remember Edward Said's criticism of Orientalism? Weird how the establishment and academia all remember Said, but not what he said.

If anyone has questions about Magic Asians, I'll be in the corner over here smoking opium and dispensing ancient Confucian wisdom; maybe I'll say something about 'Buddha' and all the hippies will swoon.

Balfegor said...

RE: Blue@9:

Ever remember Edward Said's criticism of Orientalism? Weird how the establishment and academia all remember Said, but not what he said.

Why should we remember what he said?

Revenant said...

Didja know the Japanese have a word for hamburger? hambagu.

"hanbaagaa" :)

Balfegor said...

Re: Revenant --

Gu for the patty, Ga- for the sandwich.

Revenant said...

"-gu" for hamburger patties? Neat, I didn't know that.

Revenant said...

I think the "nerd" translation you'd use here (for someone who studies too hard) is gariben (ガリ勉).

Any idea what word "gari" was originally? I can't think of anything obvious. "Girly", maybe?

Methadras said...

St. George said...

But do the Chinese have a word for "clusterfuck"?


I think its spelled Obama? Just a guess.

bagoh20 said...

Brooks is absolutely convinced of his own wisdom. Probably has been most of his life.

Amartel said...

No need for fact checking; it would fit the narrative (Chinese smart, better) so it must be true!

Can we stop referring to people like Brooks as "elite" when really they're just collectivist suck-ups with fairly decent vocabularies?

Balfegor said...

Re: Revenant:

"-gu" for hamburger patties? Neat, I didn't know that.

When it's just a hamburger patty with demiglace sauce (like you get at Jonathans or wherever), it's ハンバーグ.

As far as the Gari in Gariben, I see it is a question that occurs to Japanese quite often too. Just browsing, I get the following explanation:

"gariben" is an abbreviation of "garigari benkyou suru hito" (tr: a person who studies in a garigari way), and has been used since the middle of Hirohito's reign.

"Garigari" means, in this case "acting dedicatedly for one's own advantage or desires without caring about anything else"

Accordingly, "gariben" means a person who only studies, without turning his attention to play or club activities or love or anything else, and they were called "gariben-kun."

Often, "gariben" has a negative connotation, such as "oversized head," or "capable of studying, but boring as a human being," and is used when mocking such people. As a result, the word is not often used for people who are temporarily focusing on studying before an exam, or in their entrance exam year.

Further, regarding "gari" (我利), there are phrases like "garigarimouja" (我利我利亡者) or "garigaribouzu" (我利我利坊主), and it was a word used to despise people who thought only of their own profit and had no concern for others. Thus, there is a theory that the term derives from this useage, but it's no more than a folk etymology.


My approximate translation.

Balfegor said...

That said, I suppose I must confess that answer comes from the high authority of Herr Professor Doktor sumomo_momomo_nyankororin, so take it for what it is worth.

MadisonMan said...

Next: David Brooks writes that Gullible isn't in the dictionary!

James Pawlak said...

A long dead friend was fluent in Chinese. When he stated that Chinese even had a term for "Milwaukee Goiter" (id Beer Belly) I expressed my doubts. He showed me that term in the "Five Thousand Dictionary".

Why not "nerd"?

Blue@9 said...

Ever remember Edward Said's criticism of Orientalism? Weird how the establishment and academia all remember Said, but not what he said.

Why should we remember what he said?


So we can hold Leftists to account when they act like a bunch of racist hypocrites.

Balfegor said...

So we can hold Leftists to account when they act like a bunch of racist hypocrites.

I don't think the hypocrisy matters much at all. Nor, to be honest, am I much troubled by their racism at least as regards Asians. I have felt a twinge of irritation when I hear some dippy hippy associate the healing power of crystals with Oriental culture, but I can't very well object to that and not object to the kinds of stereotypes of Westerners or distorted images of Occidental culture one encounters in Korea and Japan. And . . . well, those kind of irritate me too but it's what you get when two cultures interact. You can throw a book-length self-righteous hissy fit, like Said, or be constructive and try and correct those misperceptions where you find them.

Balfegor said...

Sorry, when I say "their racism" I mean in terms of interpretation/appropriation of Asian cultural symbols or their distorted image of Asian culture.

When it comes to concrete things like, you know, affirmative action, I do care about their anti-Asian racism. Out of naked self-interest, if nothing else.

Captain Curt said...

The only etymology that I have found credible for "nerd" states that it came from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in the mid 20th century. It was said that there were only two things to do at RPI on the weekends: drink, or study. One who did the first was a "drunk"; one who did the second was a "knurd".

Nini said...

I don't know if there is a word for "nerd" in Chinese.

But anyone who is a bilingual understands the points being made by Alexander @ 10.12 AM.

Especially in translating Eastern philosophical concepts, eg. Indic philosophies. You sometimes need to read a whole book to understand a word, because behind a single word lies a whole concept, or in other words, the whole concept has no concise counterpart in western philosophy. The word sanskrit word "prema" in the Indic philosophy, for example, is normally translated as "love" in english, but "prema" is more nuanced than "love" and therefore ackward to use in relation to your love for your children, for example. To fully understand it's meaning you need a lot more than translating, and interpreting as you need the cultural concepts by which even to discuss the word.

Astro said...

You know, Tom Scocca could have stopped at 'David Brooks Wishfully, Wrongly Believes'.

The sentence is already redundant.

Balfegor said...

Re: Nini:

But anyone who is a bilingual understands the points being made by Alexander @ 10.12 AM.

Especially in translating Eastern philosophical concepts, eg. Indic philosophies. You sometimes need to read a whole book to understand a word, because behind a single word lies a whole concept, or in other words, the whole concept has no concise counterpart in western philosophy
.

This isn't limited to philosophical writing. My experience dealing with non-English documents and witness testimony has convinced me of the ultimate futility of translation. Particularly when dealing with lawyers, whose first instinct is to read between the lines, and therefore run a risk of ending up completely off base as a result. First off, those lines are the lines the translator (or I) chose, not the lines the witness/author chose. And then there's all the problems of semantic mismatch, cultural context, etc. It's difficult for someone who is bilingual to distance himself properly from his understanding of the original text and foresee the inferences the monolingual reader might draw from the translation.

Michael McNeil said...

Fish have no word for fire.

Sure we sarcopterygian fish do. (Ray-finned fish, I suppose not.)

ironrailsironweights said...

The Chinese may not have a word for "nerd," but they surely have words for "man who cannot get poon tang."

Same thing.

Peter

Susan Stewart Rich said...

Is it safe to safe that any concept can be explained with words? But how does a concept become a concept? What is a nerd?

Lonetown said...

Its good to see the Chinese have a word for Brooks.

的Feltcher

Revenant said...

"gariben" is an abbreviation of "garigari benkyou suru hito"

Strange that the "gari" is written in katakana if there are kanji for it. I guess it is done for emphasis?

Balfegor said...

I suspect the kanji are a back formation for a word that is really onomatopoeic (for stiffness/brittleness).

Revenant said...

Is it safe to safe that any concept can be explained with words?

Theoretically, but it isn't really a falsifiable claim -- since any concept that cannot be put into words cannot be communicated to others, we would have no way of knowing the concept existed in the first place. All we would know is that the person trying to communicate the concept can't find the right words for it, but we wouldn't know that this was because doing so was impossible.

Revenant said...

I suspect the kanji are a back formation for a word that is really onomatopoeic

Japanese really is a logophile's dream language. :)

Balfegor said...

Re: Revenant:

Theoretically, but it isn't really a falsifiable claim -- since any concept that cannot be put into words cannot be communicated to others, we would have no way of knowing the concept existed in the first place. All we would know is that the person trying to communicate the concept can't find the right words for it, but we wouldn't know that this was because doing so was impossible.

I disagree. If we consider the problem of communicating visual concepts to blind people, we can see there are some concepts that can't be explained in language. What roundness looks like, for example, is something the blind apparently do not understand until they acquire sight. I don't know if this is definitely the case, but I suspect colour is the same way.

These are fundamental concepts, and we define (or explain) them not with words but with real-world referents. In the absence of sensory perception of those extra-verbal referents, they would be totally unintelligible. We'd be left saying of colour, for example, that there is an attribute shared by various physical objects, perceived with senses you do not possess, and our perception of this attribute varies based on the wavelength of a type of energy which at higher intensities can warm or even burn you. That says a lot of rot about colour without ever actually communicating the concept of colour.

MadisonMan said...

For some reason this whole thing reminds me of a knock-knock joke.

Knock Knock

Who's There

I eat mop.

Revenant said...

I think you're incorrectly conflating senses with concepts, Balfegor.

We can't describe what "round" looks like because "what round looks like" isn't a concept, at least not in the human brain. Sensory data is parsed in parts of the brain (mostly the occipital lobe) that have nothing to do with conceptual thinking. By the time the information reaches the "conceptual" prefrontal cortex, our brain has already parsed it out the visual appearance of a basketball into data along the lines of "round-looking, orange-looking, with black-looking things that look like curving lines".

Balfegor said...

I think you're incorrectly conflating senses with concepts, Balfegor.

It's a question of how you define concepts. As I see it, have an abstract concept of "colour" or "visual roundness" that exists apart from our immediate sensory perception of a physical object that is actually a particular colour or has the attribute of roundness. These are attributes we can transfer to other contexts, such as a stylised cartoon which is intended to suggest the property of roundness without being an exact 2D reproduction of the appearance of an actual round object, or even just an imaginary object the image of which we construct in our minds eye.

I think that human thought, at all levels, is reflective of our embodiment in a particular organism interacting with the world through particular sensory apparatus, so that disposes me to see abstractions of properties we perceive directly as fundamental concepts. Once you abstract from immediate sensory perception, I think you're in conceptual space. The concept of "time," for example, is such an abstraction. We experience the passage of time, but the mental model of sequential linear time in which all those experiential moments fall along a continuum from past into future is the abstraction -- or extrapolation -- of direct experience. Similarly, we perceive something we call "roundness" in this object or that object, but the complex of visual cues that signifies "roundness" to us is an extrapolation from these basic perceptual building blocks. But in all these cases, the concept itself is not communicable in words without access to the sensory experience which forms the basis for the concept.

And of course, there are higher level concepts that build directly on these basic concepts. Can one explain colour harmony with just words? I don't think so. Without illustration, it's just words -- the actual concept has not been communicated. How would one explain counterpoint or polyphony to a deaf man? The explanation ultimately relies on something external to language.

pj (lowercase) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...

The idea that you don't have a concept if you don't have a word for it is part of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Long ago discredited by empirical evidence, the idea is so entrenched in popular thought it might never go away.

Wasn't that the point of Newspeak in Orwell's 1984? That you couldn't form thoughts if you couldn't express them?

Even as a kid I didn't really buy into that.

ed said...

@ betamax3000

"Good thing for Brooks that every culture has a word for "asshole.""

+1

You made my day.

ed said...

@ Revenent

""hanbaagaa" :)"

So that's the Japanese equivalent of my uncle shouting "Where-o is the bathroom-o!?"?

lol :)

Blue@9 said...

So we can hold Leftists to account when they act like a bunch of racist hypocrites.

I don't think the hypocrisy matters much at all. Nor, to be honest, am I much troubled by their racism at least as regards Asians. I have felt a twinge of irritation when I hear some dippy hippy associate the healing power of crystals with Oriental culture, but I can't very well object to that and not object to the kinds of stereotypes of Westerners or distorted images of Occidental culture one encounters in Korea and Japan. And . . . well, those kind of irritate me too but it's what you get when two cultures interact. You can throw a book-length self-righteous hissy fit, like Said, or be constructive and try and correct those misperceptions where you find them.


On a personal level I don't really care either. I don't mind if people call me "oriental" or ask me if I'm Chinese (I'm not).

But I do admit I get some perverse pleasure in catching 'race-conscious' liberals when they violate their own PC rules. Sometimes I feel guilty because I'm clearly using my non-whiteness as a moral lever against people who believe only whites can be racist, but fuck 'em--I'm not responsible for their white guilt or their ridiculous beliefs.