I didn’t think it had been that long since I posted, so fear not, loyal reader, I have a proclivity for producing profuse profundity.
There are some academics who insist that certain words have no english equivalent. Mores, Virtu, Schadenfreude, Polis, Ubermensch.
1. Let’s say they have no english equivalent. Have you noticed people using them as English? I certainly have. That’s one advantage of English, if a word isn’t English, it can become English.
2. The real problem arises when these academics claim that, in addition to having no english equivalent, these words can only be understood in the language they originate from, they are literally senseless when removed from the shroud of Greek.
When referencing point 1 such an academic might claim that, well the current usage in English isn’t the real usage, or a usage true to the original word.
Here are the problems with this claim.
3. We’re all cognitively identical in design and our brains have a high degree of plasticity. That’s why we can learn other languages, for example. Our brains can be restructured through training, including conceptual training (not just say, motor memory, emotional training). So any academic who says that you just can’t ‘get it’ if you don’t speak the original language is either totally uncreative or suffering from a case of snobiness. Because if they understood the word, actually understood it, and were creative, they could explain it in excruciatingly beautiful and precise english prose. Since any brain can understand any concept (that humans are capable of understanding) if given the right input — and english can express any concept expressable by humans (disregarding that intended expressions aren’t always congruent to received impressions) since they can literally make up words with which to express themselves — how could it be the case that some word, in some language, has such an incredible esoteric quality that no english speaker’s palate could possibly fathom the precise taste of it uncorked in our surly gutteral manner of speaking?
4. I can think of a reason: these particular academics like knowing esoteric things, like putting the language they learnt to ego-driven uses, and like in general, being more precisely enlightened than other people.
I know what mores are, and I understand and love Schadenfreude. And while I’ve never seen an ubermensch in this polis I’m sure I’d be sufficiently struck by his virtu to be able to identify him if I did.
Our brains are plastic. Our language is plastic. There are no concepts a capable mind cannot grasp given sufficient resources that more capable minds can.