28 June 2006

Words Matter

When I wrote the title for this post, it seemed almost trite. I don't mean it to be. The words we have at our disposal define the thoughts we are able to think. If you've learned another language and become fluent enough to think in that language, you know what I mean. I spent two years in Brazil as a missionary and grew to love the Portuguese language. While I took my required 2 years of German in High School, there's nothing like living the language to teach you subtleties of the words. There are some ideas that simply can not be described in another language. The Portuguese word saudade, I think, falls into this category. Further, there are the synthetic languages, like Arabic, where I understand that one symbol can take a whole English paragraph to explain! Simply put, the words you use matter, and more than you might think.

My coworkers often chide me, because when I have a new idea, I'll spend hours trying to come up with the name for the thing. Why? Because it frames the way you think about the idea and code names simply don't switch well. You've got to get the name first. I've never really been able to explain this, but I just heard a speech given by Bruce Sterling that I think finally explains the idea really well and introduces several new ideas along the way. The Internet of Things, check it out.


Anonymous said...

Since you mention that you spent two years in Brazil as a missionary, does that mean that you're not Jewish? Your last name would lead one to believe that you are.

David Weiss said...

Yeah, I get asked that a lot. :-) David Weiss is a pretty Jewish name. Several generations back my Jewish ancestors immigrated from Russia to America. Before that, we think they came from somewhere in Germany, but it's not quite clear. As for religious affiliation I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Am I Jewish? Well no, I'm of the tribe of Ephraim, not the tribe of Judah. How's that for transparent? :-) I hope that answered your question.

Prufrock said...

I heard the saudade thing a lot (também tenho saudades da missão) and I think there _is_ a translation - longing, or even yearning. English has a lot of depth - we just don't use it much. How often do you hear people express a longing for home, instead of homesickness?

In fact, a usage of saudades can express a sense of nostalgia, as well. A bittersweet loss. Where Portuguese has all these concepts wrapped into one word and disambiguated in context, we don't overload the function.

Which mission? What year? :)

I have this quandry - I am living in France and will be watching the Brazil/France match on Saturday - for whom do I cheer? :) (Brazil - they'll win. Then I'll be killed by rabid français)