A topic has come up in conversation each of the last five nights with separate and same groups of English speaking individuals as I gauge their reaction to a concept we can all relate to as we navigate a foreign land and language. I haven’t attempted to parlay (just realizing how entirely relevant that word is to its romantic roots as the French word for “to speak” is “parler”) the same concept to French speakers, aside from one who I regularly do yoga with, assuming she won’t take me for a fool for festering on a ridiculous idea, for it would be easier for those in the same state of verbal incapability while learning a new language to relate to and experiment with.
The idea, the game plan, if you would have it, is to avoid, at all costs, learning how to say phrases I’ve dubbed as life detracting, in the hopes that without words to express the feeling, perhaps I would forget the feeling altogether:
“I wish I had…”
It all started when I sat on a futon in a cabin on a rainy day in California, wrapped in a blanket flipping through an old dictionary and laughing with a friend about how many words we have, an absurd amount – that there was probably a word to describe two people sitting in a cabin on a rainy day reading a dictionary. We took a red pen and starting circling the words we liked, crossing out those that we didn’t, and narrowing down our language to just the essentials. The first to go was the word “dumb.”
Three months later, I came across a website, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, from a clever fellow I’ve come to admire for his creativity in language and ability to articulate in his own invented words specific and previously unidentifiable feelings:
Exulansis – n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it
Rubatosis – n. the awareness of your own heartbeat
Vemödalen – n. the fear that everything has already been done
You know those feelings, do you not? When I read them I thought, how funny, that I didn’t think about those feelings and dwell on a recollection of them simply because I didn’t have a word to attach to that certain conglomeration of physiological responses. But now I do. What a wild idea, to make someone aware of emotions, in a way fabricating them, simply by bringing them to our attention.
Reflection on the two events left me thinking, if we invented language, why have we chosen to have words to describe so many variations of negativity? Sparing the “you can’t have good without the bad,” because I’m focusing more on our tendency to linger on on the bad retrospectively, knowing that of course even if we didn’t have a word for it, when some dies we would be sad, when were hurt we would feel pain, but perhaps we wouldn’t attach to that feeling for once it was gone, it was gone from our consciousness.
I recalled a Radiolab episode I listed to on color. Researchers had probed through early texts, tallying the mention of every color, and noticing that even in The Odyssey and The Iliad, there had been not one mention of the word “blue.” There was no word to describe the color, and so the color was invisible – very reminiscent of concepts in “The Giver,” and very thought provoking for the long stretches without reception for the remainder of that cross-country move.
Now, I know that I’ve been taught the words in English, so the feelings are already instilled in my being, but when my thoughts are overwhelmed by conversation requiring my full attention in French, I simply don’t have the capacity to think of English concepts engrained in me these past 26 years.
I can only express:
“I love when…”
“It’s like magic…”
“I’m happy to…”
…and so it goes.
Maybe for a day, maybe for an hour, maybe for just one conversation, try it out by limiting your speech to describe only life enhancing ideas…how does it feel?