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They Have A Word For It by Howard Rheingold

They Have A Word For It (1988)

by Howard Rheingold

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This was a great book. Very entertaining, very informative, a must-read for folks who love words. ( )
  Steven_Burgauer | Dec 20, 2016 |
Reading just an entry or two at a time. It took awhile to get into it, as the organization is from the relatively trivial, easily translatable words, to the more challenging concepts that are 'foreign' to the native English speaker. The latter is what I was hoping for when I bought the book.


Finally done. When one is in the right frame of mind for the theme of the chapter, one is fascinated. Mostly I found myself bored though - and yet, it was not a honest sense of boredom. After all, the principle behind the book, as Rheingold expresses, We all inherit a worldview along with our native language. Untranslatable words help us notice the cracks between our own worldview and those of others," is both intriguing & important.

The material isn't boring, nor is the presentation. I think it's that I'm too cynical, too set in my ways, to feel the need to adopt any of these words. The few I did like, that is to say, the few I thought expressed an idea that English needs but does not have an expression for, were words that would be too long & difficult to use in conversation.

For example, consider 'wundersucht' - which Rheingold translates as 'a passion for miracles.' I agree with him that people universally have a hunger to experience or at least to witness the miraculous. But I'm not going to go around mangling German phonemes to try to spread a word for this concept. Sorry.

Otoh, 'maya,' which is Sanskrit for 'the mistaken belief that a symbol is the same as the reality it represents,' is a short & handy word. Alfred Korzybski, a semanticist, says it's the belief in "the illusion of mistaking the map for the territory." Unfortunately, after reading the fable meant to illustrate the concept, I don't think I actually understand it well enough to use it.

Overall, the book can be read as a fun collection of trivia, or as a multicultural enrichment study. I do recommend it to those interested in world politics or diplomacy, languages, cultures, etc.

I also really liked this quote, used to open the chapter on 'conceptions of beauty:'

For the Navajo, beauty is not so much in the eye of the beholder as it is in the mind of its creator and in the creator's relationship to the created (that is, the transformed or the organized). The Navajo does not look for beauty; he generates it within himself and projects it onto the universe.... Beauty is not 'out there' in things to be perceived by the perceptive and appreciative viewer; it is a creation of thought.
(Gary Witherspoon, Language and Art in the Navajo Universe)

I wish I'd read that before I'd read [b:Laughing Boy|1820803|Laughing Boy|Oliver La Farge|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1188803588s/1820803.jpg|1148394] with all its 'I travel in beauty' lines." ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
The basic idea sounds good enough. Discuss various words that English could use from other languages. Ought to be interesting, except

1) The author either doesn't himself really understand the words, or else can't describe it well enough to make it clear.

2) His phonetic transcriptions are just plain wrong.

3) English doesn't need many of these words, having short phrases that mean the same thing (usually shorter than the words he wants to introduce).

4) His suggestions of how we might use the word in English has little or no relationship to how the word is used in the original language.

5) Even if anyone could remember all these polysylabic expressions in the first place. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Oct 3, 2013 |
Charming. Meant to be dipped into, not read through. Witty explanations. ( )
  janerawoof | Sep 3, 2013 |
This book was lent to me by a similarly language-loving friend. Despite, yes, getting "razliubit" wrong, I found this book to be fun and informative. It was a pleasure to read, from someone who rarely reads non-fiction. ( )
  lizzy-x | Dec 18, 2011 |
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To Judy and Mamie, who fill my life with light. Because of you I am a cuor contento.
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This book is meant to be fun.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 096508079X, Paperback)

A spirited reference book guaranteed to enrich your vocabulary, open your eyes, and expand your mind. The writer's perfect tool.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:47 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Table of ContentsAcknowledgments/ ixIntroduction: Hearing Is Believing: The Cracks Between Our Worldviews, 11. Human Family Affairs: People Words, 132. You Are What You Say: Words of Power, 453. Dance of the Sexes: Men, Women, and the Words Between Them, 714. The Eye of the Beholder: Conceptions of Beauty, 925. Serious Business: Words About Work and Money, 1136. States of Mind: Words, Thoughts, and Beyond, 1377. Life Is But a Dream: The Jargon of Mental Technologists, 1678. Spiritual Pathwords: The Map, the Territory, and the Mystery, 1869. The Body Politic: Words and Social Action, 20910. Toolwords: Technology and Worldviews, 232Strange Memes: Language Viruses, 247Afterword: Do You Know an Untranslatable Word?, 267Bibliography, 269Key to Sources Index, 281The Author, 285IntroductionHearing Is Believing: The Cracks Between Our WorldviewsThis book is meant to be fun. Open it at random and see if you don't find something that will amuse you, entertain you, titillate your curiosity, tickle your perspective. But you should know that reading this book might have serious side effects at a deeper level. Even if you read one page as you stand in a bookstore, you are likely to find a custom or an idea that could change the way you think about the world. It has to do with the insidious way words mold thoughts.It all started with a friendly lunch. Jeremy Tarcher is the kind of publisher a writer dreams about. He isn't likely to merge with a new multinational conglomerate every other week, as book publishers are wont to do, and he actually likes to sit down with authors and talk about ideas. During one of our brainstorming sessions, Jeremy mentioned his desire to publish a lexicon of untranslatable words that don't exist in English but would add a new dimension to original languages. Words that would open a window on the way other cultures encourage people to think and feel, and thus point out new ways for us to think and feel.Oh, you mean words like wabi, I said.Perhaps, he replied. What does it mean?It's a Japanese concept for a certain… (more)

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