The Silver Jar

"My own business bores me to death; I prefer other people's" – Oscar Wilde

Words glorious Words

I am currently doing an online course in Copywriting with CTJT Distance Learning Courses. It has certainly been an educational process so far; not only learning how to write sales and advertising copy, but you are given a lot of supporting information about the industry itself. My most recent assignment involved learning the lingo, rounded off with a translation test at the end.

This is something which has really interested me – not trawling through the wording list and memorising the meaning of new words (!) – but seeing how we are continually adding to and updating our existing vocabulary, especially in the world of business. Where there isn’t an existing word to describe what we want to say…we create one!

I also have a blog to document my progress through my Copywriting course at , where I shared one of the translations:

Translate: That character needs to go in bold…then clean up the rest of the footnotes. Make sure you check the en dashes. 

That letter/number/symbol needs to be put in boldface. Then ensure the author’s responses to the editing of their material to printed form are incorporated into the final paper copy footnotes. Ensure the correct usage of dashes; specifically remember that the en-dash is one-half of a square in size and resembles a hyphen. It is used to represent missing, but implies, items of a series. 

Incredibly wordy. I am incredibly wordy, as a rule, I often find myself delving into deep, descriptive detail. However, believe it or not, in this specific translation exercise, this was actually as concise as I could construct it. I find it fascinating that with the creating of a new word, we can pin down exactly a brand new feeling, sensation, action or concept. We are ever expanding our minds capacity with the ever growing dictionary of meanings that we are creating. New words create new thoughts, new words create new ideas and new words create new concepts. Fascinating.

We think, regarding our own language, that we have pretty much got all bases covered. All that could be described, can be described. Don’t get me wrong, the vastness of the English vocabulary is beyond comprehension, but there is always potential for more. A word that we might have, say 20 years ago, thought was sufficient; such as “cool”, has now been divided into a huge array of sub-distinctions through modern day slang; sweet, mint, sick, sound, boss, class. Each qualifies as a modification of “cool” through a minute discrepancy of definition.

On the opposite end of the scale there are huge gaps. Through comparison to other languages we can see where we are truly lacking. I remember an article that I read on this about a year ago which fascinated me, and after trawling through a string of related internet sites, I can see that it fascinates a lot of other people too. There are thousands of examples, but I have listed below what I believe to be the most hilarious translation – demonstrating just how wordy the English language can be:

Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese) – the most concise translation is – “An act that somebody does for you, despite the fact that you didn’t want them to do it and have tried to get them to avoid doing it, but they go ahead an do it anyway, determined that they will be doing you a favour, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end, due to social conventions, you were required to express gratitude”.

The translation to English is so long. It’s so long that it’s not even a phrase, it’s a 8 clause sentence! We cannot even split it up into two sentences because it’s relaying one complete meaning, and to divide the sentence would disrupt the description.

This is a perfect example of one of the things that I love about the English language. That we can provide such extensive descriptions for something which another language has pinned down in just one word. We have the diversity and potential to explain any one thing in a thousand different ways.  Word play is certainly something which makes for great literature.

One of the most interesting pieces of work on this, unquestionably, is Bill Bryson’s “Mother Tongue”. I would recommend this book to anybody that has an interest in the English language, it’s brilliant. Give it a glance!


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This entry was posted on August 4, 2012 by in Language and tagged , , .

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