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English - things for which there are no words


Anjuli_Bai
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There seems to be a need for a word which we would use when addressing a small group of people in a casual setting.   The phrase "you guys" or "you  lot" is used but it seems an awkward  (and rather inelegant) solution.  "Folks" can be used but can be also awkward and would also need the word "you" in front of it as in:  "What do you folks want to do?"  "Y'all or "you all" is another iteration  - but it all points (it seems to me) to the need for a word which would take care of this need.

 

I have read that the indigenous people of Australia have very specific words to denote the degree of relationship of every family member to another family member moving out to the very fringes of relationship.  In English we often lack not only that degree indicator and but also even whether the relationship is by blood or marriage.  For instance in English:  "sister-in-law" can be the wife of my brother or my husband's sister or the wife of my husband's brother.  "Aunt" can be my mother's sister, my father's sister, the wife of my father's brother, or the wife of my mother's brother.  "Cousin" is also rather vague as to generation, blood, marriage, paternal or maternal relationship.

 

We have a word for "hand" and for the front of the hand "palm" - but no word for the back of the hand.  The same for our lower extremities.  "Thigh" is the area above the knee, but no single word for the back of the thigh or the front of thigh.  Below the knee we can designate either "calf" or "shin" but no one word for the entire lower leg.  If one says: "My leg hurts" we have only a vague indication of where the hurt is - is it above or below the knee - is it in the back or the front?

 

I have read that the indigenous people who live areas of the western Arctic Circle have hundreds of words to describe snow conditions; obviously that is important to them.  What do we have that would match that need for fine definition?  The closest I can think of would be our description for roads such as: freeway, tollway, expressway, throughway, thoroughfare, asphalt, tar, black top, white top, dirt road, gravel, highway, divided road, one lane, two lane (etc.) interchange, circle, round-about, limited access, city street, road, lane, avenue, boulevard, driveway, trail, intersection, street level, all weather,  elevated road, overpass, underpass, controlled access, limited use, multiple use, non-commercial access, S curve, school zone, HOV roads, and on and on.

 

When asked a question about distance such as "how far is it from San Diego to Los Angeles" we answer in time: "about two hours."

 

We've acknowledged that we need a word that specifically includes males and females rather than using "mankind" as the default indicator.   We've tried "s/he" - but it is awkward and how does one say that?

 

Reporting a conversation which took place between two other people is awkward as in:  "I told him that...." when the "I" is not you but the person about whom you are speaking.

 

In written Spanish when a question is asked the question mark "?" both begins and ends the sentence.  I think this is a good idea as it signals the reader as to how to read the sentence.

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I have read that the indigenous people who live areas of the western Arctic Circle have hundreds of words to describe snow conditions;

 

Apparently that's a gross exaggeration, as is the "32" or whatever it was I heard.  But obviously they need words for things like "snow you can make igloos out of", "drifted snow", "snow that's hard and easy to walk on", "packed snow", "snow that you sink up to your knees in" and so on.  Equally, though, if you live in the mountains in central Europe you will have more different concepts of snow (and phrases describing them) than, say, your average Briton does.

 

Do you speak German, Anjuli?  They have loads of prefixes which they attach to verb stems to make fairly subtle distinctions in meaning, and English often has difficulty in rendering them properly.  OTOH, we tend to have more verbs than French does :)

 

And, of course, if the English had a word for Schadenfreude we wouldn't need to borrow a German one :)

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I do not speak German, but I can understand it (when spoken slowly) and I agree that the translation into English has difficulty capturing the full flavor of the German.

 

Englsih has the wonderful ability of taking in words from other languages and making them "it's" own.  Words from around the world and then re-distributing them to other languages around the world.  This is a result of the spread of English first, of course, by the UK and then abetted by the USA (assuming that you agree we speaka da lingo over here.) :).  The entire process is now accelerated by the internet and the ease of travel as well as the huge numbers of populations emigrating and immigrating.

 

But we do need a word a bit more elegant that "peeps," "you guys," you lot," you folks," or "y'all gather round."   

 

And "peoplekind" for "mankind" just doesn't sound right.  But, maybe, I could get used to it.

 

We could still use a word to describe the space between the elbow and the wrist both palmside and back of hand side.  And the space between the elbow and the shoulder both upperside and underside.  As it is now I would have to say:  "I cut my upper arm on the outside>"   That's five words - 

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mmmmm..."ladies and gentelmen" would do nicely, perhaps?

 

It certainly is a possibility - however, if one is sitting with friends and says to the entire group: : "Are  you ladies and gentlemen going to have pizza?"  It's a bit formal.  As opposed to:  "Are you guys/lot/y'all going to have pizza?" 

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I guess that's where German with its three forms for the word 'you' beats us hands down.  No confusion there - 'ihr' is the plural form of 'you' for addressing a group of friends and the verb of course agrees with the subject.

 

That is so true.  We use the word "you" for both singular as well as plural with little ability to define which is meant.  The word "one" is used to try to define "number" but it is awkward and is much less used in the USA.  

 

I wonder why English didn't borrow and/or keep this ability to define number in the terms of "you."

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We should never have got rid of "thee" and "thou" :)

 

Incidentally, talking about things for which there are no words, I today discovered the marvellous "tsundoku", the Japanese term describing "the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books".  (I have a lot of those :) )

 

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/31/word-untranslatable-lucy-greaves

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From some languages we seem to borrow words for "things" such as from Hindi: bungalow, jodhpurs, dungarees,

 

However, English has borrowed dozens and dozens of words to describe "state of being" from Yiddish - which is heavily (but not entirely) derived from German.  I think this came about through the many Yiddish speaking comedians    especially in the USA.  

 

In the SW USA words were borrowed from Spanish to describe topography and dry land ranching not found elsewhere in the English speaking world such as: arroyo, canyon, mesa, ranchero, pinto, mustang, lariat, corral.

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That is so true.  We use the word "you" for both singular as well as plural with little ability to define which is meant.  The word "one" is used to try to define "number" but it is awkward and is much less used in the USA.  

 

I wonder why English didn't borrow and/or keep this ability to define number in the terms of "you."

 

What about something like "vou"? 

 

No,no... "thou" sounds so much better...

 

By the way,  Anjuli, I have noticed that some of the Italian foodstuff names we in the UK borrowed (or bastardized) from Italians are different from that of the States.  For example, we have "rocket", and you have "arugula".

 

"Arugola" is a Sicilian dialect for "rucola (rocket)" .  Given the numbers of Sicilians who settled in the States, it makes a sense that Sicilian names are more widely used in the States.

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Slightly o/t (and not that I'm much of a veggie eater) but:

 

aubergine = eggplant

courgette = zucchini

 

We have flats, Americans (and Canadians) have appartments

We go up in lifts and A&C go up in elevators

 

 

What's the old saying about being divided by a common tongue!

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What I find very useful and sometimes very funny is the way the English language can derive new verbs/adverbs from nouns – recently I stumbled upon “mushrooming”… in German we need many more words for that: “wie Pilze aus dem Boden schießen”.

 

Incidentally, talking about things for which there are no words, I today discovered the marvellous "tsundoku", the Japanese term describing "the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books".  (I have a lot of those :) )

 

So do I. I call it my "SUB" (Stapel Ungelesener Bücher - pile of unread books).Can't sleep if I haven*t one next to my bed.

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I was trying to introduce a friend of mine to other friends.  I have literally known her all my life, so I tried explaining that as "This is my oldest friend", but of course she's not the oldest age wise!  In the end we settled for a childhood friend, but it still doesn't quite explain that I've known her longer than any other friend.

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I was trying to introduce a friend of mine to other friends.  I have literally known her all my life, so I tried explaining that as "This is my oldest friend", but of course she's not the oldest age wise!  In the end we settled for a childhood friend, but it still doesn't quite explain that I've known her longer than any other friend

 

 

 

 

I've had that problem, too.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It is used, I believe, in the New York City area and is spelled "youse."  The dictionary explains that the problem is that English has no  word for the plural of "you."

 

So - as the homeland of English - might I ask you(s) to rectify this oversight?

 

Thanks!

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Yous or youse, in the United States, is considered as not "well spoken."  It's a form that would be used by Riff's gang in West Side Story.  It's a subliminal clue that the person is probably someone from a lower income class neighborhood, probably dropped out of high school, probably "street-wise" - and probably not going to end up in the boardroom of a high rise in Manhattan.

 

Y'all is considered a southern form and is often considered charming.   

 

We all - you all, too, make those subliminal assumptions (wrongly or rightly) - isn't that what Pygmalion was all about?

 

It seems strange that the languages which have had the greatest contact with English - German and the Latin derived languages - all seem to have a plural form for the second person - and yet English does not.

 

Well, maybe a little confusion is a good thing.  It certainly doesn't seem to have held us back.  Maybe when the Lord of the Manor said:  "You will defend the castle to the death" - not knowing who "you" was - everyone assumed it was each of them - and so everyone picked up a spear.  

 

Notice the awkwardness of this:

 

The Lord of the Manor said: "You will defend the castle to the death."  At this point we don't know if he is addressing one person or many people - unless and until there is a follow up sentence which can be:

 

"And so, each of them picked up a spear."   or  "The Black Knight picked up a spear"  

 

In the sentence:  "And so, each of them picked up a spear" - we now know the Lord of the Manor was addressing more than one person, but we still don't know how many - could be two people or it could be thousands.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

mmmmm..."ladies and gentelmen" would do nicely, perhaps?

Or does just "everyone" work?

 

"Gather round everyone" etc

 

And back to the distance thing - is how Anjuli put it an American thing? If someone asked me how far it was to Scotland I'd answer in miles, not time (although I might add how long I think it would take).

 

I love the missing words for parts of the body though - hadn't realised we were missing so much!

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And back to the distance thing - is how Anjuli put it an American thing? If someone asked me how far it was to Scotland I'd answer in miles, not time (although I might add how long I think it would take).

 

Me too - unless it is giving directions to somewhere within walking distance, and then I'd say how long it would take first, and then the distance.

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In the sentence:  "And so, each of them picked up a spear" - we now know the Lord of the Manor was addressing more than one person, but we still don't know how many - could be two people or it could be thousands.  

 

There *are* languages - although I can't remember which ones - which have different types of plural according to how many people you're speaking about: maybe one type for two people, one for 3-5, and so on ...

 

English is certainly the strangest language. Why, for instance, does 'alight' mean both 'to get off a train' and 'to be on fire'?

 

Well, to be fair, one's a verb and one's an adjective :).  But *why* does "to cleave" mean both "to split apart" and "to stick together"?!  (And how ambiguous is "to draw the curtains" - open or closed? (Not to mention the fact that you might be using a pencil and paper :) )

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There *are* languages - although I can't remember which ones - which have different types of plural according to how many people you're speaking about: maybe one type for two people, one for 3-5, and so on ...

 

 

Well, to be fair, one's a verb and one's an adjective :).  But *why* does "to cleave" mean both "to split apart" and "to stick together"?!  (And how ambiguous is "to draw the curtains" - open or closed? (Not to mention the fact that you might be using a pencil and paper :) )

 

 

Is a drawing room a room in which one draws?  Or perhaps it was once a "withdrawing" room - into which one withdrew? 

 

The word "quite" can mean both entirely/absolutely and also not quite absolute.

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