Brad Fitzpatrick (brad) wrote,
Brad Fitzpatrick

Language Digression

Just now I was trying to use "safer" as an adverb and I was shocked how long it took me to figure it out. Saferly? Safierly? Saflyer? Ah... yes, duh... more safely.

So of course, another post about language! (bored yet?)

The night I arrived home from Germany I said, "I have hunger." I never thought I'd make an honest mistake like that outside of plain' ol' fucking around. It's weird how the patterns get in your head so easily.

Or how I think of certain words in German first. Best example is Untertasse. I learned it in high school from the plastic kitchen set the teacher used for teaching kitchen vocab, but I never really used saucers in real life and never really associated the English word saucer with Untertasse. I remember last year being out to lunch with a friend and I paused for a number of seconds mid-conversation to think of the English word for saucer, the German word wanting to come out instead.

I was reading more fairy tales the other day and I came across the word verwünscht. I knew wünschen (to wish) and I knew the sort of modifications the prefix ver- implies, and I knew the context of the story thus far, so it was easy to know the meaning of the word. But I couldn't think of the word in English. Somebody negatively wished somebody. A minute later... cursed.

The whole feeling of knowing things in different languages at different speeds just makes me think of all the pathways in the brain... like a big graph...

What's the shortest path from the image of a saucer to a word? There are linkages to images of old English farts having tea on the lawn, holding the Untertasse with their pinky extended, Oh, there's the word Untertasse repeated a dozen times a day for a week or so in high-school. And a few more edges away: the rarely used English word. A piece of information so barely connected to anything, at least for me. If you worked at a saucer store, you'd be different.

I read once that's how the brain works... unlike some arbitrary block device with a finite capacity, the retention of knowledge in a brain is based upon its reference count. That's why mnemonics work so well... just adds edges and keeps nodes from falling away. In my experience, that's totally true.

But I'm going nowhere and my music stopped.
Tags: lang
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