Day #264 The weight of words

A few days ago I published a post, Day #259 He said, she said: the gender wars, about my reaction to the news that Yale was doing away with the official term “freshman” in favour of the more neutral “first-year student.” A couple of days later I received an email from my mother with an unexpectedly passionate reaction to my writing. Now, I know my mum reads my blog daily, so I wasn’t terribly surprised that she took the time to write to me about it, but I was taken aback this time by how much thought, effort, and feeling she put into her response. I also loved what she had to say, so much so, that I asked her if I could translate it from Russian and post it on my blog as a response. So you may consider this my first “guest blogger” post, starring my mother. The writing and sentiment are all hers. The translation is all mine, and it did require some tweaking of the language in order to make sure the true meaning, as opposed to simply being pedantically accurate to the words, was carried across. She has approved the end result, so here it is.

I twice read your blog “He said, she said: the gender wars”. FRESHMAN … What a word! Do you want to know my opinion?! For me this word has long had its own special meaning, far from its original literal roots. Say it out loud to yourself … What images does it conjure up in your mind? A gaggle of enthusiastic, overly talkative students, proud of themselves and full of anticipation? When this word is pronounced, you involuntarily smile. Try it again. Well? Am I right? This word should smell of spring as THIS is the beginning!

Now say “First-year student”. You will fall asleep before you finish speaking it out loud. It’s a word that’s been stuffed into a business suit, turning something exuberant into staid and boring. But it is officially the correct one. Words — they have tangible attributes to them, a heft, smell, color, and most importantly, they have the ability to invoke multiple meanings and feelings in people. Take for example the word “Upperclassman”. It feels heavy to me. Again, I ask you to say it out loud. Well? Am I right? This word could be used as a cobblestone. Actually, maybe you should take it and throw it through the college office window where they are trying to kill my favorite word “freshman”.

But child, you know I have one word for which my hate has long hardened into true loathing. “NICE!” You hear it everywhere, especially if one wants to express their enthusiasm. It does not matter if it concerns the face, the weather, cake, movies, books, shoes, dresses and so on. Saying this word out loud makes you screw up your face as if you’ve just bitten into an unripe, sour apple. Its sound conjures up an image of a petulant, pretentious mademoiselle all in ruffles and bows, who, when drinking, always raises her little finger. I made the effort to ask Google Translate when one should use the word “nice” and got this:


pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory

we had a nice time

synonyms: enjoyable, pleasant, agreeable, good, satisfying, gratifying,
delightful, marvelous, entertaining, amusing, diverting, lovely, great, fine or subtle.

a nice distinction

synonyms: subtle, fine, delicate, minute, precise, strict, close, careful, meticulous, scrupulous

a resort city on the French Riviera, near the border with Italy;
see also

Nice, very nice, nice day, have a nice trip, nice shot, nice guy, Have a nice day!, be nice, nice girl, nice people, not nice

Translations of nice (to Russian and back to English):

good, well, nice, pretty, fine, satisfactory
pleasant, enjoyable, nice, agreeable, pleasing, good
beautiful, handsome, nice, lovely, goodly, fair
glorious, nice, famous, pleasant, decent, dear
cute, dear, nice, sweet, darling, lovely
good, kind, kindly, nice, gentle, gracious
tasty, savory, yummy, palatable, nice, nutty
kind, dear, amiable, gracious, accommodating, nice
elegant, graceful, fine, delicate, neat, nice
elegant, stylish, smart, chic, nice, graceful
legible, picky, choosy, discriminating, fastidious, nice
refined, exquisite, elegant, delicate, distinguished, nice
orderly, careful, neat, tidy, trim, nice
thin, fine, subtle, small, slim, nice
attentive, careful, thoughtful, mindful, watchful, nice
sweet, sugary, honeyed, dulcet, nice, honied
accurate, exact, precise, just, precision, nice
wayward, capricious, willful, restive, crotchety, nice
fastidious, choosy, fussy, particular, choosey, nice
picky, captious, nagging, cantankerous, fault-finding, nice
scrupulous, rigorous, meticulous, nice, religious
detailed, detail, thorough, particular, itemized, nice
thorough, meticulous, rigorous, close, accurate, nice
sensitive, delicate, susceptible, sensory, feeling, nice
acute, sharp, keen, spicy, poignant, nice
scrupulous, meticulous, squeamish, precise, queasy, nice
tactful, considerate, discreet, diplomatic, nice, well-conducted
сделанный со вкусом
tasteful, nice

It can be used everywhere! It’s not a word, it’s… some kind of a lexical prostitute! And what happened to all the fine words like “good,” “pleasant,” “handsome,” “fair,” …. Ok, I know my vocabulary isn’t too rich (and that’s putting it mildly) but why do I not hear these words from those who are native English speakers? Oh, how I love the word “delightful” for example. There’s so much approbation and gratitude in it, and yet…

Ok, I need to finish writing. If you have time, maybe you’ll read this. I love your blog. It forces me to mobilize my ageing brain cells.

~ T.

Featured image comes courtesy of Quotation itself is from Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic.

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