They Don’t Have a Word for It by Vickigail Saraswathi
Published 2009. Paperback, xxi + 188 pages. Price: $16.95
With the inexplicable success of pseudo-lexicons such as Howard Rheingold’s 2000 They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases, C. J. Moore’s 2004 In Other Words: A Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World, and Adam Jacot de Boinod’s 2005 The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World, a native speaker of English could get the sinking feeling that English lacks the basic expressiveness needed to convey the most basic human needs and desires.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Vickigail Saraswathi’s 2009 treatise opens with this quote:
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
And so it begins.
This laudable linguistic larceny has led to a limitlessly lucid and loquacious language with a ludicrously large lexicon. English is full of near synonyms and fine-grained distinctions not available in most other languages. In this important work, which seeks to prevent English speakers from suffering performance anxiety and unnecessary worry about the status of English as a world language, the author clearly demonstrates English’s vocabularial superiority with respect to all other languages by demonstrating both English’s richness and other languages’ systematic lack of relative expressiveness.
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