Pensées

nsées

This is a new feature in language.rocks. “Pensées” means “thoughts” in French and Pensées has been used by several outstanding French writers as the title of a work of self-revelation. Loving everything French as I do,  I have always wanted to publish my Pensées. My original plan was to write this first Pensées solely about my thoughts on the recent spate of sexual harassment accusations coming from Hollywood, Washington DC, and elsewhere. I later decided that before tackling that subject I should reveal something of my personal philosophy as a way to let you know where those thoughts are coming from. The following quote is a good starting point:

La plus grande chose du monde, c’est de savoir etre à soi.
(The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself)

This Michel de Montaigne* quote represents a cornerstone of my personal philosophy about how to live life. The philosophy is based on three rules discussed below.  Am I sure of these three rules? Among adults, there are two groups that are sure they’ve got everything right – the very young and the very old. I have managed to move from the first group into the second – so I’m doubly sure.

Rule #1 is Know Thyself

As Montaigne says, you have to belong to yourself. Is that a self-centered philosophy? Not at all. We all want to be loved. And to be loved you must give a piece of yourself to others. You can’t give away something you don’t own thus you must own, or belong to, yourself. To achieve that goal, you must know yourself. To quote Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.

Rule #2 is Go First.

The surest way to get the things you most want in life (things such as time, trust, respect, etc)  is to first give those things to others without regard for their return. This requires courage because typically you would prefer the other person go first. That’s a mistake because he or she is waiting for you to go first. You must summon the courage to go first and risk being vulnerable. The fear of being vulnerable is a big cause of inaction -especially in situations there is a lot at stake and a perceived disparity in power. But in those cases you must act quickly..

What are the I momentmportant things we all want? Love would be high on nearjy everyone’s list. Higher still would be respect. Again. we must go first. We must communicate respect for everyone we interact with from the moment we meet them. When we fail to communicate respect for a person, we are denying our inherent kinship and diminishing the dignity incumbent in their humaness.

Rule #3 is Do Good Now.  

One day after having made a spontaneous, potentially hurtful remark to somebody. I said to myself “I’m going to regret my thoughtless and unkind words and actions someday.” Then it occurred to me that likely a bigger regret would be the good, kind, and supportive things I might have said or done but did not say or do. Remember: You will feel better if you do it now.

Can these three rules lead us to intelligent observations and useful conclusions about how to detoxify the current distrustful and vitriolic climate created by persons who don’t know, care about, or follow the rules? If my three rules don’t lead to useful conclusions, these pensées and their author will likely look long-winded and clumsy.

I cannot and do not assert that my thoughts and opinions on sexual harassment should carry more weight than anyone else’s. But this is a topic about which no one should remain ignorant, neutral, or silent.

Typically, an incident of sexual harassment is built around a woman and man who are interacting within the context of a definable relationship (boss: subordinate; doctor: patient; police officer: citizen; professer: student, et. al.) I will share my thoughts on the three elements: the woman, the man, and the context.

I have never been a woman. This undoubtedly limits my understanding of how a woman might feel in situations involving unwanted sexual overtures. Hopefully my efforts to be empathetic will minimize the problem.

I have concerns about how, when, and where some recent public accusations were put forth. This may sound like criticism,  and it is. But I hope it doesn’t sound like “blaming the victim.” Nothing “you say, do –  or wear – should invite unwanted sexual attention.

My first concern is with waiting years to make accusations. This smacks of an effort to ladle on layers of additional accusations for political, vindictive, or self-promotional reasons.

Memories also change with time. Details get added, subtracted, and moved around. A one-time lover becomes a panderer, and consent once given is now withdrawn. The most private of issues are revealed in the most public of places.

I completely understand why a woman might be fearful of the impact of bringing a powerful man’s serious wrongdoings to the attention of someone in a powerful organization “run by” powerful men. To that woman I say:  Their power is illusory.

Rule #1 Know Thyself can help you realize  that – armed with the truth –  you are a powerful person. Indeed, you have more power than they do. If the need arises, you should tell them that in no uncertain terms.

Rule#2 Go First reminds us that fear of vulnerability can lead to a period of inaction we can’t tolerate for ourselves or others.

If you don’t bring the truth to light immediately you are ignoring Rule #3 Do Good Now. Save your sisters: report the incident.  Do it to liberate yourself and potential future victims. You may also be doing good for the harasser. Perhaps he “learns his lesson” and seeks counseling,

In the end, I would say to a woman who is the victim of unwanted sexual overtures:

“Give ‘em Hell.” Let them know you know you have more power than they do and you’re prepared to use it. Don’t let them intimidate you or try to blackmail or bribe you. After all, no job – or even career – is worth your dignity and self-respect. Besides that, it won’t happen, you are the powerful one and nothing bad is going to happen

To women outraged by the extent of male impropriety, I say: “We’re not all bad.”

And we’re not all guilty. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of recent accusations are essentially fair and accurate. (You only have to look at the number of –  often lame – confessions and apologies to .convince yourself of that). Common sense and everyday experience tell you that some of these accusations are unfair and inaccurate.

Recognizing that, I’d like to see a bit more of “due process” and “innocent until proven guilty”

type thinking evident in the reporting of, discussion about, and respons to all accusations

 

To men who are unconcerned about, prone to, or engaged in harassment: I say

“ Get ready for some big changes. Retribution is coming and it will be painful.

 

Women are stirred up. You could see that in audience reaction to Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes, where she a.ccepted the lifetime achievement award. She said Sidney Poitier, the first African-American recipient of the award, is  the most “elegant” man she could remember.

I agree. Poitier is an elegant man. He was also a gentleman. Elegance is probably something few men will achieve. We should all aspire, however, to be gentlemen. That would pretty much eliminate sexual misconduct.

A gentleman does not take advantage of anyone – especially not of  someone less powerful or experienced than he is. He does not impose himself on other people in any way; and he does lose control of himself.

Gentlemanliness may be growing scarcer but women still appreciate it and find it attractive. As do other men, children, and pets; nearly everyone responds positively to gentlemanliness.

Applying Rule One Know Thyself is the best way to follow the gentleman’s path. It’s better to become the man you want to be earlier rather than later. Honest introspection will help you know where you stand now and where you need to go.

You will be rewarded throughout your life for following Rule#2 Go First. You must give others those things you most want to receive with no strings attached and with no guarantee the other person will respond in kind. This leaves you vulnerable. But let’s face it: vulnerability is a large part of life, and the ability to deal with vulnerabiltiy graciously and effectively is a sign oe emotional masturity.

Remember that the desire for respect is nearly universal and of massive importance. Unwanted sexual attention is perhaps the most disrespectful behavior possible. It also does not simulate love. There is no closeness or tenderness involved. The victim has feelings of disgust, violation, and retribution..

The victim  may also be fearful that she lacks the power you have, She is worried about her future.. Actually, a man who commits sexual improprieties has very little power and is seeing his power diminish as he continues his misbehavior.

Women really are stirred up. I hope and trust  that means they.are becoming less fearful and more inclined to use their power: the of the truth.

We see that in the outcomes that befall the most egregious offenders. They destroy their reputation or build a new one that’s worse than the old; they lose their job, their family, even their freedom. Perhaps the worst punishment the miscreant suffers is the self-inflicted ignominy that will last a lifetime.
The best way to avoid this pathetic outcome is to follow Rule#3 Do Good Now.

The power a man thinks he has can be illusory. Power, like every important thing we might seek, is best acquired by giving it away. The powerful leader is one who gives power to others and uses his own power to good purpose. Empowering and mentoring women serves us all. It will also earn us their respect and affection

Do you like to flirt?

Of course everyone likes to flirt. For some of us flirting is our preferred method of communicating. We flirt constantly and confidently. Others among us flirt reluctantly, being too unsure of our flirting skills to display them publicly. Oftentimes we hope that the “flirtee will go first. I am not going to try, in this Word Safari, to develop a program to improve your flirting skills. That would take us on a totally different sort of Safari. Instead we are simply going to trace the origins of the word flirt. Simply is perhaps not the right word since tracing the origin of flirt will involve some minor complications  and detours*

Flirting, courting, and wooing often involve flowers. So it is not surprising to find that flirt comes from Old French fleureter which comes in turn from fleur, the word for flower. Fleureter was a verb meaning to move from flower to flower like a bee. Another related word was fleurette which emerged around 1200 and meant “little flower.”  By the 1600’s, conter fleurette à une femme meant to whisper sweet nothings in a woman’s ear.

In the 1800’s, the noun flirt and the verb flirter were widely used throughout France, having been recently adopted from English. The verb flirter is used the same way in  contemporary France as it is in the United States.  There is a slight difference in how the noun flirt is used. In France un flirt is not a person; it refers to a brief romantic relationship. Although brief, this relationship typically goes somewhat beyond mere flirtation.

Rosenthal uses the following translation to illustrate the use of un flirt:

Elle a eu un flirt avec Jean. C’était son premier flirt. =>  She had a romantic relationship with Jean. It was her first such fling.

There are no French equivalents to the English words flirtation or flirtatious. Don’t try using them in French.

In English there are other uses for the word flirt:

  • You can flirt or you can flit from flower to flower (remember the verb fleureter and the bees)**\

There are other uses in French too, Here’s one:

  • Flirting can lead to more serious situations – Thus un flirt can sometimes refer to a randy man or woman.

Remember this: Flirting is Fun

*You may want to consult Saul H. Rosenthal’s French Words You Use Without Knowing It. The book goes into greater depth in discussing the etymological history of flirting and is the principal resource used in researching this Safari..

**Butterflies also flit from flower to flower. The French word for butterfly is le papillon.  Although fleureter is no longer used in French you can use the verb papillonner which means to flit from one thing to another

*** I added this footnote because I wanted to express my opinion that papillon is one of the most beautiful words in French. Similarly the Spanish and Italian words for butterfly: la mariposa and la farfalla are among the most beautiful words in those languages. This reflects the fact that something as beautiful as a butterfly should have a beautiful name. It also reflects the beauty of romance languages.

A little Latin goes a long way

I recently enrolled in the Latin 101 course published by The Great Courses to improve my French, Spanish, and Italian. Is it realistic to assume that a familiarity with Latin will help one master these languages? Definitely! After all, these three languages are known as “Romance” languages having been named for the city (Rome)  in which Latin developed and flourished (especially in the period from 100 BC to 100AD)’

Familiarity with Latin is generally recognized as a big advantage in learning other Romance language. Indeed many language scholars feel that because of its logic and scope Latin offers great advantage to anyone learning any new language, romance or not. The real Latin zealots feel that – because of its rigor and logic- Latin tidies up your mind. That should help you with all your intellectual pursuits. It also makes me wonder if perhaps we’re losing something by largely eliminating the ” classical”component of the typical university curriculum.

While earning my Masters degree at the University of Chicago, I became enamored of certain Latin words and phrases.  The curriculum required students to read scholarly journal articles that often used Latin words, phrases,and abbreviations.

Here are seven of my favorites:

ceteris paribus = > “other things being equal.“  Usage Example: That seems like a fair price, ceteris paribus

sine qua non = > Literally ” which not” This phrase refers to an  indispensable condition.  Usage Example: A good education is the sine qua non of success in this field.

pari passu => “at an equal pace,” “simultaneously,” “in unison.”  Usage Example As his income went up, his opinion of himself increased pari passu

mutatis mutandis     = >  , ” with all necessary changes having been made.”    Usage is Example:  the rules for the girls team follow the rules of the boys team – mutatis mutandis

vade mecum = >  a  much used reference book or resource generally  carried with one for easy access.  (My first German text was titled Vade Mecum Deutsch. How fondly I remember it).  Usage Example: My vade mecum no longer is a small black notebook, now it’s an iPod. It’s still indispensable

Deus ex machina = > an unexpected and fortuitous turn of events. Literally “a god out of a machine.” The term had its origin in ancient Greek theater. Greek playwrights favored surprising and intricate plots. As a result, the playwright often got mired in his own creation. The plot would become so complicated that it took help from on high to get things back on track. Enter the Greek god. At the critical juncture the appropriate deity was “flown in” by being set down on the stage using a crane permanently built into the theater structure for just that purpose. Usage Example Things looked bleak but the cavalry arrived just in time to save the settlers; that’s your classic deus ex machina.

 
So there’s your little bit of Latin. I had fun writing it and I hope you had fun reading jf. Latin is cool. We’ll do it again.
i

 

Love thy neighbor but keep the fence

Word-Safari-reducedNeighbor is a simple word -–-no Greek, no Latin  no fuss. Neighbor is also a powerful word, its strength coming from its simplicity and Germanic origin. It is the modern  version of the Old English neahGebür, which meant a nearby farmer. Neah is seen in English nigh and modern German Nahe, both meaning “near.” Although nigh is not an everyday English  word, we could  write and understand:

The word neighbor has been a bona fide English word for nigh onto 1500 years

Gebür is related to the modern German Bauer which came into English through the Dutch word boor. Boor no longer means farmer but generally refers to a person of poor circumstance and unrefined manner.

Our relations with neighbors are so important that almost every language has several proverbs and sayings dealing with the subject. Here  are a couple I like

Brothers, rivers, and priests are three bad neighbors (Sicily)

Judge a man not by the words of his mother, but from the comments of his neighbors.(Hebrew)

A recurring theme across the proverbs of many countries is the idea that a nearby neighbor may be more helpful to you than a distant relative in time of need. This Danish proverb is typical:

A good neighbor is better than a brother far off

If you assembled all the proverbs about neighbors in a particular language you would repeatedly find the word for  fence. Worldwide, there is much agreement with the thought that “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Whether they be physical, social, or imaginary maintain your fences. It’s easier to maintain them than to mend them

 

Joseph Joubert on Teaching & Learning

Worldly-Wit-&-Wisdom-two-HandsWhat he said:

« Enseigner c’est apprendre deux fois » (“To teach is to learn twice”)

What I think

I think of teaching as a sort of “learning out loud.” When you prepare to teach a course you must master the materiaL on l well enough to be able to present it clearly and simply. That’s the easy part. The challenge is to stimulate and foster learning. Get students excited .There’s reciprocity here. Teachers learn from students all the while the students are learning from them. It’s probably the greatest perk of teachin

Below is what I would say to someone asking about the long-term value of education.

There is no more noble, challenging, or rewarding journey than that upon which you embark in pursuit of an education. Learning brings freedom. In some ways your education is the only thing you will ever truly own. No one can take from you the knowledge, skills, and creations of the mind made possible by a lifetime commitment to learning. These creations of the mind will amuse you when you’re bored, console you when you’re down, and give you confidence when you falter.

We are each of us architects of our own education. All learning is ultimately self-learning. SELF-learning both because we must do it ourselves and because through the process we will learn a great deal about ourselves. (Re) read my April 3 post in which I assert you cannot give yourself away – to spouses, children, friends, and lovers – unless you OWN yourself. I assert here that your education is the only thing you will ever really own.

Combining these points of view I think raises questions about whether failure to educate oneself potentially leads to isolation and lack of fulfillment.

What do you think?

*Joseph Joubert (1754 -1824) A French moralist and essayist best known for his Pensées

Language Learning Tip – Pronunciation

Language Learning Tip

Very soon after beginning your study of another language you’re going to want to have a bilingual dictionary. There are online dictionaries as well as software apps. Some of these are “talking” dictionaries -the advantage of which is you get to hear the word pronounced by native speakers. I am very big on learning to pronounce a language well – achieving something at least close to native pronunciation. All in all I prefer a dictionary in book form.

Look for a dictionary with correct pronunciation indicated using the international phonetic alphabet (the IPA is a valuable tool in language learning)..

You want a dictionary with as many example phrases and sentences as possIble showing formal and idiomatic usage. When we talk about vocabulary building in a  future posting, I will suggest learning words in the context of a phrase or sentence rather than as an isolated word. This makes the new word easier to remember

I prefer a dictionary with the New Language: English section first. Followed by English: New Language section. I just feel it’s more polite that way – sort of giving their language top billing.

Regardless of their order, you will often benefit greatly from looking up the same word in both sections of the bilingual dictionary

Let’s use the Italian verb badare as an example. If we look it up in my Collins dictionary it tells us that badare  means to look after/mind/ take care of/ and to attend to. A busy little word. We also find several  useful idiomatic expressions

Bada a fatti tuoi means  “mind your own business.” How could we live without that one?

Nessuno gli ha badato means “ nobody paid any attention to him.”

The badare entry also shows four more useful expressions that might well fit into an everyday conversation and be useful to learn. “

If we want to use the idea of paying attention, we’re going to look up “pay attention” in the English: Italian section. Here we find attenzione, stare attento, and, fare atternzione. Since we don’t find badare  we might decide it’s not the best choice for asking someone to pay attention.

I know you’re not going to look up every word every time in both sections of the bilingual ldictionary but sometimes that pays off. Of course the best thing you can do is to ask a native speaker to explain how a word is used and the nuanced differences among words with broadly the same meaning.

Worldly Wit and Wisdom

What They Say
Author: Michel de Montaigne*
<< La plus grande chose du monde, c’est de savoir etre à soi>>
The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself

What I think
I agree with this quote which pretty much sums up my personal philosophy. I seldom read fiction – generally preferring textbooks. However a book I read in my early teen years had a lasting impact on my thinking. The Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C Douglas pointed to the magic that comes from giving a piece of oneself to others.
I figured I should try that.- give away pieces of myself. I recognized that you can’t give away what you don’t own. Thus I agree with Montaigne -it’s important to belong to oneself.
What do you think?

* Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592) was a leading French Renaissance philosopher and essayist.

Word Safari XXII – Three with P

Word Safari XXII
Let’s take the P …

The letter ‘P” is the first letter in the spelling of four very interesting words. I like these words: all four can be used to describe human characteristics, traits, or talents. The first two words would seem to describe people with whom we would enjoy interacting- the last two perhaps less so.
To say that a person is perspicacious is to say that he or she is blessed with superior insight, intuition, and judgment. This reflects its basis in the Latin word specio, which means “to see clearly.” I would think a perspicacious person (one possessed of great perspicacity) would have an advantage in life. To tell a person that he or she is perspicacious would be to pay them a compliment.
The perspicacious person is also likely able to present his or her ideas in a clear, perspicuous way. We can say that a person is perspicuous; however, that adjective is more often applied to his or her clear writing or clear presentation. If we tell the person that he or she is perspicuous or possesses perspicuity, we would again be paying them a compliment. I think we would agree that perspicuity is an advantage in life
A pertinacious person is persistent in pursuing his/her plans and goals.* Such persistence will probably assist in achieving those goals but along the way their pertinacity may annoy and alienate others. So telling a person they are pertinacious may or may not be a compliment and they may not take it as such (if they know what the word means).
The adjective precocious has something to do with being cooked. Indeed, coquere is Latin for “to cook.” The prefix prae means “before”, so praecoquere means precooked. Originally the term was a botany term where coquere meant to ‘ripen’as well as to cook. So precocious means ripened early or premature. Having been a precocious child may or may not be an advantage in the person subsequent adulthood. I don’t think we often intendit as a compliment when we label a child precocious.
I think it is probably better to be perspicacious and perspicuous than it is to be precocious and pertinacious.

*How do you like all the P’s in this sentence, uh?

Word Safari XXI -Let’s not be noisome!

Word Safari XXI -Let’s not be noisome!

I recently had another experience that brought vividly to mind how interesting words are and how much of the English lexicon flows from Latin roots*. I was having a conversation on Skype with Rossella – a friend in Rome who is helping me learn Italian. I asked her what the Italian word was for “boring.” The answer was noioso. I told Rosella I found that very interesting because there’s an English word, noisome, which means a really bad kind of boring. I pointed out that although not an everyday word (I haven’t used it in a couple of weeks) noisome is a useful and potentially powerful word.
Noisome looks like it might have something to do with noise-but it doesn’t. It does have something to do with annoyance. used to be a much stronger word. In 16th century England you could be jailed if you annoyed someone. (Wouldn’t it be great if nowadays a person who annoyed us suffered that same fate?) Annoy started out as a military term and to attack a town was to annoy that town.
Stripping away many spelling changes, annoy traces back to the Latin phrase in odio meaning “in hatred.”Like so many Latin-based words, annoy entered English directly from the French. It should be noted that the French word for boredom is ennui. If you’re extremely bored you may feel ill and noisome is used to indicate that something is beyond boring-being injurious or harmful to one’s health or well-being. It sometimes is applied to odious smells. (Guess where odious comes from.) Early on annoy when shortened to noy so we eventually got noisome instead of annoysome.
None of us wants to be boring and we certainly want to do our best to avoid all things noisome.

• It is generally reckoned that about 1/5 of all English words are of Anglo-Saxon origin and 3/5 are from Latin and Greek or French. However the Anglo-Saxon words are the most frequently t. They are present used. They are the nuts and bolts of English vocabulary.

What is language?

I love the fact that my URL is language.rocks. The whole subject of languages – English and others – is fascinating to me. But what exactly is a language? I’m not a linguist and so I will make no attempt to answer that question.** I think we all feel we kind of know what a language is. In fact, I’ve noted that when a person says that he or she speaks four or five languages and we see those languages as very similar we’re inclined to say “aren’t those really all dialects?”

We seem to have the idea that a dialect is a kind of inferior, stripped-down version of a language. This view is not without its supporters. It is common for linguists to talk about regional and social dialects. Indeed, there is a whole field of linguistic study known as “dialectology.” There are linguists at the other end of the spectrum: those who see each individual as speaking his or her own personal language. In this view, every language is a dialect and every dialect is a language.

We best leave that debate alone. On the question of what are separate languages it seems to me that to be separate languages must differ on one or more important dimensions of language. What are some of the basic dimensions/components of a language?.

Syntax involves rules for sentence structure –- word order, etc. (This is probably what most of us think of as “grammar” – although grammar involves much broader sets of rules about how to use the language).

Phonology has to do with the sound structure of the language how sounds are put together to convey meaning. It is a broader concept than phonetics which deals with how individual sounds are created using the vocal apparatus.

When most of us think about languages – especially those “foreign” languages we are trying to learn – we tend to think about
words. The study of word structure is called morphology.

In addition to dialects, there are other variations arrayed around a standard language.

The first is known as a pidgin – a language with limited vocabulary and greatly simplified grammar. Although a pidgin may be used by a number of individuals it has no native speakers.. Chinese Pidgin English and Melanesian Pidgin English are examples.

A creole is a grown-up pidgin; that is, a when pidgin becomes the standard language of a community it is called a creole. Examples include Haitian Creole and Louisiana Creole..

A lingua franca is a sort of compromise language. For example, I once did business with a German expatriate living in Chile .Given my level of Spanish and his level of English, we found it more effective and comfortable to speak German. In this case, German was our lingua franca.

Patois is a term the French use to refer to the speech patterns of the lower social classes. When used in English the term patois has a derisive overtone.

It is important to remember that these terms refer to nonstandard language, which is not the same as substandard language. Simple grammar does not reflect simple minds. A pidgin or Creole can be used by intelligent person to make a sophisticated and important point.

**If you’re interested in a linguist’s answer you may want to consult:
. What Language is … written by john McWhorter and published by Gotham Books.