Favorite Word (This week)
I like words. My favorites change over time. This week’s favorite word is merci. I didn’t realize how much I liked merci till I watched the dubbed version of the French movie, CITY OF LOST CHILDREN. The sub-titled version is far superior. In the dubbed version they replaced merci with thanks. Not even thank you! Just thanks. In many of the scenes “thanks” was simply not appropriate.
Merci, thanks, gracias, grazie, danke. To the mechanical translators these words all mean the same thing. But in the context of their languages and cultures they contain subtleties that defy translation.
I just spent twenty minutes trying to explain, to myself at least, how to demonstrate those subtleties, and failing. My knowledge of languages and cultures other than my own are quite limited. Which proves my point but doesn’t help my argument.
For a concrete example I have to use the world of computer programming. Each computer language is capable of doing pretty much what any other language can do. The difference is syntax and commands.
Fortunately, I am such a geek that I have a favorite command. Nop. From the AREXX language. It is short for “no operation.’ That’s right, it does nothing. The fun part is, it explicitly does nothing. Then when it’s done doing nothing it reports back that it has successfully done nothing. That’s a wonderful placeholder tool for undeveloped functions.
My point is that you can duplicate this functionality in any computer language but it won’t be as simple or as elegant. The same is how I feel about the word merci. The similar words from other languages perform the same function but without the grace of “merci.”