Newsletter: April 5, 2011

I loved algebra. It was a lot of fun. Figuring out angles and working through theorems. Finding the logic which would take us from one hyothesis to a proven conclusion. And on top of that, we had a very pretty teacher who must have spent a good part of her salary on her wardrobe.

Fascinated I was by Venn diagrams. Those overlapping circles which showed an area in which two or three or more ideas intersected. And as she explained it all so well, we really paid attention!

Words are like that: first, in just one language and even moreso in two or more languages. They have common areas where they can be used synonomously or are in the same semantic field. The words I’m thinking about right now are passionate ones, too:  jealousy, envy, desire. These three overlap but each has its own identity, its own uses, its own connotations – often sharing some of those with other words.

  • Jealousy has to do with a feeling that you’re missing out on a privilege, an advantage, a favor that’s being enjoyed by someone else … and you deeply resent it. A fear of potential loss, perhaps.
  • Envy – a hungry feeling to possess something you don’t have … but something someone else does. Could lead to craving.
  • And then, desire, coming from within, a wanting, feeling, sensation. Primitive. Sensual. Animal. These are the English words.

Now if you open up an English-French bilingual dictionary, you just might see that jealousy is translated as jalousie … that envy is translated as envie … and that desire is translated as désir … Don’t be fooled! That’s just one part, maybe even one VERY SMALL part of the story … Beware of imitations. Misunderstanding comes lightning fast.

Because while the origins of these words might be the same … that started a few thousand years ago … over time our civilisations and our literature has enriched these with more precise meanings, uses and connotations. Today’s words are built on yesterday’s foundations. They may come from the same roots, the same concepts but they’ve evolved into different species.

What is a little curious is that like with fractions in math, these words also have common denominators. And to find out just what those might be, you need only to open the newspaper. Because, from their ancient origins to their current contexts, they’re as alive as ever. Living history, so to speak.


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