Your Pain Is Our Pleasure
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January 6, 2013
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Let me start by saying I shall not and will not rant, even though it's in my DNA, and almost everyone reading and certainly posting on this website probably has a good old rant in them. I fall on the "think" side in this debate, and I know the probably with being open-minded is that your brains might fall out, but still, I see the "thing" side in spite of my own conviction. If you're around children at all, you hear the utter conviction with which they now say "on accident" and if you're familiar with more than one foreign language (I'm a translator) you're aware of how relative "rightness" can be: obvious to you, invisible to millions of others. But I believe in multiplicity: I believe that for every successful coinage there are several converging factors, a coincidence of supporting conditions. And I can see that for many coinages there are parallel possible paths. Just as any great work of art (say, Dante's Divine Comedy) there are hundreds of valid if not equally good translations, so for a thought might there be more than one arguable form that the language can take. Johnmgt745 says that this evolution of language is something "we could well do without." We who? We, everyone who disagrees? The people who use this language don't belong to the pool of English speakers? Hmmm.
Anyway, to quote the imperishable Ellen De Generes, my point, and I do have one, is this: I look at this division on think and thing (and by the way, kudos to Corinna for pointing out, rightly, that "a good long think" is a very standard substantive, and it certainly has an old-fashioned feel. But what about "thing"? Can't that have a deliberative value? When Brooklyn wiseguys say "let's do this thing," aren't they talking about a decision, a project, the outcome of thought? Isn't the Latin term, re publica, the ablative case of res publica, the statement of a collective thought process? Isn't the oldest parliament in the world the Icelandic Althing (which means "All Thing"), and in fact the root of deliberative democracy is as much bound up with the barbarians as the Ancient Greeks. In German, Denken is think and Ding is thing. I'm not sure the two words are cognates, but I do like the idea that Anglo-Saxon assemblies worry about concrete things and Mediterranean parliaments worry about words. (I translate from Italian and French, so construe that as no slur). But let's look at the OED (Shorter) definition of "thing". First definition, marked with one of those "obsolete" swords: "A meeting, assembly, esp. a deliberative or judicial assembly." There it is, in the deep tissues of the language, sensed as if telepathically by the young people more than the old, like a faint trans-galactic echo of a linguistic Big Bang, the original intrinsic meaning of "thing": a good, hard think. This is something I see all the time when translating, an almost oracular percolation of meaning from inside the history of the words themselves. It's one reason, I think, that having been a classicist and once an aspiring archeologist helps so much in translation. Translation, if done right, is more like brewing tea than stamping out metal parts. The swirling mist of the word's history and nuances must color the page. Not that I spend time on it: I translate fast, so I'm talking about a "blink-brew" process, but I do believe that every word contains eons and multitudes. I still think it's "another think," but the history suggests that there may be more than just a heavy metal song propelling this supposedly jejune linguistic development. Whew! If you've read this far, thanks for bearing with me. And I'm not being pollyannaish when I see that, really, I think that all of you (or both sides) are right....
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