Friday, 1 January 2010
Not yet, not yet, a thousand time not yet
Happy New Year everyone. That's an easier wish than Happy Christmas Chanukah Kwanzaa Divali Solstice. And for those of you who follow a different calendar, Happy New Year when you get to it.
I am so ready for January. I have already thrown out the Christmas tree, eaten the fruit cake, read the new books, exchanged the pants that didn't fit. I am almost done my own zombie book (I can hear my agent saying, Hurry hurry!) and keen to start the next one. And thinking about words that fit and don't fit different languages. This last prompted by one of those dentist office articles. Everyone knows about the Inuit language with twenty different words for snow, but did you know that Gaelic (I can't remember if it was Irish or Scottish -- but that part of the world for sure) has no word for NO. There is, apparently, a word for NOT NOW or NOT YET. And one for NOT ALL. But the simple negative can not be put into one word.
First off, is this true? It doesn't sound likely to me. Have you heard different? Is my dentist's magazine collection letting me down?
And if true, is this weird, or what? I mean in addtion to No, English has the military Negative, and the slangy Nah, Nope, Nix, Not and Nay, and probably a few I can't think of right now. And all these words mean the same thing: the one-word expression of a simple head shake.
It's such a basic part of human interaction. Can the Gaels get by without it? Ethnic stereotypes come tumbling into my mind -- I picture a race perpetually talking around their problems, burying resentment in a colourful drift of words.
Take education. I see a schoolroom where little Seamus puts up his hand to answer 6 + 6 = and when he says, 11, the teacher shakes her head and says, NOT NOW. What about parents? How do they warn children? Just say NOT YET to drugs doesn't really send the message, does it?
And what about babies? What is THE baby word? What do they somehow naturally find themselves saying right after Mama and Dada? What's the word they shout over and over and over at dinner time, bath time, bed time? Their natural response to Do you want ... anything? I can not imagine -- simply can not imagine -- a Gaelic baby with its face screwed up, pounding on the high chair, knocking away the spoonful of peas and shouting, NOT ALL! NOT ALL!
The more I think about this, the more unlikely a language without NO seems. If I were to adopt a New Year's resolution to avoid the word NO, would I last a day? An hour? Another sentence?