In Defense of the Untranslatable 

There's Value in the Mystery When Feelings Exceed the Words We Have to Define Them

As usual, e.e. cummings was on to something. We feel before we think. Words are a process built to describe—to translate—those feelings into thoughts with agreed-upon meanings. So far, so good. But feelings are anything but a zero-sum game; there is always a remainder, a residue, that most words cannot fully describe. Feelings are not mathematical, and even math has amounts left over after computation.

Feelings are more complex than the systems describing them. Sure, feelings might begin with the initial electric impulses fired from neuron to neuron within our brains, but soon enough the nuance of personal experience kicks in, way before any of us can …

Is a Secret Ancient Language of Wanderers a Harbinger of Our Future? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Is a Secret Ancient Language of Wanderers a Harbinger of Our Future?

The European Travelers’ Tongue Rotwelsch—Which Gave Us the Phrase ‘in a Pickle’—Has United Outcasts for Centuries

Have you ever been “in a pickle”?

Then you have encountered Rotwelsch, an ancient language of the road, spoken by vagrants and refugees, merchants and thieves since the European Middle …

Why Hawaiian Pidgin English Is Thriving Today

Continuously Evolving, the Language Gives Its Diverse Speakers a Common History and Shared Values

The origins of the Hawaiian pidgin language reflect the history and diversity of the islands. First used in the mid-19th century by the sugarcane laborers who spoke Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, …

How Moving to England Cured My ‘American Verbal Inferiority Complex’

The Beauty of Rule-Based American English Is That It's More Democratic Than the Brits' Version

I had lived in England for three years when Eats, Shoots and Leaves struck in 2003. English writer Lynne Truss’ “zero tolerance approach to pronunciation” became a British publishing phenomenon—helped …

Chimpanzee Behavior Isn’t Just Monkey Business. It’s Culture.

Grooming, Using Tools, and Fishing for Termites Show the Humanity of Our Primate Cousins

In 1961, famed primatologist Jane Goodall discovered that wild chimpanzees were fashioning tools from sticks and using them to fish termites out of their nests—revolutionizing our understanding of culture and …