Wednesday, November 22, 2006


language is an interesting thing. we use it everyday to communicate yet so rarely think about what we are actually saying. immersion in another culture has allowed me to appreciate how i use the english language by stripping the german language down to the necessities i need to achieve my goal! as the native english speaker, i'm often asked "how do you say {something} in english?" and most of the time i'm readily able to respond... but i've found myself gradually forgetting words that i know i know... common things or concepts that are familiar to any english speaker... and i just forget them... which feels strange!

when i first entered grad school and dove into the vast astronomical literature to become familiar with well-known papers cited hundreds of times, i found myself cringing at the dryness of scientific language. the same intimidating words used repetitively became somehow ambiguous when used by every author whose papers i read. apparently all galaxies were afflicted with star forming diseases identified by a multitude of "star formation diagnostics." why could astronomers not be more descriptive so i could actually understand what they were trying to say?? i decided i would not participate in this monotonous ritual and proceeded to write my first proposal - for a graduate fellowship from NASA - with embellished language. i boldly gave the first draft to my advisor for comments. later that day he said "you have a very nice and descriptive writing style." i smiled. "we're going to beat that right out of you!" oh no, i cringed.... what??

i have since come to appreciate that efficiency of scientific writing. after reading buhzillions of papers on generally the same topics, it's nice to know exactly what an author is telling me without having to filter thru new language. i want the new scientific result immediately, now that i know the verbose build up leading up to it. the flowery stuff is relegated to text books and review articles... thats why they're there! a frustrating lesson for a young grad student but a valuable one nonetheless.

which brings me to the point of this post.... my daily language. i've decided to make it a point to say "gesundheit" to people after they sneeze instead of the familiar "bless you." i hadnt stopped to consider the origin of "bless you" in a while and decided that i find it much more pleasant to wish someone good health than to proliferate the notion that an imaginary devil can somehow be blessed out of them. that's all.

No comments: