Well readhead: now with less schadenfreude
One of the things I’ve always loved about foreign languages is the way they throw up the perfect single word for a complex concept which takes many English words to explain. Perhaps the most famous of these is the German word ‘schadenfreude’, meaning the delight we take in another person’s misfortune.
For Lateline, I recently read a book called ‘Tokyo Vice’ that included a number of fascinating Japanese examples. My favourite was ‘doki’ which refers to a group of people who join a corporation at the same time; the sort of work family which whom you form a strangely unique bond which endures even after everybody moves on.
There were also a number of different words for the generic English word ‘sadness’. ‘Setsunai’, according to author Jake Adelstein, is “a feeling of sadness and loneliness so powerful that is feels as if your chest is constricted, as if you can’t breathe; a sadness that is physical and tangible”. Another word ‘yarusenai’ means a grief or loneliness of which you can’t rid yourself.
It’s a commonly held belief that our command of language or languages powerfully shapes the way we think. After all, if we don’t have the words for something, how can we have any thoughts about it? It turns out that view is a myth, according to the top story on this fortnight’s list of things to read, listen to or watch.
Also in this fortnight’s collection is a column by Avril Rolfe which appeared on The Scrivener’s Fancy. She argues that in the workplace, non-parents too often have to pick up the slack for parents. When I posted the article on twitter, it was controversial and attracted many comments and re-tweets. A number of people said it was generalising and unfair. Others felt pleased that somebody was speaking out about something they had experienced but felt unable to complain about for fear of sounding churlish.
Hope you enjoy the reading, whether you agree with the views contained therein or not:
1. The New York Times debunks the view that language shapes the way we think.
2. A column raising hackles: Avril Rolfe’s opinion is that non-parents pick up the slack in the workplace for parents.
3. A fascinating article on Psychology Today about how we imitate each other’s speaking styles. (via the excellent Chas Licciardello, @chaslicc on twitter)
4. The comedian Steve Martin has recently signed up to twitter and, unsurprisingly, he is laugh-out-loud hilarious. He posts under @stevemartintogo. One of his funniest series of posts revolves around some monkeys he claims to have hired to write his tweets. He also coined one of the funniest “in-house” twitter gags I’ve yet seen: “I have the strangest feeling I’m being followed.”
5. Until Steve Martin showed up, my favourite celebrity on twitter was Kanye West. I know nothing about him except the infamous Taylor Swift incident, but his twitter feed is highly amusing (perhaps unintentionally). It’s oddly interesting to discover what the life of a rap star is like – and it’s surreal, I assure you. Music critic Jonno Seidler has written an interesting article about how, by using social media, Kanye has cleverly taken “the power of the interviewer and firmly placed it back in the hands of the subject”.
6. Human beings are apparently happiest when busy but at the same time, we’re hard-wired for idleness.
7. The Atlantic magazine recently ran a really interesting series on appreciating classical music. It’s aimed at people who’ve never listened to it before and find it inaccessible. Well worth your time.
8. Surely one of the most beautiful pieces of classical music ever written: Bach’s Cello Suite No 1.
9. Johann Hari writes in The Independent about changing the way we think about making mistakes
10. The London Mayor (and former Spectator Editor) Boris Johnson is always entertaining and erudite, including in this column about whether the Pope should have had to pay the London congestion tax when he drove around in the Popemobile on his recent visit.
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