''The magic word''

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Posted by HSG on May 06, 2005 at 03:56:09:

Slumb'ring deep in every thing
Dreams a song as yet unheard,
And the world begins to sing
If you find the magic word.
-Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, "Divining Rod"

You don't need to read George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" (although you should) to know that language shapes thought, and that the vocabulary which we have at our disposal can either help, or hinder, the cognitive process.

Every polyglot knows the frustration of conceiving an idea in one language, and then realizing that there are no words to express that concept in another tongue.

And if a specific word or phase is present in one language, but absent in another, it often means that the thought denoted by that word or phrase is absent in the latter culture as well.

For example, in the Polish language, one would refer to a girl who has gained weight by saying, "Ona sie poprawila."

This phrase literally means, "She has improved."

And it is not meant in an ironic sense. Rather, it is an expression of genuine admiration, an assertion that the lady in question looks better in every way, now that she has augmented her figure.

With that in mind, hot off the press in today's edition of the Moscow Times (and coinciding with International Anti-Diet Day, May 6th) comes an article titled, "A Whole Lot of Fluffiness," which deals with this very subject.

Instead of cutting-and-pasting the text of the article, we have decided to post a screen capture of the story itself, since many computers lack a Cyrillic typeface, and would therefore render all of the Russian words as meaningless gobbledygook:

The article mixes positive terms with negative ones, but apart from the author's observation that most Russian expressions for being curvaceous are favourable, the most radical revelation in the piece is the existence of the following word:

Can you imagine?

Here we have a term that literally equates curve-enhancement with beauty-improvement; a verb that encompasses the totality of size-celebration in one, single word; a verb that immediately conveys the notion that a goddess "become[s] more attractive" as she augments her dress size.

And, like a wizardly incantation, or like a magical phrase, this word communicates this idea

it is spoken.

The mere existence of such a word means that size celebration is inextricably embedded in the language, in the culture, and in the minds of the general populace.

Think about the possibilities presented by having such a word in one's vocabulary--or, of the limitations imposed by the absence of such a term (a term that the English language notably lacks).

* * *

The necessity of cultivating a size-positive discourse is as pressing today as is the necessity of fostering more curve-friendly imagery. Perhaps someday, we may even develop an English equivalent to that magical Russian verb. And once the word exists, the idea will exist as well.

In the meantime, our favourite images of plus-size beauty still speak volumes, and require no translation.

And every such picture (of, say, Barbara Brickner modelling for Nordstrom) is still worth a thousand words. In any language.

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