I thought I was past my winter doldrums, but I crashed emotionally yesterday afternoon and still felt bad when I woke up this morning. Perhaps the psychiatric equivalent of your immune system packing up and leaving you with the flu just as you start a two week holiday?

Anyway, one way to stop myself brooding too much over these ups and down is to distract myself with stupid questions. Here’s what I was pondering this morning:

How do you measure a person’s vocabulary? If you showed someone 20 random words from a dictionary and they were able to define 16, would that be sufficiently robust for you to claim that that person could define 80% of the words in that language?

And how do you know how many words a language has? Is someone simply paid to count them up in a dictionary? What if the language doesn’t have a dictionary? Compile one?

Which leads me to more interesting pondering. As not all languages have the same number of words, there must be some things you can say in one language but not another. Perhaps (I have no idea whether this is true) there is a single verb which means ‘travelling somewhere very quietly and slowly’ in Icelandic.

This isn’t to say, of course, that such a concept can’t be expressed in other languages – I just showed that – but it does cause me to wonder whether there are certain things that can honestly only be said in certain languages. If there are, how will I ever know? That which cannot be spoken of…


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