Thursday, May 15, 2008

Words I Needed and Never Knew

Some time ago I meant to blog about scheissenbedauern - a faux (and ungrammatical, but never mind) German portmanteau of "to shit" and "to regret" that's meant to mean "The disappointment one feels when something is not nearly as bad as one hoped it would be." You know, like Neil Diamond. Bad, but not as bad as you were hoping it would be, thus spoiling the rant to your friends you were building up listening to it. I would say that the TV show Friends is the best example of this I have from my own life. I want to hate it, and I do hate it, but I have to honestly admit it has its moments now and then, and that's hugely disappointing on a whole different level from the badness of the show itself.

Apparently this word was invented by Joe Queenan - and I meant to give a shout-out for inventing such a useful word, but I ended up writing about some other quotable things he'd said instead. I blame it on beer.

But today I came across another such totally useful word, so I have a chance to remedy the error. This one is "outsight," apparently coined by Julian Sanchez. It's:


A statement believed by the person who utters it to be an important or profound insight, but which is in fact regarded by its audience as so obvious or elementary that it reveals the speaker as hopelessly ignorant or slow-witted, at least relative to the relevant group.


It's amazing, actually, that I've lived 33 years without realizing that I desperately needed both of these words. But I really do. I can't even begin to estimate how much metabolic energy I've wasted speaking in paragraphs when the simple addition of one of these two to the English vocabulary would've let me go on about my business in miliseconds.

The one problem with them → I don't think either is terribly likely to catch on. Well, "outsight" might, but "scheissenbedauern" is just all kinds of wrong somehow. Maybe it's interference from the fact that I happen to know it would be ungrammatical in German. Or maybe it's interference from the fact that it fails to complete an obvious paradigm with Schadenfreude (i.e. it should be Schadenbedauern instead). Or maybe it's just that it has too many syllables and sounds too obviously foreign. I don't know, but my gut tells me I won't be hearing many examples of this one. "Outsight" I have more hope for. Even so, I would venture to say it has the opposite problem as Scheissenbedauern: it's almost too plain for its own good. Still, I get why it's witty, and I definitely plan to start using it on a regular basis (easily achieved in graduate school - a place teeming with people who try to pass off Really Obvious Things as Deep Insight).

There is apparently a genre of books devoted to exploring these terms - you know, either exotic foreign words we "don't have in English" or words we desperately need but weren't aware of lacking. If the reviews are any guide, the book behind the first link is god-awful, and the second is actually sort of good. When I'm done with graduate school, have put in my time as a post-doc, and am finally tenured at a name-brand university and reclaim some of that precious commodity known as "free time," I may give it a read.

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