Obscure Sorrows

Three old Major League umpires were teaching their trainees how to call strikes.

“I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em,” the first umpire said.

“I calls ‘em as they are,” said the second.

“Gentleman,” the third one said: “They ain’t nuthin’ till I call ‘em.”

This old epistemological joke speaks to how words frame our thinking so much that they not only define its boundaries, they blind us to the flaws built into language itself. Think of this as systemic wordism. We can’t understand what we can’t define.

New words are arriving every day, of course. Metaverse may be the latest, but every year brings thousands of ways to describe the new things in life.

Except for maybe the biggest thing of all: our emotions. There’s a huge blind spot here. “We have thousands of words for different types of finches and schooners and historical undergarments, but only a rudimentary vocabulary to capture the delectable subtleties of the human experience.”

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