On a list I am on, someone floated the concept of English Prime as a way of forcing our minds to understand that we do not know everything.
English Prime means English without the verb "to be" or any of its forms. These include: is, are, were, am, be, been. You may, in using this language, use forms of the verb "to be" as helping verbs when the main verb describes action such as "been running" but not as a state of being verb such as "been sick."
Instead of saying "John is an Asshole" you might say "John acts like an Asshole"
Here are a couple of examples/translations:
English: I am crazy.
English Prime: I do crazy things.
English: Sally is a cheerleader.
English Prime: Sally leads cheers for the football games.
Hmmm. Well, it would certainly make mathematics and computer programming a little more challenging!
This reminds me of a little text from the Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy,
concerning the phrase "The other man's grass is always greener". According
to Douglas, "the Shaltanak race of Brookedron 13 had a similar saying, but
since their planet was somewhat eccentric, botanically speaking, the best
they could manage was: 'The other Shaltanak's dukelberry shrub is always a
more mauvey shade of pinky russet', and so the expression soon fell into
disuse, and the Shaltanaks had little option but to become terribly happy
and contented with their lot, much to the surprise of everyone else in the
Galaxy, who had not realized that the best way not to be unhappy is not to
have a word for it."
Chopping the language this was is a little Orwellian, I have to agree. But
that doesn't mean it is a bad idea. I think we should work hard to teach our
kids to think and talk this way, but not eliminate the words altogether.
Come to think of it, isn't that what we're supposed to be teaching our kids
anyway, when we teach them about similes and metaphors?
"John is an Asshole" - Metaphor
"John acts like an Asshole" - Simile
Although given the state of our education system these days, I think we
should consider ourselves lucky if the sentences are grammatically correct,
never mind politically correct.
Also (and my last point I promise) not having the words for something
doesn't mean people don't still do it/feel it/find a way to say it. Case in
There is no equivalent word in the English language, and despite the words
occasional appearance in editorials from particularly erudite or (more frequently)
precocious writers, this German oddity is generally unknown. But we are all
familiar with it's meaning: A malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of
So, just because we don't have the words for it, doesn't mean we will change
our behavior. It may mean we might steal words from other languages though.
As humans, we like to think we know everything, pretend we know everything,
or just plain lie about it, if it enables us to feel superior to others.
Possibly because as a species, we really are assholes ...