We resort to foreign words for a number of psychologically interesting reasons. A lot of them, I’d argue, are rooted in the middle class aversion to bluntness or crudeness. When what we’re saying has an underlying tone that may cause embarrassment to either the speaker or listener, we borrow from Latin or modern European languages (often French) to give a veneer of refinement, glossing over what’s crass, base, or stark.
For example, on the use of entre nous: “I want to gossip but gossiping is common so I’m going to get away with it by using the pretentious French phrase for it.”
“Treat me,” I interrupted, “as if I don’t know Greek,” as, in fact, I do not.
“The prefix poly,” Wilson said, laughing, “means ‘many’ or ‘multiple.’ Tropos means ‘turn.’ ‘Many’ or ‘multiple’ could suggest that he’s much turned, as if he is the one who has been put in the situation of having been to Troy, and back, and all around, gods and goddesses and monsters turning him off the straight course that, ideally, he’d like to be on. Or, it could be that he’s this untrustworthy kind of guy who is always going to get out of any situation by turning it to his advantage. It could be that he’s the turner.”
See also two ‘Troy Story’ videos we made that re-tell the Iliad and the Odyssey in a couple of minutes each:
After the fall of the Roman Empire, elephants virtually disappeared from Western Europe.
Since there was no real knowledge of how this animal actually looked, illustrators had to rely on oral and written transmissions to morphologically reconstruct the elephant, thus reinventing an actual existing creature. This tree diagram traces the evolution of the elephant depiction throughout the middle ages up to the age of enlightenment.
Some of these are great, e.g. this from around 1400:
He was, by then, closing in on his 10th year as head of the Cloud Appreciation Society and, as he’d done after 10 years with The Idler magazine, he was questioning his commitment to it. Somehow, being a cloud impresario had swallowed an enormous amount of time. He was lecturing about clouds around the world, sharing stages at corporate conferences and ideas festivals with Snoop Dogg and Bill Clinton and appearing monthly on the Weather Channel. Then there was the Cloud Appreciation Society’s online store, a curated collection of society-branded merchandise and cloud-themed home goods, which turned out to be surprisingly demanding, particularly in the frenzied weeks before Christmas. The Cloud Appreciation Society was basically just Pretor-Pinney and his wife, Liz, plus a friend who oversaw the shop part time and a retired steelworker he brought on to moderate the photo gallery. It was all arduous, which Pretor-Pinney seemed to find a little embarrassing. “My argument about why cloud-spotting is a worthwhile activity is that it’s an aimless activity,” he said. “And I’ve turned it into something that is very purposeful, that is work.”
At the same time, he realized that he’d conjured a genuine community of amateur cloud-lovers from all over the world but regretted never doing anything to truly nourish it; it felt so “fluffy,” he said, “with no center to it, like a cloud.” Soon, that spectral society — that cloud of people on the Internet — would be celebrating its 10th anniversary. “I’m thinking that it might be a nice reason to get everyone together,” he said.
Try having no arms and eating a live octopus that’s crawling around on your head with its tentacles. Failure could mean it’s your last supper. But a population of bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Australia has found a way to do it.
“These ones in southwest Australia have worked out: How do we catch them? How do we bite them? And how do we kill them so we can eat them?” said Kate Sprogis, a behavioral ecologist at Murdoch University in Australia who with her colleagues described the behavior in a study published last month in Marine Mammal Science.
The recipe is as follows: Bite off the head. Shake the body. Toss until the arms are tenderized and the suction cups no longer function. Slam the body against the water repeatedly until it breaks into bite-sized pieces. Steps may be varied. Enjoy. The estimated preparation time ranges between one and six minutes.
This is how I eat everything.