No doubt, many of our readers are now struggling valiantly but vainly to parse these majestic words and to extract some modicum of meaning from them. Somehow, this raises the question: what is the relationship between language and the way we think? For well over a century, linguists have been fascinated by this and by scores of other boring questions. As our vacant-eyed, drooly-mouthed readers are certainly aware, these are easy questions to answer, though the answers we give might be pretty stupid. But a good place to begin to understand how language affects the way we think is with the familiar fact that the Inuit* have over 70,000 words for snow. Granted, approximately 50% of these are curse words, but that still leaves well over, say, 2,000 words, and all to describe variations of something that, to English speakers, all look exactly the same! Even those speakers of English who live and work for years, day in, day out, in extremely snowy areas lack any ability whatsoever to distinguish between different types of snow, being linguistically constrained to ignore this immense variety and to obliterate any sense of differentiation by using only one single name to refer to everything — hardpack, crust, corn snow, sugar snow, champagne powder, BBs, clank, crumb, fluff, pellets, talc, windslab, mashed potatoes, boilerplate, cauliflower, sierra cement, enormous boob snow, slush, and so forth — to the helplessly obtuse, brain-dead speaker of English, all of these are just snow, some unknowable, incomprehensible thingy to either gape at in blank confusion or to shove with gleeful idiocy into one’s anus or, even more troublingly, someone else’s anus.
Clearly, deeply embedded in any particular language and its speakers is a rigid, unbreakable, inescapable set of formulae on how to interpret the world around us. This calls to mind Thomas Kuhn’s brilliant thesis that scientific progress occurs in discrete, critical leaps — ‘paradigm shifts’ — where the new theories are fundamentally incommensurable with the previous theories. This kind of incommensurability as described in Kuhn’s insightfully stupid thesis is similar to untranslatability between natural languages. For example, Romanian has no word that means “shallow”, so Romanians are completely unable to understand the very concept of shallowness. The fact that there is no precise equivalent word in the two languages means that it is utterly impossible for a speaker of English to understand a speaker of Romanian, and vice versa. This insurmountable barrier to understanding makes it inevitable that English speakers will forever be at war with Romanian speakers, much as Kuhn conclusively demonstrated that pre-Copernican and post-Copernican astronomers were unable to understand any of what the other was saying and thus were thrown suddenly into violent epic battles, massive hordes of enemy scientists in screaming melees grappling frantically on the ground, snarling and tearing, biting and shredding and Erlenmeyer flasking each other to bloody death. Wow. What can one do, when contemplating the enormity of the process of scientific progress, but paraphrase Captain Kirk: Kuuuuuuuhhhhn!!!!