Monday, June 27, 2005

New Words?

Val and I have been reading the book with interest. In particular, Val noticed that some of the larger and more difficult words she used (like solipsizers, adumbrate, etc.) are not really being used in a way that follows any of the definitions found in Webster's dictionary. We know that we may not have all the various connotations possible in our dictionary, but it does make it a little confusing. We were wondering if this was a result of English being her second language, or if the book was writtne in her native tongue first and poor translation is to blame? It could also be possible that an editor is the cause of these new connotations. It might even be conceievable that, like Nabokov's poshlust, she is creating whole new meanings for the words. Any thoughts?


Blogger Mr. Word said...

I recently discussed this very topic! To me, the ever evolving meaning of words is a fascinating process to behold. I believe that cross-cultural interpretations and innovations are essential to maintaining a language's relevancy.

Without these lingustic matings, a language will stagnate.

So many of our words are derivatives of words in other languages, or even older versions of our own language.

New words allow greater and more expressive communication! Even if the new words are borne on the wings of mistranslation, there is potential for growth and innovation.

June 28, 2005 6:11 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

John and Val, it is my impression that Nafisi wrote Reading Lolita in Tehran in English. If anyone finds conclusively otherwise, I would be interested to hear.

While I think it is important that we use words as carefully as possible so that, like good tools, they keep a sharp edge, I also agree with Mr. Word that a certain amount of evolution in connotation is inevitable and dictionary denotations are able to keep up with that. To paraphrase Sammy Clemens, "I pity the man who has so little imagination that he can only think of one way to use a word."

June 29, 2005 7:16 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

BTW, folks, I enjoyed a tour of Mr. Word's website. Mr. Word, we're an eclectic bookclub that meets in Melbourne, FL once every couple months to discuss a book we have first digested a little on this blog. We finished Mark Levin's Men in Black recently and have just started in on Reading Lolita in Tehran.

June 29, 2005 7:27 AM  
Blogger George said...

Another factor to consider is differences between dictionaries.

While you guys may not like it, many of my teachers back home were not fond of Meriam Webster dictionary - they all preferred Oxford - because they said that MW's meanings were 'different'.

June 30, 2005 11:04 PM  
Blogger John Otter said...

I agree with George thatOxford is better, I also agree with Kevin and I think the book was written in English.

However, I do think that Nafisi is using the words just slightly differently from their original meanings. In fact, we only found solipsism not solipsizers in our dictionary and only had solipsist not solipsizers. The new suffix changes the meaning of the word and doesn't really seem to fit with the meaning of the word solipsism.

Word meanings do evolve and change (that's inevitable) I was just afraid I was misunderstanding Nafisi's meaning. Anyone know what she meant by solipsizer?

July 02, 2005 10:43 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

John, Nafisi (in her discussion questions at the end of the book) interprets "solipsizer" as one who robs individuals of their identities. This seems to fit well enough with the dictionary definition of solipsist (although, as you have pointed out with an additional twist) and is certainly an apt word for Humbert and, indirectly, Khomeini.

Another word I found an interesting choice is "multivocality" (268), where Nafisi is describing Jane Austen's work. That word also isn't (yet) in the dictionary, although a Google of multivocality reveals some interesting ties to literary theory, where it is applied to Derrida, Bakhtin and Dostoevsky (not normally the authors I would immediately associate with Austen).

July 03, 2005 9:43 AM  

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