I remember having an epiphany once . . . and it was this: you can’t think thoughts unless you have words with which to think. Which made me wonder how in the world Hellen Keller thought anything before her epiphany with Anne Sullivan . . .

A recent experiment conducted by researchers at MIT asked groups of Russian and English speakers to identify identical squares. The subjects were shown three blue squaes, two identical and one a lighter hue. The Russian speakers, whose language has more words to describe shades of blue, accomplished the task more quickly than the English speakers.

When you have the proper word, you think faster and better. When you have to search for a word, the process slows down.

I was reading Paul Ekman’s book, EMOTIONS REVEALED, the other day, and discovered a lapse or two in the English language. First, he was talking about the feeling of jubiliation you get when you accomplish something extraordinary. The word PRIDE is too ordinary, Ekman claims (and I agree), so he offers the Italian word *fiero*–the feeling a tennis player gets after winning a difficult match, the emotion you feel after winning a race, finishing a book, or getting an A on that paper.

Another word we lack is supplied by Yiddish: the word is NACHES, and it is “the glow of pleasure plus pride that only a child can give to his parents.” As Ekman says, naches is the emotion, kvelling is its expression. Now, if someone will only tell me how to pronounce these words, I’ll be all set.

One more, and I’ll really need pronounciation help on this one–the feeling you experience when you learn that your worst enemy has suffered is called schadenfreude. When the devil is chained for 1,000 years, we’ll feel schadenfreude. (Maybe it’s just easier to say we’ll GLOAT . . . actually, I’ve never thought about it until now.)

And if you cannot feel any of these emotions, you suffer from anhedonia–and that’s an English word meaning no emotion. Someone with anhedonia feels no fiero, naches, or . . . gloating. 🙂

May you experience fiero and naches today. If you find yourself kvelling, tell me how to pronounce it, okay?

P.S. Check this out–it’s the most creative book website I’ve ever seen (HT to Brad Whittington!) http://www.noonebelongsheremorethanyou.com .



  1. Anonymous

    I saw this website a few weeks ago. Interesting.

  2. oh amanda

    I think I’m going to buy that book just based on the website!

  3. jan

    …which brings us back to the question of: what DID helen keller think before she began learning? i have always wondered, too.

  4. terri gillespie

    It took me a while to learn how to pronounce kvelling. It’s a hard “K” sound that slides immediately into “velling”. Whatever you do, don’t say ka-velling.

    Oh, and you have to wave your hand over your heart, then wipe a tear (real or imaginary–doesn’t matter).

    We’ll practice in August, Angie.

  5. Angela

    Terri, I was hoping you’d stop by! Great, I’ll look forward to our Yiddish lessons (complete with emotive gestures) this August. I’ll look forward to it!


  6. Angela

    And as to what Hellen Keller thought–I tend to think she thought in emotions–after all, it is possible to feel an emotion and not be exactly sure what you’re feeling. Poor thing.

    She was so articulate after she learned to speak; I wonder if she ever wrote about her pre-language days. Hmmm.


  7. Kay

    Even after Helen learned to think in words, she was thinking in terms of peoples hands making signs in hers. Still not in actual words like we do. She still had not heard them.
    Or perhaps in terms of how items felt in her hands combined with emotions and the hand signals.
    She wouldn’t be able to explain it, I bet.
    So, it remains a strange concept.

    Oh, and really nice photo.

  8. Julie

    Hi Angela,
    This has nothing to do with your current post…

    I just finished reading “Uncharted” and wanted to tell you that it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Amazing! I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it (the mark of a really good book!) I love the question/answer segment at the back of the book and intend to recommend it to an old high school friend of mine who doesn’t know the Lord.

    Blessings to you!

  9. Gina H

    I once heard the famous lady with autism, don’t remember her name, describe what it’s like to not have words. She said that is why she helps animals, because she understands them and communicated the same way they do – with emotion. She designed slaughter houses for cattle because she wanted them to feel settled and not frightened – which I know is ironic since they are going to be killed.
    Anyway, I’m rambling, but I thought it was so fascinating to hear her describe what it was like to not have language.

  10. Shelia

    “He thought, while his hand moved rapidly, what a power there was in words; later for those who heard them, but first for the one who found them; a healing power, a solution, like the breaking of a barrier. He thought, perhaps the basic secret the scientists have never discovered, the first fount of life, is that which happens when a thought takes shape in words.”

    Ayn Rand from The Fountainhead


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