A sigh is just a sigh, or so the song says.
I beg to differ.
A few nights ago, someone asked me if a pizza I was eating was as good as another I’d had recently. I couldn’t answer. It wasn’t because one was so much better than the other. It was more because they were two different dishes with the same name. A linguistic flaw put me in a corner.
Nobody puts Omawarisan in a corner.
If Eskimos Have More Than Fifty Words For Snow…
A pizza is not just a pizza, just as a sigh is not just a sigh.
The blend of dough, cheese and tomato has so many permutations. Some versions of the dish barely resemble others that carry the same name. New York, Chicago and New Haven each have their own style of pie. Pizzas made by some of the big chain restaurants will barely taste similar to one from the oven of a mom and pop shop.
Eskimos have more than fifty words for snow. There is a world of difference between maatsaruti and pukak. While you’d be right in calling them both snow, being able to ask where to find the one you want is important when you need the right sort of snow to ice your sled runners with.
In the region where the Scandanavian countries meet Russia live a group of people called the Sami. The Sami have over one hundred eighty words to help them communicate about snow and ice. These people are very precisely articulate. They’ve got over a thousand words for reindeer.
One thousand ways to refer to reindeer. Let’s count how many words we have for reindeer in English.
…Why Do We Have Only One Word For Pizza?
One word for reindeer.
One word for pizza.
If the Sami have a word that describes a bull reindeer with one large testicle (busat) and one to describe one with short, branched horns (snarri) why don’t we have words that differentiate a hand-tossed, brick-oven baked, whole wheat crust white pie from an oily Pizza Hut cholesterol bomb?
Italian immigrants brought us pizza, the word and the dish. Those hard-working folks aren’t responsible for all the versions of that proud and filling dish that we’ve created on its basic architecture. Their language isn’t responsible for naming these twists on the traditional recipe.
The word is over worked and losing meaning. If I say “let’s go get a pizza”, you’ve no way to know if I’m proposing that we get some greasy fast food style slices, a gourmet pie with pesto on a flat-bread style crust or a Chicago deep-dish. Your answer, and your happiness, might hinge on understanding which pizza I’m considering.
A sigh is sometimes more and sometimes less than just a sigh. A reindeer can be a busat or a snarri (or both). But a pizza is just a pizza? Nah.
English is a growing language. Thirty years ago, someone getting a text meant something different from what it does today. Getting a new cell was something prisoners did. It is time for our language to grow in a productive way.
We’ve got to expand our pizza vocabulary.