Lost in Translation
I’m sometimes having fun with the confusion derived from words that escape one language’s dictionary boundaries and appear on another’s. Especially when a native speaker of the former encounters the word of the latter as a learner. This sentence alone must have probably confused the hell out of you, But let me give you an example to clarify it a bit (or confuse you even more). Take for instance the word “Empathy”. It’s a direct copy into the English dictionary from the Greek word “Εμπάθεια” (empatheia). Weirdly enough though, the word is the only thing that was carried into the English dictionary, as the meaning of the word was radically changed.
In English, empathy is the capacity of a living being to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sentient being. another sentient being. In Greek though, it means the negatively biased predisposition of a person towards another, leading the former to perform unjustifiably negative actions towards the latter.
Things get even more perplexed, when the English version of “Empathy” attempts to cross over back to the Greek dictionary through influential media, such as movies, TV series, books and scientific documents. Not long ago, during a D&D session with my buds, it struck me as peculiar, and I wondered out loud why the meaning in English got diversified, and following that, what is the actual Greek word that conveys the meaning that “Empathy” does in English.
The reaction pretty much confused the party, as we got divided in factions (or fractions considering we were just 6 people) who in turns believed that both the Greek and the English word have the same meaning (either the English or the Greek meaning), that the word has different meanings depending on the language and finally the “I don’t have a fucking clue” ordeal. A trip to various online dictionaries, definitions and wikipedia solved the mystery once and for all.
Oh, and the Greek word that conveys the same meaning as the English “Empathy” is “Ενσυναίσθηση” (Ensyinaisthisi).
Recently I’ve also been thinking, due to discussions and situations I’ve been in, why the hell people in relationships say that they’re jealous of one another when it comes to possessiveness, fear of loss and the sentiment of uniqueness. I’ve always known “Jealousy” to be the sentiment of desiring the material or immaterial benefits someone else is having. As such it struck me as peculiar the usage of the word in such a situation. I mean, if you’re acting all “jealous” towards your significant other based on suspicion that he or she might be flirting with somebody else, or even cheating on you, what are you actually jealous of? The other person who gets the attention of your significant other, even if that other person is just a suspicion and might be a figment of imagination. But you also have the attention. So why be jealous of something you already have?
Well, apparently the whole wording issue comes again to create more confusion. The word “Jealousy” in English derives from the French word “jalousie” with the same meaning which in turn derives from the vulgar Latin word “zelosus” (meaning full of zeal) and which in turn derived from the Greek word “Ζήλος” (zelos) which means .. well surprise surprise… “Zeal”. And for the completists here, borrowing a bit again from wictionary, zeal is the fervor or tireless devotion for a person, cause, or ideal and determination in its furtherance; diligent enthusiasm; powerful interest.
As the Greek word for “jealousness” is “Ζήλια” (Zilia) and it also derives from the word “Ζήλος” (zelos, zeal) I can make a vague connection, especially through the “fervor or tireless devotion for a person” how the word “jealousy” came to express all those emotions and acts within a relationship. Which in the end made me realize that my belief that the word was wrongly used to describe such sentiments and acts was flawed, and switched my query all upside down. So if being “jealous” actually refers to the negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that the person values, such as a relationship, friendship, or love, how the fuck did the other sentiment of desiring someone else’s material or immaterial possessions, often while degrading our own came into the equation?. Especially since both in English and Greek there is a very specific word for that. Envy (Φθόνος [Fthonos]).
Oh well, fuck me sideways, but I can’t make heads or tails of how jealousness and envy got all mixed up, but I suppose in the end I’m not jealous. I’m just akin to the sixth mortal sin. Does that make me a bad person? =P