Umami and Whorf
A local radio 'Money-Talk' commentator,
a sensible and firmly grounded man, was discussing the stock gurus seen on CNBC. "Now you need to take everything these prophets say with a shovelful
Old metaphors, even when their literal origin is lost, have strong foundations. You can put lots of weight on them, even cantilever a new meaning off the edge, and the metaphor still holds.
Why don't we have metaphors with new foundations?
In the realm of taste, we have plenty of sayings about salt, bitter, sour, and sweet. Many are found in the ancient Book of Proverbs. Some are quite modern, like the spoonful of sugar that makes Mary Poppins go down. Those four tastes are semantically active and generative.
We haven't written any sayings about umami
, and it's a safe bet that we won't, even after umami becomes better known. Too many cooks spoil the broth
comes close but doesn't qualify. It's about the cooks. You could change it to Too many cooks spoil the cake
and it would still be the same saying.
Considering the tight coupling between umami and coziness,
this is an odd gap. As soon as you understand what umami denotes, it rings a whole universe of home and hearth, affection and healing.
Umami shouts UNIVERSAL SATISFACTION.
The basic problem is not the newness of the word, it's the postmodern nature of the concept. Neurologists still haven't settled the exact location of umami on the tongue or the exact connection to the brain. It seems to be everywhere and nowhere, a fleeting and ephemeral universal.
Most new concepts are intentionally
slippery. They are trademarks
held by a strident group of O'Brienists
who have sole power over their use, and who switch
the Approved Vocabulary every day. If you try to form a saying based on any cultural concept at all, the corresponding group of Offendedists will burn you at the stake.
Labels: Language update