Thursday, 7 January 2010

That word

Note: I didn’t develop this post on my own. One wise man gave me some inspiration and knowledge, I just combined it with my own ideas and made use of it.

It was a bit silly and a tad mean of me, but I got my courage up and did it. After the last lecture in cost accounting I waited until everyone left the auditorium and went to my lecturer, acting as a daft student, who didn’t understand one certain word (which had been used around twenty of thirty times during almost each lecture), and asked his wise lecturer to enlighten him.

“You know”, she said “I do not know to explain it to you, that word means, what it means”. Dissatisfied with the answer I insisted on further dwelling on the topic and made a second step – I asked for some particular examples. At that stage, the issue of that word cleared up in most of its instances. I was in a hurry, as in a few minutes I had to show up four floors down to take a first exam in this winter’s exam period, so I gave up quite quickly and kindly thanked.

The goal of this weird experiment was not to prove my lecturer was incompetent or something like that (though sometimes something tempts me to do so, but immediately I perish such thoughts – it brings no benefit nor it proves my superiority). It had to highlight a kind of linguistic trap or rather a certain imperfection of Polish language which comes up, whenever the word I asked about has to be translated into English. And don’t think a good dictionary will help, PWN Oxford falls down on it.

I have to admit I do not tolerate that word. Firstly, because it is considered to be intuitive and understood by everyone, only I seem to be slow-witted, cause it does not always seem that obvious to me, and secondly because it is too general and unclear – it has at least a dozen meanings, each often to be distinguished only in a broader context. For example, in cost accounting it often goes together with a word “cost” used in plural. Hence, you can deal with costs in many ways and even though each time you do something different, you almost use that word.

The real problem is that we sometimes tend to use words we have heard many times and which have shaped concepts of their approximate meanings. Or we don’t know other words that could render the same message in a different way. The point here is, apart from linguistic paucity, the inaccuracy. Words which are overused and cover a multitude of meanings tend to be imprecise. It the case of those crucial words, in my opinion, we should try to reformulate our thoughts to give them a unambiguous shape and use clear and precise vocabulary.

The Polish verb I’m ranting on can be translated into English probably in (almost) as many ways, as many meanings it has. The most popular that come to my mind are: to pay, to pay off, to pay back, to claim, to claim back, to settle, to settle up, to expense, to apportion, to account for, to report, to reconcile, to clear, to clear off.

Now a quiz for Poles reading this blog. What word does this post revolve around?

Hint, and another example of use: “I think I won’t be brought to account for my misdeed.”


adthelad said...

You got this anglopole's curiosity up for certain. Since I note noone has taken up your challenge may I make a stab at it - is the word 'rozliczyć'?

student SGH said...

Right adthelad, it wasn't hard to guess.

I'm working on a bigger crackdown on rozliczać. It should be published this weekend.

Anglopole? Who? Me? Are you changing my lineage? To put you straight - I'm a pure Pole, I've never lived in the UK.