Be Extremely Repetitive in Your Use of Vocabulary

I know I am!

Heian literature requires a  great deal of effort to translate from the original Japanese, and must be altered totally from its initial form. Why might that be, you ask? A common Heian literary conceit, which was considered elegant at the time, was the excessive overuse of a single adjective in a sentence – to the point of using a strong adjective perhaps  four times in the same sentence.

Sei Shonagon in “The Pillow Book” frequently used adjectives such as “charming” over and over and over again in an anecdote. Were such a passage directly translated, the meaning of the writing would be utterly lost on a modern day reader. It would be far too boring and mind-numbingly repetitive.

On the other hand, perhaps this repetitiveness isn’t too far from the experience of the modern day literature fan. Many writers today, whether of novels, newspaper articles, or blogs, seem to re-use the same vocabulary.

I know I overuse the words ridiculous, hilarious, weird, amazing, awesome, and random. Maybe that assortment of words captures my particular take on life.  Possibly I should start looking at a thesaurus every once in a while.

If anyone calls you out on your slim vocabulary or overuse of a few choice adjectives, turn the tables on them. “Oh, I do that on purpose,” you’ll say. “I find it elegant. It’s very Heian.”

They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about. You win.

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2 Comments

Filed under Literature, Shonagon, translation, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Be Extremely Repetitive in Your Use of Vocabulary

  1. Iluya

    Oh absolutely! I say very few things and what I say is usually the same. The next time anyone complain I will tell them it’s very Heian.

    Thank you for this blog! I have been extremely interested in the Heian era since I took a course about Heian court litterature a few years back. I find it entertaining to read your comments on their life. Lovely, absolutely lovely.

  2. jcg03002

    You should certainly tell them it’s very Heian. It’s better too if you don’t explain what Heian means, assuming of course that they don’t know. ;

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