June 11th, 2005

Naming the World

We're once again taking advantage of Doug and Jillian's generosity by staying in their apartment while they are out of town. It's great to be in a place where you feel so comfortable. And this time there's an added bonus. Jillian has plastered the place in pink Post-Its with Spanish words on them. She's trying to learn how to use the language in practical situations before her trip to Mexico. Skylar loves the concept. For me, though, the feeling is more complex. When I was an exchange student in Germany I was often told the name of household items I couldn't name in my native tongue. Something similar is going on here. I'll see a Post-It, but can't figure out what it's meant to describe. The "el horno" on the oven makes sense. But the "el estante" next to the narrow, spice jar-laden shelf above it is far more ambiguous. Does the word refer specifically to that kind of shelf or to shelves in general? Or could it mean something else? This is the sort of situation that Ludwig Wittgenstein loved to think about.