Posts Tagged ‘when english fails’

define: need a word for …

September 10, 2008  |  essays  |  31 Comments

Now that I’m on the subject of definitions, I have a request. I need a word for something.

Sometimes the English language fails us; we really don’t have enough words for the precision of things. (For example, I’d love to differentiate between the “I’m sorry” that means empathy vs the “I’m sorry” that is an apology, especially since those two things are widely different and it makes it difficult to communite your true intention when language falls short. But that’s a sidenote.)

I’ve been thinking about chivalry lately – which is not rare – and in a few discussions recently I’ve been kicking around the idea of someone who receives chivalry, and how that too is a skill.

Some women don’t much care for chivalry, and some do; those who do have a different kind of interaction with it, an appreciation and understanding that definitely alters the dynamic of the exchange. It’s actually kind of complicated to allow someone to pull out your chair, take your coat or help it on, to take their hand or arm or elbow. Those are skills, too: how to receive chivalry.

I think we need a word for this. It has been suggested to me that perhaps we can use the same word – as in, “that femme is chivalrous, she knows how to accept chivalry from me” – but that doesn’t quite convey what I’m trying to say. I keep thinking of other forms of nouns for two people in a give/take relationship – gifter/giftee, inviter/invitee – but that doesn’t quite make sense with the structure of the word “chivalrous” and “chivalry.” Makes me wish I knew more about the origins and structure of language.

Got ideas?