The Longest Now

Words for Medium
Saturday September 18th 2004, 5:15 am
Filed under: indescribable

… English don’t got none. It’s hard to say in one word that something is middling or mediocre unless one is talking specifically about vague quality or ability. Medium-large, medium-strong, middleweight (well, maybe that’s one word), of average thickness, neither slow nor fast, of average intelligence… is this because it’s not emphatic enough to say something is middle-of-the-road? In politics it comes up so much in most any discussion that we not have ‘centrists’. But how about medium-dark, medium-fair, medium-hard, mildly interesting, somewhat obscure, “in the middle-ground”?

The question might better be rephrased as, why do we have two words for most adjectives, one at each end of a supposedly linear spectrum, rather than one word for each adjective (as in NewSpeak), or three (as with “poor, average, good”)?

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I think you are too hard on our (my?) beloved English language!

What about: grey or dusky (for medium-dark), mousy (for fairness wrt hair), practical (for fairness wrt justice — if you believe there is such a thing as “medium-fair”), firm (for hardness wrt materials), engaging (for hardness wrt difficulty), amusing (for interest), unusual (for obscurity), and moderate (for a lot of things, including “in the middle ground”).

I think the area where there are fewer “middle ground” words is in terms of affect. This is where “middling” and “mediocre” concern me — they hardly seem like middle ground words; I’d only use to express grave doubts or serious displeasure. Maybe “adequate” and “acceptable” work, but even those feel like euphamisms to me.

Perhaps the issue is not that the language is too binary, but that individual users (like myself) tend to have perceptual contrast turned waaaaay up. Which is probably not even medium-healthy. 😉

Comment by Patricia 09.27.04 @ 11:46 am

Perhaps we should be looking at these adjectives from the perspective of a matrix instead of a binary pole. We can follow boolean logic: of a given condition, there is either 00, 01, 10, or 11 amount of it. And in most cases, 01 and 10, the middle cases, indicate the same quantity.

Thus, for color, there is 00 = black, 11 = white, and 01 | 10 = gray.

This feels very genetic… it’s like a linguistic Punnett square…

Comment by Dave 10.13.04 @ 2:13 pm

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