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À chacun son goût

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27.01.2020

Jay, about those foreign phrases: For the very reason you mention (instantaneous translation of unfamiliar phrases made available by the Internet) I am much more likely to use fun and interesting foreign words or phrases simply because they are fun and interesting, for the right kind of reader. (I don’t think the other kind of reader is likely to enjoy my work or to benefit from it.) And why not? It is not a cosmic necessity that the Internet make writing more stupid, even if it mostly does.

One red line for many writers used to be non-Latin script, and so Lenin’s question would be rendered “Who, whom?” rather than “кто кого?” even though the Cyrillic is more evocative, at least to those of us who grew up during the Cold War. I might hesitate to use that in a daily newspaper column or something similar. But in a long essay or a book, I think phrases in non-Latin script can add a bit of extra flavor. They’re a little bonus for people who know Russian or Greek or whatever, and those people need encouragement. And sometimes they make a lot of sense in context, even though they also are an invitation to error.

I’d be curious to hear from others around here how they go about deciding when to include or exclude foreign phrases — or more recondite English for that matter.

Most readers probably would not recognize ὀχλοκρατία or streitbare Demokratie (to take two terms I rely on in The Smallest Minority), but I think it is fun to throw them out there for readers........

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