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Lightning Paper. That is the Cherokee word for email.

I’ve encountered many languages thought to be dead or dying. Hebrew, Swahili, Cherokee and other Native American Indian languages for example. While thought to be dying, many of these languages are being reborn through technology.

A story tonight on NPR’s Hear and Now featured a team from Google and the Cherokee Nation talking about their projects to create a Google Search and now Gmail in Cherokee, helping to not just introduce the language to young people, but also to help older native speakers communicate with modern technology with their friends, family, and younger generation.

With the revival of Hebrew with Ben Yehuda’s work in Israel, words had to be created to accommodate modern words and technology. They weren’t driving cars nor playing on computers or drinking out of plastic bottles during the time of Moses, so the language needed to adapt. The base word for computer is “machine” which fairly represents what it is. Other words like “auto” for car were adopted from other languages as needed, creating a similar mishmash lexicon similar to English, which steals from just about every language in one way or another.

I loved the phrase “lightning paper.” It perfectly represents the concept of an email, better than the word email. It makes me reconsider the words we use today and how they should be changed to be more poetic and apropos to their intentions.

“Blog” is one of those words I’d love to change. Originally they were called online journals then weblogs for a company now defunct called WebLogs. Blog is such a vulgar sounding word, closely related to the sound one makes when they vomit. I’d love to go back to online journals, or even dynamic website, a term I use in my classes on web publishing to explain the difference between a static HTML website and a database driven site.

I’ve fought over naming things and the abusive use of metaphors in the American English language most of my life. My mother had thousands of them at her disposal to make her point.

“Don’t be a bump on a log.” That meant don’t be lazy or just sit there waiting for something to happen.

“Need a kick in the head?” Not sure where that one came from but it usually translated to “you need a kick in the ass” or “please think before opening mouth.”

“I stayed out until the dogs were hung.” When challenged on this one, she didn’t even realize how violent that expression sounded. In fact, it dates back to when England owned much of Europe, building great walled towns. Aggressive dogs were literally “hung” with chains and hooks on wires between in the outer and inner walls at night. You had to be through the gates and into the inner walled and protected areas before the dogs were “hung” on the runs or be left outside the walls unprotected for the night.

While traveling many years ago through the southern United States, a man in Georgia exclaimed to me, “Well, ice cream don’t grow hair!”

I wanted to argue with him, yet when I paused to consider each word, I realized that I couldn’t argue with him. He was right. Ice cream does not influence hair growth in any way, shape, or form. Not sure the origin of such a bizarre commentary which represented awe and wonderment, but it is certainly colorful.

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