Universal Translator: Noun

Noun. A part of speech that caters to the human obsession with naming objects. Loosely identified by a primitive human song as “a person, place, or thing.”

(Side note: A formal protest has been lodged with the Galactic Council against human identification of other intelligent beings as “things” and not “persons.” Judgment is still pending.)

Types of Nouns. Humans like to categorize things, and have divided the simple noun into several unnecessary types.

Concrete Noun: An object, substance, or being that can be perceived using the senses (hut, dirt, sword). Humans rely mainly on their eyes, but can also sense things through their ears, mouth, nose, and skin. As their empathic sense is virtually non-existent, they do not consider emotions to be concrete nouns. (See: Abstract Noun.)

Abstract Noun: A thing that can only be understood by the mind, such as a concept (ignorance), a quality (ugly), or a measure (year). Some have expressed surprise that humans are capable of abstract thought. Evidence supports that they are capable, but illogical measurements such as the cubit prove that humans have not evolved competence in this area.

Countable Noun: Something that can be counted. Humans enjoy the repetitive action of counting items such as coins. (As proof, they produce physical tokens of money, even though these tokens are universally obsolete among all higher beings.) English-speaking humans assign a special importance to these nouns by adding an “s” to a countable noun when there is more than one, such as one dollar and two dollars. They also compare the amounts of countable nouns by saying things like, “You have fewer dollars than I have.”

The Money Changer and His Wife

An example in human art of their foolish focus on coin counting

Non-Countable Noun: Something feared and avoided by humans, since it cannot be counted and assigned the special “s” at the end of the noun. Examples include pollution and salt. Comparing amounts of non-countable nouns is handled by saying things like, “My meal has less salt than yours, and so I will live longer.”

Collective Noun: A noun that represents more than one person or thing, such as a flock of humans or a chorus of vehicles. These nouns confuse humans because they are usually treated as singular even though they refer to more than one item.

Common Noun: A noun that has no specific importance, and is not capitalized. Almost all nouns are common nouns.

Proper Noun: A noun that humans have decided is special, and warrants a capital letter at the beginning of the word. Examples include the name of a specific person or place. Humans continue to debate whether the name of their planet should start with a capital letter. Galactic grammarians are also divided on this point. Some argue that Earth should be capitalized, since it is a specific planet. Others argue that a backwater planet named after something as common as dirt has no importance.

Entry submitted by The Learned Dresgjas Sjart-Iiih of the planet Jassssh

(Editor’s Note: Clearly biased against humans. Find someone with more experience of Earth for future entries.)


Image credit: Wikipedia Commons, The Money Changer and His Wife

This is the first in my new series called Universal Translator. As some of you may have noticed, I was channeling The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when I wrote this. 🙂 This series will feature entries from different beings around the universe, who will bring their unique perspectives to the study of the English language. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

When universes collide

Have you ever suffered through a one-sided conversation? Maybe you have nothing in common with the other person, and you find the topic dead boring. Or maybe your conversation partner is an “expert” on everything, and is lecturing you about what you should do. This is sheer torture, you think. When can I make my escape?

Consider yourself lucky. You could be listening to Vogon poetry.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells us that Vogon poetry is the third worst in the universe. (Earth poetry is the worst, of course.) The Vogons know how much everyone hates their poems, but they force people to listen to them out of “sheer bloodymindedness.” Just witness what happens at a friendly Vogon poetry reading:

The sweat stood out cold on Ford Prefect’s brow, and slid round the electrodes attached to his temples. These were attached to a battery of electronic equipment—imagery intensifiers, rhythmic modulators, alliterative residulators and simile dumpers—all designed to heighten his experience of the poem and make sure that not a nuance of the poet’s thought was lost.

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Let’s face it, we all have an inner Vogon. We can get so caught up in what we think is important that we ignore what everyone else thinks. We keep on talking or writing, hoping that the sheer volume of our words will convince others of our rightness.

If you truly want to get your message across, remember that you are not the centre of the universe.  Everyone sees things from a unique point of view. You need to connect with others, not collide with them. Here’s some ways you can do this:

  • Address the “So what?” factor. This is also known as WIIFM or “What’s in it for me?” Why should people care about what you have to say? How will it benefit them? You may think the inner workings of the Infinite Improbability Drive are fascinating, but that doesn’t mean they will. Focus on the “So what?” and your message will be more successful.
  • Show some respect. Respect your conversation partner’s time by keeping your message short. Respect that person’s intellect by listening to what he or she has to say. In any conversation, try to spend more time listening than talking. You’ll be amazed at what you discover.
  • Speak in their language. Don’t use uncommon words or jargon that a lot of people don’t know. Your audience shouldn’t need a Babel fish to understand what you are saying.  If you need to use an unusual term to get your message across, then smoothly define it and move on.

And if you find yourself stuck listening to that annoying person? Just remember what The Hitchhiker’s Guide tells us in “large friendly letters” on the cover:

Picture by Jim Linwood. Source: Wikimedia Commons.CC-BY-2.0

Picture by Jim Linwood. Source: Wikimedia Commons.CC-BY-2.0

It will be over soon. Then you can go back to enjoying your universe.