No word for X

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jul 7 13:24:27 UTC 2013

> in Bosnian, there is no word for either "fiction" or "non-fiction": there
is only "storytelling". ... The storyteller responsible to a
textural truth: not...facts but... textural contradictions.

Hemon is Bosnian, so we are clearly expected to believe that a thousand
years of history have taught these utopians to see beyond our mystifying
Western distinction between truth and falsehood to the crucial "textural"
 (sic) consistencies within.

If online dictionaries are any indication,  the far-from-impoverished
Bosnian tongue indeed has a word for "fiction," but possibly none
*specifically* for "non-fiction." What that tells me, if anything, is that
the Bosnian "default assumption" is that prose is offered in good faith as
the truth, not that Bosnian culture doesn't know or care.

That also seems to be the default position in English and elsewhere, or was
until recently. We tend to believe what we read in prose (not poetry)
unless we have reason not to.

Presumably in Bosnian you don't literally ask, "Is that fiction or
nonfiction?" but you can readily ask, "Is that story true or just made up?"

Whorf is spinning in his grave, or should be.


On Sun, Jul 7, 2013 at 12:28 AM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      No word for X
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> An interesting quote from Colum McCann:
> > I'm interested in the idea that these categories don’t really exist.
> > Aleksandar Hemon says that, in Bosnian, there is no word for either
> > "fiction" or "non-fiction": there is only "storytelling". He inserts
> > himself into much of his work but it's a construct. To put it another
> > way, what Google or Wikipedia says about you might be an utter
> > fiction. The storyteller must at least be responsible to a textural
> > truth: not so much the dates and facts but the textural contradictions
> > that he or she finds.
> VS-)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society -

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