They say people in the arctic have a hundred words for snow. Maybe they do. I’ve also heard that debunked, which is the times we live in.
What is probably not immediately obvious to non-linguists is that word drives perception. For instance, while learning Swedish I learned there was no word for (I think – it’s been over thirty years) “orange.”
If that’s true and I haven’t remembered wrong, then Swedes won’t SEE orange, not as an individual color. They’ll see it as a funny reddish yellow.
Of course in the realm of colors, that’s not a big difference. Orange will continue existing, whether humans call it that or “funny yellow.”
In the realm of emotions and other things that exist only in a human’s head, things are a little different.
This is prompted by the fact that I’m writing a very strong, somewhat protective (in both directions) male friendship in Through Fire, and working VERY hard to make sure people get it’s not sexual. Yes, part of it is my characters and the fact I do write gay characters. But that’s not all. Even if I wrote nothing but straight guys, I’d have to work extra hard at this bit because in our society we assume the sort of close, almost romantic friendship that has existed between men through the ages (women too, but not as often, and usually women who had strong male influences in their lives) is at the very least “sexual love manqué.”
Now, I’m the first to admit some pairings are slashable, but honestly, it would never occurred to me to slash the original one of those, Kirk/Spock.
I came from a culture in which male non-sexual friendship with attachment and values close to romantic love (note how many words I need to use for that) was common, and I recognized the Kirk-Spock bond as one of those.
It exists in literature throughout the ages, take the three musketeers. They’d die for each other, but there’s nothing going on under the covers.
Of course, sometimes there was something going on under the covers. Take Robin Hood, in so far as he might have existed, (it’s messy research.) With him and King Richard, well, there was something going on, so who knows what was up with the Merry Men.
And that was the bit that the sexual revolution seized on. Let the love speak its name and all that. Fine and dandy, except that the sexual revolution seems to have robbed us friendship across the board: friendship among people of the same sex; friendship between men and women. All of it was reduced to one type of love, what the Greeks call “eros.”
This is mostly because of the idea of sex not only as a good but as an imperative. If you’re not sleeping with everyone you could be sleeping with then you’re “repressed.”
Friendship has lost dimensions. It is now a bastard child of acquaintance and it seems to mean “someone I run into a lot, but for whom I have no deep feelings.” Because all deep feelings are confused with eros. Or it’s eros-manque. You really have a man-crush or girl-crush on your same sex friend, and you don’t act on it because you have hangups, or because you’re in a relationship, or whatever. It’s not that you deeply love someone and feel loyalty and duty to someone that you’re not in the slightest bit attracted to physically.
If you think I’m blowing smoke, go read the musketeers, take any of the speeches in which they declared their bond, and bring it to present day and see how it strikes you. (There are other friendships of the sort in history and literature, it’s just early and I’ve only had one cup of coffee, and my mind is in the fiction, so this is the obvious one.) Well, except the speeches of Athos to D’Artagnan which transposed to the present day are frankly creepy.
But the fault is not theirs. It’s ours. Post the sixties we’ve lost that dimension.
Part of me wants to say we lost it particularly because it’s a male thing.
Oh, sure, women have that type of friendship – I do – but it tends to be more women who were raised with men (my brother’s circle) and therefore socialized as males.
Female friendships, as far as I can tell from outside, and as far as I’ve got caught in a couple that weren’t what I thought they were are not … romantic. Romantic in the sense of mutual loyalty affirmed, romantic in the sense of – like an old marriage – taking the friend’s flaws and rolling with them. Romantic in the sense of lasting forever.
I could be wrong here. I don’t fully understand women, having been raised in a rather male environment, except for grandma and in many ways she wasn’t particularly feminine either. I’m talking from books and movies and observed stuff. Women have more “friends” but the relationship is either shallow or familiar. In fact, I’ve adopted my best female friends, now, to get the idea right. Women can have sisters as friends, and friends as sisters, but “friends” tends to be a far looser association which doesn’t entail the same level of loyalty. It is at once more intense and shallower than male friendships. Your female bff will come over and bring you Kleenex when you’re sick, and will listen to cry through the night about your unhappy love affair, but she’ll break with you when someone said that you said that she said that you were a poopy head. Your male bff will make fun of you if you get all sentimental over your lost love affair, but he’ll still be there, teasing you and telling you you’re not as unhappy as you think you are when you’re eighty.
I’m explaining very badly, because we don’t have a word for it. The Greeks don’t have a word for it, either, weirdly. Male friendship as I’ve observed it in real life is somewhere between Agape and Phillia. Perhaps Agape with a Phillia public face.
Where I grew up, perhaps because I was raised among men and because in Portugal the sexes are still more segregated, this was still very obvious. Being friends, for men meant something. For women less so, as a woman’s primary loyalty is to the family. You were “whispering mates” (comadres, literally means “co-mother” and it means you’re the godmothers of each other’s children, but the proverb “zango-se as comadres, sabe-se as verdades” (When comadres fight, we discover the truth) give it more the meaning of whispering mates or perhaps co-conspirators.
And perhaps it goes back to the evolution of humanity. Women were co-conspirators and manipulators of the social order, all in search of greater status among the berry-pickers/foragers. Those with higher status got their children better watched. Social manipulation is a female game.
The hunting parts were hierarchical. I assume there was someone calling the shots. BUT they were hierarchical in a male “Something accomplished, something done” way. Meaning that the hunter who got best results got to call the shots. And there was a hierarchy. But it also meant there was less… politics. Had to be, because when hunting is not a good time tof find your bff is stabbing you in the back, right?
Mind you, this is all imho. I don’t even know if the form of male friendship I observed in Portugal REQUIRES a more segregated (by sex) society. But I do know the ah… “texture” of friendship is different within the sexes. And between sexes too.
And I know we’re losing that dimension. We’re losing the subtle tints, and reducing everything to the bright red of sexual passion, even if sexual passion denied. “Friendship” is becoming denatured into “acquaintance” and “passing alliance” and “sexual frustration.”
All of which make it a ghost word, and it’s a pity, because friendship, in and of itself – particularly male friendship – was a great part of what built civilization.
All of which still leaves me writing this friendship that is more Agape than Eros, with a good dose of Storge thrown in, because one of the friends is much older than the other and the other, frankly, needs a minder.
If I do it well, there won’t be a bunch of slash stories on the net.
If I do it badly… the book will probably sell better – hey, a woman got to eat – but I’ll have failed somehow.
For the rest of us, I think one of the things Human Wave needs to make sure is depicted and exists, is the love between friends who would not dream of jumping into bed together.
Because if we lose the concept it won’t exist anywhere.
And we and society will be the poorer.