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<   No. 2031   2008-08-18   >

Comic #2031

1 Serron: So, our cargo's worth bupkis here on Eisbach. We can just go to a different planet where the market is strong and sell it there.
2 Paris: In theory, yes. In practice, we have to sell the lot at the local depressed price to pay for docking fees and fuel before we can leave.
3 Serron 2: Or we could just skip the system without paying.
3 Serron: That sounds good to me.
4 Paris: We can't do that!
4 Serron 2: I'm from the future, remember? We already did!

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Bupkis is one of those interesting words that I only ever hear on American TV shows. I doubt I've ever heard anyone say it in real life. I didn't even know how it was spelt before I looked it up (and in fact there are a few alternative spellings floating around out there, but "bupkis" appears to be the most common). I have a pretty good idea of what it means, at least in the metaphorical sense in which it is used to refer to something of little or no value.

I was interested to learn that it is Yiddish in origin, and apparently derives from a longer word literally meaning "goat droppings".

This turned me to thinking about words that we understand, through exposure to media from other cultures, but never use ourselves, nor hear in the conversations that occur around us. I can think of... oh, dozens of examples. I could probably come up with a list of several hundred, if not over a thousand, with a little bit of reference time. And I don't just mean words that are different between English dialects (for example, I say "coriander" where an American would say "cilantro", so I never use the word "cilantro" at all, nor does anyone around me). I mean words like "bupkis", which, although you can find something basically equivalent in my vocabulary ("squat" comes to mind: "Our cargo is worth squat"), isn't really simply a dialectical alternative for the same object.

I don't really have a point to make, except that by thinking about it for a few minutes, I can estimate that there are probably of the order of a thousand or more words like this - from a different culture and that I understand perfectly well, but never use myself because my own culture doesn't use them.

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Last Modified: Monday, 18 August 2008; 03:11:02 PST.
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