Sing it!

There is a catbird who hangs out on the street light right outside my home office window. The other day I sat at the computer, mute and mesmerized, and listened to him for a full 15 minutes: he warbled and tweeted (the real kind), burbled and sang, chortled and crooned. This little avian dude went through an operatic literature that would have made Pavarotti verde with envy. What held me captive was this: he never repeated himself. Not once. It sounded like he was finding thousands of ways to say the same thing, over and over: Ain’t life grand? Damn fine day! Lookit me — can I sing, or what? People do the same thing. Tens of thousands of years in, and we’re still finding all sorts of new ways and words to say the basic human messages. This morning in the shower I noticed the label on a bottle of Paul Mitchell Instant Moisture® Daily Treatment. It says, “Hydrates and revives dry hair,” and then goes on to repeat this message in French, Spanish, Italian and German. Let me give you just the first word, Hydrates, in those translations: French: Hydrate Spanish: Hidrata Italian: Idrata German: Feuchtigkeitsspendend… Hang on — Feuchtigkeitsspendend? Yes, you read that right. That’s practically one separate letter for each hair. This is a great word to know. The next time I’m on hold for 45 minutes with the Customer Service department of my local telecom, as I hang up in wretched resignation with my issue yet unaddressed, I will mutter loudly, Feuchtigkeitsspendend! As Steve Martin said of the French on a comedy album I...