Article on speaking foreign languages

I was doing some investigation on whether there is an English word for Kniebeuge, the hollow behind the knee (see earlier entry on Ellenbeuge) when I came across a 2001 article by John Derbyshire in National Review Online on the topic of Anglo-Saxons and their inability to speak foreign languages.

The article was inspired by a reader’s comment, when Derbyshire recommended a German website:

bq. Read German, you say? You forget that I am an American. The Germans will damn well speak English, if they want to be understood. … We neither have the time, nor see the need, to learn languages that are destined to go the way of Latin and Sanskrit. We have people to do that for us, should the need arise…

Derbyshire has encountered, at school and later, French, German, Latin, Russian, Cantonese, Cambodian, and Mandarin.

6 thoughts on “Article on speaking foreign languages

  1. Did you come up with an English term for Kniebeuge? I consider the elbow to be analogous to the knee, (i.e., they’re both joints). So, if Kniebeuge means the hollow behind the knee, what should we call the hollow behind the elbow?

  2. It was suggested on an ITI (British translators’ org.) list it might be flexion or flexure. I thought at first of the other meaning of Kniebeuge, which is – please remind me of the word – an exercise where you bounce up and down in a squatting position, bending your knees. However, the OED does support ‘flexure’ here, to my surprise:

    5. concr. A thing of bent shape; the bent part of anything (e.g. a limb,
    river, road); a bend, curve, turn, winding.
    1607 Topsell Serpents (1658) 674 An angle or flexure of sixteen
    ribs. 1652 F. Kirkman Clerio & Lozia 91 Her Coif+with flexures in it for
    her hair to pass out most compleatly curled. c1720 Gibson Farrier’s Guide
    i. v. (1738) 56 [They] lose their fleshy substance+as they approach the
    Flexure of the lower Jaw-bone. 1773 Hist. Brit. Dom. N. Amer. ii. v. §2.
    295 From the hook or flexure+vessels get out to sea with difficulty. 1800
    Med. Jrnl. III. 23 The lowest part of the sigmoid flexure of the
    colon. 1814 Cary Dante Purg. xxv. 105 Now the last flexure of our way we
    reach’d. 1839 Stonehouse Axholme 152 The arched entrance to the north
    porch, which is richly ornamented by trefoil flexures. 1868 Browning Ring
    & Bk. ix. 57 Her babe—that flexure of soft limbs. 1874 Coues Birds N.W.
    688 The wing from the flexure, differs+almost or quite an inch.

  3. Deep knee bends? Or do they just involve alternate squatting and standing erect. Hmm. Flexure seems more active, knee flexure or knee bending, than Kniebeuge. And elbow seems like it should be a bend in the forearm, but the forearm is delimited by the wrist and the elbow.

  4. Re the Kniebeuge: I thought the hollow behind the knee was the Kniekehle and that a Kniebeuge was a knee-bend à la ‘bend ze knees’. Having said that, I can’t offer an English word for Kniekehle other than maybe ‘knee-hollow’. The medics have an adjective for it (popliteal). — Robin

  5. Robin, I think you’re right – I see the Duden gives two meanings: 1) knee bend and 2) genuflection. All I can say is that wherever this question was raised, the term had been used to mean the knee-hollow. Thanks for the popliteal! (What nouns can be defined by it, I ask myself).

  6. It seems to qualify artery, cyst, fossa or space, pulse, tendon and vein. There’s also femoro-popliteal bypass surgery, but most of all I wonder what it’s like to be lost in popliteal space.

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