Louden it, but quietly, please

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The Independent Online
Not very long ago, my young son was watching television. He was trying to listen to it as well, but the volume was too soft. So, as I was nearer to the set than he was, he asked me to louden it.

"To what?" I said.

"To louden it," he said. "I can't hear what they are saying, so could you louden it."

I was about to point out that there was no such word in English as "louden", meaning to turn the volume up, and that if he wanted me to do it, he would have to use the correct word, when I realised just in time that in fact there is no correct word in English meaning to turn the volume up. "Turn up" is the closest we can get. Basically, we always have to use a circumlocution. So, instinctively, my son had realised the absence of the word and invented one to make up for it, based, maybe, on an analogy with words such as "fasten" and "broaden" and "lengthen", and I did what he wanted.

Wherever the word had come from, he was certainly right to feel the gap, and when the other day I found myself using the word "louden" to him (we were in the car, I think, and I wanted to know if he could adequately hear the Martin Jarvis tape of a William story he was listening to, and I asked him if he wanted me to louden it, and he said, Dad, don't talk, I'm trying to listen to this William tape, which marked the end of that particular conversation) I realise now that I was going along with his perception of the flaws in the English language.

Indeed, ever since he unwittingly pointed out that there is no single word in English meaning to make louder, I have started to notice just how many activities there are in daily life for which there are no words at all. We often do things that we cannotbegin to describe, except in the most roundabout or laborious way.

How often have we put on a shirt or coat and buttoned it up, only to find as we fasten the last button that there is one button-hole left over? And all because we started off putting the wrong button in the wrong hole and patiently went through the wholeprocess slightly out of kilter? You know what I am talking about, don't you? But it is a thing we very rarely talk about because we have no word for it and have to describe it in the same time-wasting method I have just used. That is why you get strangetruncated conversations in married life like this: Man: Oh, damn! Woman: What's the ...?

Man: I've just ... I got the wrong button ... Woman: Where?

Man: All the way up.

Woman: Oh, yes. So you have.

Man: Have to start again ... This is far from the only one. Here is a small selection of other activities for which there is no verb in English.

Ruffling the top of a plastic carrier bag in an effort to open it.

Opening your book where the bookmark is, and not remembering anything about what is going on in the book or even recognising any of the names of the characters.

Fiddling with the taps on a shower in a vain attempt to get the right balance between cold and hot.

Folding the end of the lavatory roll into a V shape in would-be posh hotels.

Getting to the telephone just as it stops ringing.

Adjusting the temperature in the shower, and then having it ruined when someone else in the house turns on a water appliance.

Hearing footsteps when you know you are the only person in the house.

Putting your passport away in a special place and not being able to remember where.

Ringing someone up, and getting only their recorded message, and hanging on in the telepathic belief that they are really there at the other end and are about to switch off their message and answer the phone.

Coming to a complete halt in a sentence because you need a verb which does not exist in English.

More realistically, coming to a complete halt in a sentence because the grammatical construction you have embarked on admits of no correct way out, as in "He is the sort of person who is hanging around the whole time, getting on your nerves, but then, when you really need him, he is nowhere to be ..." and you fade away as you realise you have completely lost track of the subject and verb ... Turning down the volume on the television.

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