September 07, 2003

From Shame, by Salman Rushdie:

Politeness can be a trap, and Bilquìs was caught in the web of her husband's courtesy. 'As you wish,' she wrote back, and what made her write this was not entirely guilt, but also something untranslatable, a law which obliged her to pretend that Raze's words mean no more than they said. This law is called takallouf. To unlock a society, look at its untranslatable words. Takallouf is a member of that opaque, world-wide sect of concepts which refuse to travel across linguisitic frontiers: it refers to a form of tongue-typing formality, a social restraint so extreme as to make it impossible for the victim to express what he or she really means, a species of compulsory irony which insists, for the sake of good form, on being taken literally. When takallouf gets between a husband and a wife, look out.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at September 07, 2003 03:49 PM
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