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Is A Rose A Rose?

American novelist, poet and playwright Gertrude Stein was sure that a rose is a rose is a rose. It’s what she wrote in her 1913 poem, Sacred Emily, to make the point that each thing is identical with itself. Moving to Paris confirmed her belief in the law of identity because a rose in French is, une rose. A rose is a rose is a rose just like Juliet said in William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.

But might a rose be something other than its smell? A rose is also its color, and don’t we tend to think of the flower rose as red (Roses are red) but the color rose as pink (looking through rose-colored lenses)? In English and in many romance languages, a rose is also a name. In Mandarin Chinese, a rose is qualified as a marvelous rose. Are there a few less marvelous roses that we don't think of as roses?

In Japanese, the characters for rose 薔薇, pronounced bara,[*] is commonly written using the foreign-word syllabary, katakana as バラ because the characters are complicated but also because the variety of rose native to Japan doesn’t look like the typical rose. The rose that is a rose is a rose has petals that are more closed than the Japanese rose, making the rose foreign enough to write in katakana. So maybe it’s the fact that a rose can be the rose, nearly the rose or not the rose at all that makes a rose a rose.

April 23rd is UN English Language Day, a day to celebrate the birthday and playfulness of Willliam Shakespeare and the 2010 initiative that established language days for each of the six UN official languages: English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic and Chinese. Of note is UN Chinese language day on the 20th April because its this collection of Chinese languages that has the greatest number of native speakers in the world.

Today, April 22nd, is Earth Day. Enjoy your weekend with all your languages on our wonderful planet earth but whatever you do, don’t forget what the Little Prince said about his rose when he was traveling the earth:

It’s the time you have wasted on your rose that makes the rose so important.

- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

[*] Not to mention how bara is used in the foreign gay manga community to describe hunky men in same-sex manga.

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