Jakobson begins with an interesting look at Bertrand Russel’s strained idea of language comprehension and the ‘true meaning’ of things. The idea that “no one can understand the word ‘cheese’ unless he has a nonlinguistic acquaintance with cheese.” is a fun one to post-mortem, as even a cursory dissection reveals a whole host of ailments.
What is ‘cheese’? Jakobson toys with the notion that it can be defined as “food made of pressed curds”, which puts us fast on the spiraling slope of the ever-deepening path of word definitions. What’s a curd? I think more people in the modern world would have an easier time with defining ‘cheese’ than ‘curds’. Once we’ve defined curds, what then? Have we really come to understand ‘cheese’ yet? No. When I open a microwave pack of dried noodles and orange powder, is it fair to call that substance cheese? How much of what is going on in Kraft’s blue box that really has anything to do with curds?
But lets go one step further. If someone asks me what I thought of Marvel’s Avengers and I tell them ‘It was some epic blockbuster cheese’, am I suggesting that Iron Man has milked a cow? Did he find the secret to defeating the alien invasion somewhere in the hills overlooking Cheddar? No.
Jakobson briefly considers what a person from a ‘cheese-less culinary culture’, but doesn’t spend much time there. In Japan, ‘cheese’ is a word, taken from English, and if asked the local youth will tell you it means ‘that white stuff on pizza’, or ‘what you say when you take a picture’. However much I tried to explain that the white stuff they had available was not really cheese but rather a chemical coagulate excreted from tubes into plastic bags – it was cheese to them. And the second definition is just entirely valid, especially minus any connection to the original use of the word, which, in fairness, has absolutely no bearing on its use in that function at all.
Plato went at this idea millennia ago. The evolution of thoughts from those based on physicality towards the metaphysical is not only natural but inevitable. The digital age has brought us an endless multitude of ideas without physical analogs – language is not and has never been bound by them.