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Two languages united: Despite the decoration, ketubot, like the 1819 Greek one above, are prosaic legal contracts


While there are many different languages in the world, at base there are only two main forms of speech, each diametrically opposed to the other: the scientific and the poetic. 

One way to define the difference between them would be to say that science takes a myriad of phenomena and gives them one name, while poetry takes one phenomenon and gives it many names.

The language of science is precise and well-defined, while the language of poetry is open and boundless. One can discuss the same topic in both languages, but these will be two very different discussions. For instance, a man who wants to praise his beloved’s beautiful eyes will not say that they are about an inch in size and their colour is 1523 Angstrom; he might use instead an expression like “your eyes are like doves”. This is surely a much less precise description, but one that gives great pleasure to the listener. On the other hand, woe to whoever uses poetic language when intending to mend shoes or build a bridge: the shoes will not be mended, and the bridge will not be a bridge.

In everyday life, both languages intermingle; a poet who wants to buy bread will not ask for that which “sustains man’s heart” (Psalms 104:15), while a scientist who wants to express his ideas may use images. In our time, scientific language plays an ever more central role. The world is now using, both directly and indirectly, the language of precise facts, while poetry (which, incidentally, is not always very high poetry, in both contents and language) is being pushed aside and confined to the sphere of poetry alone.

But while scientific language is so much more widely used, even its users often feel its limitations. For indeed, how wonderful it is that the world is so full of dreams and beauty and other such magnificent things, and how sad it is when poetic ideas are pushed to the limits and limitations of the world and buried there.

Our overdose on scientific language has caused a general sense of fatigue, which has created a yearning, manifest or hidden, to return to the other language, to that realm of grand, enticing and gripping sayings. Our world is turning to more emotional statements, to stronger and more daring expression. This poetic language is no longer confined to certain places, such as anthologies of poetry or outpourings of the soul. Instead, it infiltrates into the precise language, exists alongside it, and often is not even differentiated and defined as such. Indeed, poetic language clings to other ideas and ways of expression, and influences them.
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