Monday, August 11, 2014


Ursula K. Le Guin in The Left Hand of Darkness invents an alien world that has its own cultures, religions, mythologies, and languages. Her invented language includes some fairly nuanced concepts. The Karhidian language, for example, has several dozen terms for various type of snow. This may be out of a necessary response to the extreme environment, but this same environment, the flora and fauna, and how the land can be used, also shapes the culture philosophically.

Estraven is repeatedly described as a shadow when he comes to Genly's aid, serving as Genly's shadow (and therefore also his shifgrethor), as Genly has none of his own.

shif•gre•thor noun \ˈshif-grə-thȯr\
1: prestige, face, place, pride-relationship; all-important principle of social authority in Karhide and among other civilizations of Gethen, of which native Karhidians have an innate sense but outsiders lack
2: code of social decorum
3: standard of individual behavior
4: recognition of the level of the manifestation of this quality and the status accorded it

Usage Notes 1. One may discard, forego, waive shifgrethor. 2. One may risk, stake shifgrethor; highly valued and must be given due regard. 3. One's shifgrethor may be degraded, diminished, impugned, insulted. 4. To play shifgrethor is to engage in political games, usually at an individual level, often petty and malicious, always intricate, but sometimes also internationally; can be played on the level of ethics.

Usage Examples
1. I waive shifgrethor; I discard it.
2. We must forego shifgrethor, forbid all acts of vengeance, and unite together.
3. He could lower all his standards of shifgrethor.
4. The shifgrethor of Karhide will be diminished.

Etymology Karhidish, from Old Gethenian "shadow"; possible derivation by analogy "shift" + "grey thore", which is widespread and fastidiously husbanded for maximal usage, minimal erosion, and full integration and balance, therefore "a shift in the balance". Discussion When Getheren of Shath, in the hearth-tale of The Place Inside the Blizzard, takes back his name and his shadow, he is owning his actions, making peace with both his internal conscience and the external society. In so doing he re-establishes the responsibility and dignity of which shifgrethor is borne. As every Karhidian casts his own shadow, shifgrethor is an internal shadow, functioning as a conscience, moral compass, social guide. Karhidian shifgrethor stems from Getheren's original sin and exile and bears the rightness of acknowledgement, necessity, atonement. Honorable men come to be outlawed, yet their shadow does not shrink. They live without shadows (shifgrethor) in Orgoreyn.

Related Words conscience, dignity, etiquette, high-mindedness, honour, integrity, irreproachability, manners, nobility, protocol, respectability, righteousness, right-mindedness, scrupulousness, self-sufficiency, tactfulness, virtuousness
Near Antonyms debasement, disgrace, disreputableness, looseness, pervertedness, reprehensibleness, shamelessness, unscrupulousness, weakness, wretchedness

(This is a revised version of the "essay" I submitted for the relevant unit in the MOOC Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. As the assignment limited me to 320 words, I have here added an introductory statement and expanded slightly on some points for the sake of clarity.)

1 comment:

Stefanie said...

Oh that's good!