Wednesday 7 November 2018

Word Needed

In an essay on V.S. Pritchett (collected in Life Sentences), Joseph Epstein quotes Pritchett as saying, 'I have talent, but no genius.'
'This may well be true,' writes Epstein, 'but it has always seemed to me that the English language is deficient in not possessing a word that lies between the two; it would be a word that described how far talent, honed under the pressure of unrelenting hard work, can take one. The missing word would, I think, apply nicely to V.S. Pritchett.'
  It surely would, and it's a shame that no such word is available in English (is it in any language?). Pritchett, who admired and appreciated Chekhov so hugely, wrote short stories that were often decidedly Chekhovian, but the distance between the best of his stories and the best of Chekhov's is precisely that between the highest pitch of talent and genius.
  In painting, it's the distance between Pieter de Hooch and Vermeer. In music, the distance between Telemann and Bach. In architecture, between Adam and Soane... A word would indeed be useful.


  1. Would "master" work? As in someone who has mastered his or her chosen craft. Used as an adjective it seems to: master painter, master poet, etc.? It might be too ambiguous, however, as a noun.

  2. A good word, and much used in earlier times (perhaps before the romantic notion of Genius took off). We'd have to include 'mistress' too, of course...