September 1, 2014

Words to Know: Mokita

The word Mokita is a fantastic word taken from a language called Kivila.  It is spoken in Papua New Guinea.  The best English translation you can get of Mokita is, “the truth we all know but agree not to talk about.”

Cool WordsThere are several concepts in the English language related to the notion of Mokita, such as the “elephant in the room” (e.g., a horribly scarred accident victim sees friends for the first time, none of whom mention the drastically altered appearance), as well as so-called “polite fiction”, in which everyone is aware of the truth but pretends to believe some alternative version to avoid shame, embarrassment, or conflict.  Euphemisms are often used for polite fiction (e.g., “he’s going to wash the car” when everyone knows he is going to see his mistress, drug dealer, or on his way to the horse track).

Mokita can do a lot of damage if the person on the other end of it is suffering from denial as it allows them to continue in their false sense of reality.  On the other hand, if the person is aware of the situation, it can be a social nicety that helps them avoid anxiety or embarrassment.

Examples of Mokita

1.) The academic data is irrefutable that the children of successful parents tend to do better than the general population even if they are moved to broken or challenged homes, meaning that some of their life advantage comes from genetics that they inherited from their successful parents; things like a temperament conducive to success in modern culture or above-average intellect.  Yet, to avoid the political landmine of eugenics, researchers don’t discuss this basic fact for fear of political and social discomfort.

2.) When a formerly sharp person begins to lose memory or experience cognitive decline as a result of advanced age, it is sometimes common for his or her colleagues to pretend not to notice in order to save their pride.  The entire office won’t bring it up around the person, and silently fix whatever went wrong, allowing them to retire on top, gracefully, without even realizing that everyone else is aware of the degradation.  In a company like Berkshire Hathaway, there are corporate policies in place to stop this from happening.  Warren Buffett gave certain people the ability to intervene and, in his words, “take the keys away”, in case he started to lose his touch without realizing it; to stop Mokita from allowing him to harm the enterprise he spent a lifetime growing into one of the world’s preeminent conglomerates.

  • Bri Olewale

    Hi Joshua I am from Papua New Guinea and have been following your blog for nearly 3 years now, was amazed to see you mention PNG in a article………

    I have a question for you, here in PNG our government has taken out a loan from a UBS subsidiary in Australia to fund share purchases from Oil Search (LNG developer in partnership with Exxon Mobil)

    What are your thoughts on a governments taking loans to fund shares purchases in such a manner?

    Thanks

  • Patrick

    I think there’s an English term for that too, it’s called “The Elephant in the Room”.

  • FratMan

    You want some mokita? Visit a funeral parlor and listen to a eulogy.

    • Gilvus

      That’s brilliant. How about: “honey, does this dress make me look fat?”

  • Anon

    My thinking on why example #1 has been mokita’d is that certain people don’t/can’t understand the difference between all, most, some, and none. Many would probably gloss over the “tend to” in the blog entry, above.

    If you say “X” people are smarter on average than “Y” people, they will turn around and strawmanize that into “Are you saying that all X are smarter than all Y? Because Mr. X down the street is 10x smarter than Mr. Y, so clearly you’re wrong!!!”

    • Cheese

      The fact intelligence ranges greatly between siblings suggests that, given moderate-to-high heritability of the trait, an “unintelligent” family could become a “highly intelligent” family in a few short generations, and vice-versa.

      I think the Mokita is the result of certain leaders, scientists and others, proposing that the black-white economic gap is due in part to the gap in average black-white IQs as measured over the years. This finding has been used to attack head-start programs and aid to at-risk youth. However, as I noted above, the intelligence of a family is likely to change dramatically between generations, meaning that any kind of race-wide IQ differences are likely erroneous and optimal social policy would find a balance between allowing the advantaged to pass on their material advantages, and allowing up-and-comers to take full advantages of their innate abilities. I wonder if countries like Finland have perhaps gone too far in enforcing equality. If someone works for long periods and gives up their time to build something of value to society, at the expense of spending energy educating their own children, would this result in gifted people not being able to fully pass on their gifts to the next generation, and therefore society at large? The idea that income mobility should be several degrees higher than the intergenerational “aptitude mobility” (the abilities that are passed on via genes) seems like it could stifle innovation and economic potential. Of course given the spotty scientific record of IQ tests, such measures of “aptitude mobility” are for the time being, hypothetical.

      On the subject of IQ legitimacy, recent studies have shown that some if not all of this black-white gap is due to the phenomenon of stereotype threat, wherein an individual conforms to a stereotype about a group to which they belong, belying their true abilities. The effect size of stereotype threat found in this and other studies (about .75 std. dev.) jeopardizes, in my mind, the legitimacy of the whole IQ construct.

      See:

      Brown, R. P., & Day, E. A. (2006). The Difference Isn’t Black And White: Stereotype Threat And The Race Gap On Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices.. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 979-985.

    • Cheese

      The fact that intelligence ranges greatly between siblings suggests that, given moderate-to-high heritability of the trait, an “unintelligent” family could become a “highly intelligent” family in a few short generations, and vice-versa.

      I think the Mokita is the result of certain leaders, scientists and others, proposing that the black-white economic gap is due in part to the gap in average black-white IQs as measured over the years. This finding has been used to attack head-start programs and aid to at-risk youth. However, as I noted above, the intelligence of a family is likely to change dramatically between generations, meaning that any kind of race-wide IQ differences are likely erroneous and optimal social policy would find a balance between allowing the advantaged to pass on their material advantages, and allowing up-and-comers to take full advantages of their innate abilities. I wonder if countries like Finland have perhaps gone too far in enforcing equality. If someone works for long periods and gives up their time to build something of value to society, at the expense of spending energy educating their own children, would this result in gifted people not being able to fully pass on their gifts to the next generation, and therefore society at large? The idea that income mobility should be several degrees higher than the intergenerational “aptitude mobility” (the abilities that are passed on via genes) seems like it could stifle innovation and economic potential. Of course given the spotty scientific record of IQ tests, such measures of “aptitude mobility” are for the time being, hypothetical.

      On the subject of IQ legitimacy, recent studies have shown that some if not all of this black-white gap is due to the phenomenon of stereotype threat, wherein an individual conforms to a stereotype about a group to which they belong, belying their true abilities. The effect size of stereotype threat found in this and other studies (about .75 std. dev.) jeopardizes, in my mind, the legitimacy of the whole IQ construct.

      See:

      Brown, R. P., & Day, E. A. (2006). The Difference Isn’t Black And White: Stereotype Threat And The Race Gap On Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices.. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 979-985..

  • BukaHanersib

    On a somewhat tenuously related note: I recently bought a vintage lamp which is an elephant. Upon placing it in the room, my kids let me know that we’re not allowed to talk about it. Now, if I want the lamp turned on or off, I can only point at it and wait.

    Back to the actual point of this post: I love this word and the way it clearly expresses something we need an entire phrase to euphemize. Thanks for sharing.

  • Elsworth

    Eugenics has been harmed by her friends.

    • Anon

      Agreed. Hitler really did a number on the world.

  • Cheese

    I would just like to point out that the placental environment of a child can have a significant effect on its later development, meaning that those whose mothers lived in healthier environments during gestation would have an advantage that, while not genetic, would appear to be heritable in the context that Joshua gave.