Nudity and Language

I’ve been prompted to this reflection on nudity and language by the recent passing of an International Naturist Extraordinaire – the founder of Active Naturists, Kirill Tokarev, who succumbed to a coma on March 15 after being hit by a car on February 23 in Florida. I never had the chance to meet him, nor did I know his name – I only knew that he was out venturing nude across a different continent seemingly every month, and that he organized a nude Gymnasium camp at Burning Man festival several years running. He posted terrific photos, videos and detailed information about the places he and his friends would go nude. He would usually make friends locally, from Europe to Latin America and the Middle East to the USA, and get them to help him find places to be nude in nature. What’s more, he would almost always post in at least two languages, say English and Spanish, English and Russian, or English and Hebrew, a time-consuming effort I very much appreciated. So I begin with a request to please consider a donation toward alleviating his family’s medical costs. Kirill was an example for us all.


Kirill in Ecuador, 2017

As Kirill’s travels show, the appeal of naturism is international, bringing together enthusiasts from all over the world whether in person or online. In fact, social nudity can help overcome language barriers, and even transcend them. However, communicating about naturism, like any other topic, requires language, and for those of us who write naturist fiction, language is our artistic medium. I’m proud to be associated with fellow writers who, like me, write in English but are intimately familiar with other languages. Robert is bilingual English-French since childhood, and has experience teaching French. Paul is a native speaker of Dutch who also knows English and has a degree of fluency in other European languages as well. I’m particularly interested in languages, since for a variety of personal and professional reasons, I’m trilingual in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Another general interest I share with my colleagues here at is Native American languages. Robert’s investigations into the history of his family and his country have led naturally to the languages of the First Nations of Canada. Paul holds an abiding curiosity regarding the indigenous cultures of what is now the United States, including languages such as Lakota and Creek. My professional work, together with the ancestry of my spouse’s family, has led to my interest in the native languages of what is now Latin America, ranging from Nahuatl in Mexico to Tupi in Brazil.

One of the interesting things about the concept of nudity is that in some languages there is not a word for “naked,” although there are words for different items of clothing or adornment. In other languages, there is more than one word for “naked.” In English, for example, we often have two sets of words–one more Germanic, the other more Latinate–related to the same concept, such as the Germanic “foot” alongside words of Mediterranean origin related to feet like “bipedal,” “pedal,” and “podiatrist.” It turns out that although “naked” is of Teutonic origin while “nude” is from the Latin, both words share a common Proto-Indo-European origin, *nogw. There are so many words, in so many European languages, relating to naturism and nudity that start with the letter N, that it is easy to understand the choice of that letter for the title of the The Naturist Society‘s excellent quarterly magazine. Another good way to see the prominence of the letter N in these words is in the tweets of BjörC, whose multilingual captions of motivational naturist photos are much appreciated and widely disseminated.

In photography, sculpture, painting, and drawing – and even in theatre, dance, or film – nudity can be self-defining. But the moment we add context through speaking or writing about it, we are using something that is practically as fundamental and as essential to humanity as our own bare hides: language.


8 thoughts on “Nudity and Language”

  1. Hi Will,

    Wow! So sorry to hear about Kirill Tokarev, a true pioneer for naturism in our modern times. You talk about how language is important, and you mention my being bilingual and having an interest in First Nations languages. I did study Cree for a year at university. In that language,
    môstâpekasewin is the word for being nude or naked. Mosêskatewin means nakedness. In that language, use of accent and the addition of letters to the base root word creates one word sentences such as mosêskatêw – he [or she] is naked.

    As an aside, I am getting better with Spanish, and like Paul, have some background in Putonghua otherwise known as Mandarin Chinese. Naked in Mandarin is Luǒ. Nude is Luǒtǐ – notice how Chinese and Cree build around the root word? Language is vital in my opinion. To tell our authentic stories, we need to know the language we are writing in, very intimately if we are to succeed in communicating what we have in our minds before the words hit the paper.

    Thanks for this post, Will. I do hope others donate to help out the Tokarev family.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Robert! I certainly agree that language is vital, and as I say, an essential part of humanity. Nahuatl is also an agglutinative language, producing very long words that are complete sentences built around a root. I’m an enthusiastic novice of the Nahuatl language, but I would not be able to write in it, for, as you say, it’s important to know the language intimately – to live it authentically – in order to be able to communicate successfully in it. Thanks for the examples in Cree and Mandarin!

  2. Tremendous loss of a advocate for genuine naturist life. His photos of local flora and fauna on naturist hikes was superb

    1. That is so true – he would almost always include lots of photos – maybe the majority – of flora and fauna and landscape vistas – truly excellent photography as well as video editing. Between the multilingual posts, and editing of videos and photos, he must have dedicated long hours to his posts. I hope the Active Naturists site can remain active or at least as an outstanding archive of naturist travel.

  3. So very sad to hear of Kirill’s death! He was making a great contribution to the cause of living without clothes, and had so many fine photos and videos showing clothes-free living at its best. He will certainly be missed by many of us, most of whom knew him only through his photography.

    1. I completely agree. His photos and videos and posts were widely viewed because they were so emblematic of what we want to see in naturism: naked friendship in nature, crossing borders, showing us humanity itself as nature.

  4. I have to admit (confess?) that I had never heard of him. It’s sad though, that our ‘movement’ if I may call it that, has lost such a prominent figure.

    1. He truly embodied naturism, and from what could be understood from his posts, it seems like he did so *all the time*. He was very active not only in his travels but also in his excellent documentation of what he did.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *