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.
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 naturistfiction.org 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.