I do see that questions about this couple have been posted before (What is the difference between "general" and "generic"?, What is the difference between "general" and "generic"?), and I have read the answers given, but my context being somehow different, I think I need some extra help. I am translating a text that uses "generic" and "non-generic". The text is about Sappho's poem 31, which you can read here. And the part I'm having problem with runs as follows:

"As in other poems, Sappho combines vividness - the addressee's laughter and sweet voice the speaker's crippling physical symptoms - with reflective distance. The speaker does not just stand back from her predicament in the (lost) final stanzas; the opening scene is (probably) couched in generic language too (1-5), but then followed by a (probably) non-generic statement about the effect on the speaker. Similarly, the symptoms are framed by a generalising clause ('whenever I look at you', 7), but then listed in such detail and with such vividness that they impress themselves as acutely present (7-16)."

And a bit further down, when talking of lines 1-5: "'That man to me seems equal to the gods, whoever sits opposite you [..]'. The definite antecedent [...], combined with the indefinite clause, probably picks out one man from a set of such men and focuses on him: any an who sits opposite you, that man seems to me. [...] The detailed description makes the scene concrete, despite the generalising construction."

So, the questions are: (a) is "generic" identical here with "general" or rather "generalising"? (b) initially, I got the impression that "generic" might mean "typical" here, but probably not? (c) if "generic" = "general(ising)", why is its opposite "non-generic" and not "specific" (which is used further down anyway)?

Many thanks. K.

  • The obvious question is: translating from which language?
    – Lambie
    Apr 28, 2021 at 19:32
  • From English to modern Greek.
    – katerina
    Apr 28, 2021 at 19:46
  • I feel for you, I am a translator and understand the struggle. I had to think it about it carefully to sieve out the meanings. I think I will post it as answer. :)
    – Lambie
    May 7, 2021 at 20:24
  • I am pretty sure I replied at some point, thanking you. Can't see the comment anywhere - perhaps I dreamt it? If so, let me thank you again. And yes, it can be a struggle, even if a pleasant one :)
    – katerina
    May 19, 2021 at 9:22
  • But I was not complaining. It's fine. You don't need to thank me. I just wonder though, why you didn't choose my answer....
    – Lambie
    May 19, 2021 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


They have different etymologies. Generic is like a type, yes (from genus in Latin: birth, race or stock). Whereas general (from generalis in Latin, class, race or kind) is actually non-specific.

In English, generic language is "of the same type". For example, if subject matter uses a type of language, that would be generic to the subject matter. But it would not be general language, which really does not mean much. General language means non-specific to subject matter as in not technical.

generalizing construction is related to making generalizations. I hope I have not confused the issue further...:) generic language= language of a certain type.

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