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I'm struggling to find a word or short term for a person or group of people who do not experience jealousy/remorse/etc. due to a lack of something. For example, people from the middle ages could not be upset about the lack of cell phones because cell phones did not exist back then and they had no idea something along those lines could exist.

It doesn't have to be the lack of a tangible thing either, the term I am looking for could represent the lack of anything. Another example would be how many young children do not understand the concept of racism. Since they have never been exposed to bigotry or prejudicial behaviour, they do not harbor negative feelings towards people who are different than them simply because they are different.

My first thoughts were naive and ignorant, but those words tend to carry a negative connotation with them. It sounds unfair to call a person from the middle ages ignorant because they didn't have a cell phone or to refer to a baby as naive for not being a racist. Is there a better term out there?

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.......innocent –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 5 '13 at 22:12
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@EdwinAshworth You should work that into an answer – I think it's the perfect word. –  Bradd Szonye Sep 5 '13 at 22:29
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I feel like innocent has the inverse connotation of naive. Granted, describing the baby in my example as innocent would be very accurate, but people of the middle ages are not necessarily "innocent." By definition, innocent is great, but by interpretation, I think it's a little off. –  Dryden Long Sep 5 '13 at 22:32
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I'd call someone not knowing of cell phones "happy"... –  Tobias Kienzler Sep 6 '13 at 8:55
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Actually "ignorant" is a pretty good fit. One of my professors used to describe certain people as "ignorant," quickly clarifying that it wasn't an insult, it was a literal interpretation of the definition sans connotation. –  Jack Ryan Sep 6 '13 at 13:38

15 Answers 15

up vote 21 down vote accepted

You may want to use oblivious.

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this word connotes forgetfulness rather than innocence I think. –  user49727 Sep 6 '13 at 7:27
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@user49727 I disagree that oblivious connotes forgetfulness. To me it's inattentiveness and lack of awareness, thus fitting the question nicely. –  ghoppe Sep 6 '13 at 16:44
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I have read "oblivious" used in this type of context several times. Depending on the context, it can be perfect. –  Paddy Landau Sep 6 '13 at 17:05
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I like this too. The big selling point for me is that it doesn't imply an intent to not know. The only downside I see is that oblivious is often used to describe a lack of knowledge of something that is currently happening. For the baby example, this works perfect. For the middle ages people, it may imply that cell phones existed, they just didn't know about them. I'm sure I could work around that implication though. Something along the lines of "People of the middle ages were oblivious to the fact that cell phones would one day exist." Thank you! –  Dryden Long Sep 6 '13 at 17:42

If you don't want negative connotations, perhaps simply describe them as unaware:

not aware or conscious; unconscious: to be unaware of any change.

Other possibilities include uninformed or incognizant.

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tabula rasa

blank slate

(for the present context) the OED defines this term as follows:

an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals; a clean slate:

the team did not have complete freedom and a tabula rasa from which to work

a mind not yet affected by experiences, impressions, etc.

a young mind not yet affected by experience

the mind in its hypothetical primary blank or empty state before receiving outside impressions

something existing in its original pristine state

cultural definition Something new, fresh, unmarked, or uninfluenced. Tabula rasa is Latin for “blank slate.”

Thus you could say: My mate is new to this corporate world of jealousy and hostility - he's a tabula rasa.

Example sentences from Collin's dictionary:

"But you don't start with a tabula rasa (clean slate), you have to deal with society as it is, and try to make constructive progress. TIMES, SUNDAY TIMES (2001)

It was on this tabula rasa , Picasso believed, that a new art form could originate. TIMES, SUNDAY TIMES (2002)

Porn, on the other hand, is a tabula rasa as far as greatness is concerned. Victoria Coren, Charlie Skelton ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING: HOW WE TRIED TO MAKE THE GREATEST PORN FILM EVER (2002)

With someone new, you're a tabula rasa , which has its charms for those who enjoy reinventing themselves. GLOBE AND MAIL (2003)

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I like this a lot, my only concern is that it may end up requiring a good deal of explanation (or definition) to the general public. +1 though, and I think I may be able to do something with the term "blank slate." –  Dryden Long Sep 5 '13 at 23:23
    
thanks - I've added the exact translation, which can be used in its own right. –  user49727 Sep 5 '13 at 23:29
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I think this really pushes the term into a usage that forces it to do a job it wasn't meant to do. Tabula rasa is specifically meant to indicate a completely blank slate, a mind which is entirely unformed. It is not supposed to apply merely to some portion of a mind or some aspect of a person's experience. To say that a person is a tabula rasa is to say that they have lost all mental information, or have not yet begun to store any. I would certainly not accept it as applying to something as highly specific as not having knowledge of cell phones. –  John M. Landsberg Sep 6 '13 at 6:48
    
This is not my invention. Please see example sentences in Collin's dictionary online. –  user49727 Sep 6 '13 at 7:22
    
If you understand the term, every one of those usages refers to the correct use of the term, not the one you are thinking. Without going into detail, each one refers to a COMPLETE blank slate, not a portion of anything. –  John M. Landsberg Sep 6 '13 at 7:44

I posted a comment rather than an answer earlier, because there are usually off-flavours when a word is shoehorned into a particular desired meaning. As OP keeps pointing out. 'Naive', I feel, does have a negative ('should know better') connotation (though the denotation need not carry that sense). 'Ignorant', though basically meaning 'not cognisant of some facts', does carry a strong connotation of 'barbaric'.

However, I'd use the term 'innocent' here - I think most people would rapidly discount the 'not guilty in the eyes of the law' sense - because a lot of the senses it carries (see reference below) overlap pretty well with OP's requirements. (In the words of a friend, 'All words are infinitely polysemous' - so you'll never find the perfect fit, with no possibility of undesired connotations - and we won't all totally agree on what those connotations are.)

in·no·cent (adj.)

  1. Uncorrupted by evil, malice, or wrongdoing; sinless: an innocent child.

2. a. Not guilty of a specific crime or offense; legally blameless: was innocent of all charges. b. Within, allowed by, or sanctioned by the law; lawful.

3. a. Not dangerous or harmful; innocuous: an innocent prank. b. Candid; straightforward: a child's innocent stare.

4. a. Not experienced or worldly; naive. b. Betraying or suggesting no deception or guile; artless.

5. a. Not exposed to or familiar with something specified; ignorant: American tourists wholly innocent of French. b. Unaware: She remained innocent of the complications she had caused.

6=6. Lacking, deprived, or devoid of something: a novel innocent of literary merit. [AHD]

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Since all your examples refer to the lack of a negative experience which can be considered positive (well, not entirely, there a negative experiences you cannot avoid forever, e.g. death), translations of the German word unverdorben might fit quite well:

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I would suggest uninitiated and unindoctrinated, as well as, in certain specific contexts, such as when you want to suggest that someone has not been damaged, misguided, or warped by the awareness of or adverse teachings of a prejudicial stance like racism, unspoiled or untainted.

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Consider uncomprehending

Not understanding; having little or no comprehension.

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Ah, sweet oblivion and the bliss of ignorance.

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The term I use to define this is "The uninitiated"

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+1, but please add a definition to your answer and possibly a source such as Wiktionary, m-w.com or the like. –  Jacobm001 Sep 6 '13 at 16:29

As Edwin Ashworth posted in the comments: innocent.

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Another apt word that applies is terra incognita.

an unexplored or unknown land, region, or area for study

unknown territory : an unexplored country or field of knowledge

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In the situation described by the OP, I'd be inclined to use the adjectival expressions nescient [of X], unexposed [to X], or unfamiliar [with X].

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@Mari-LouA - I've posted my thoughts on the thread you linked to. :-) –  Erik Kowal May 12 at 8:10

The idiom 'green behind the ears' come to mind.

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You mean "wet behind the ears," but in any case, that merely means "immature," and wouldn't work here. –  John M. Landsberg Sep 6 '13 at 6:38
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Maybe not John, but i still meant "green". Slight attitude difference between "green" and "wet". Wet necessarily means immature, while "green" has stronger undertones of not having yet reached a point of graduation. vocabulary.com/articles/wordroutes/green-behind-the-ears –  Ananth Sep 6 '13 at 7:29
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The vocabulary.com article supports John's point: “green behind the ears” is not actually an idiom, it's an idiom blend (two idioms mixed up together) or a fractured idiom (a humorous distortion of a real idiom) –  jwpat7 Sep 6 '13 at 14:57
  • blissfully anaware

An example: The small neck hugging collar and gathered shoulders create the perfect illusion of a dainty torso, and when tucked into a pair of high-waisted shorts a universally flattering silhouette is achieved. For the breastily gifted or those with none such gifts. For the brawny broad-shouldered lass or for one with no shoulders. For the young and fashion-forward and the blissfully unaware elderly alike.

Slightly off-topic: there is an expression that could be used to describe how the (bad) things such people are anaware of affect them:

  • like water off a duck's back
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Uncontaminated

Obviously you would have to use this term in a metaphorical sense. But the concept that one could live one's life untouched or contaminated by the need to possess worldly possessions, or be so pure in heart as to not know nor understand what evil is, is I believe, not a new one. I have not studied philosophy; I have not studied anthropology nor the science of human behaviour, but I have witnessed life, and for a time I used to believe in religion and wanted to follow its teachings and be "pure" and "free" of materialistic things. And then I realized I was living in the real world, and not one based on wishful thinking and dreams.

It's also called growing older and wiser.

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