Monday, October 27, 2008

13 cool words not found in the English language

Yuri sent me this link from The Urban Recluse about words from other languages that have no direct English analogy. There is a name for them, and I can't remember it for the life of me. Although some of the definitions below are thin (Duende, for example, which I've studied quite a bit), they are still workable. To find more examples like these opens my mind in a pleasant and invigorating way. I have copy/pasted the list below.

I've studied many of these kinds of words in the course of my writing (career? -- avocation?) life, and it has always been enormously and surprisingly eye-opening for me. The cliche example of how different language and thought can be culture-to-culture (and, apparently erroneous one) is all the words the Eskimo use to describe snow.

Even though I normally lose the word after a time, the concepts tend to stay with me. I remember a concept from a Hindi word that means roughly, "the importance of small talk in a community." Small talk is sometimes scoffed at in our culture as a waste of time, but in a different culture it is seen as necessary and healthy -- it is understood in an entirely different way.

Words like this can be a direct illustration of how radically different a world view cultures and language create -- deep, fundamental beliefs and perspectives. I have had the experience, while studying some of these types of words, of bumping into a belief that I never realized was [simply] cultural, and took as fundamentally true. I could then question that belief. It can be mind blowing to digest if you are in the right head space.


These words do not have direct equivalents in English. Some of them would definitely be useful for us English-speakers, what do you think?

1. Waldeinsamkeit (German): the feeling of being alone in the woods

2. Ilunga (Tshiluba, Congo): a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time

3. Taarradhin (Arabic): a way of resolving a problem without anyone losing face (not the same as our concept of a compromise - everyone wins)

4. Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery

5. Esprit de l’escalier (French): a witty remark that occurs to you too late, literally on the way down the stairs…

6. Meraki (Greek): doing something with soul, creativity, or love

7. Yoko meshi (Japanese): literally ‘a meal eaten sideways’, referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language:

8. Duende (Spanish): a climactic show of spirit in a performance or work of art, which might be fulfilled in flamenco dancing, or bull-fighting, etc.

9. Guanxi (Mandarin): in traditional Chinese society, you would build up good guanxi by giving gifts to people, taking them to dinner, or doing them a favour, but you can also use up your gianxi by asking for a favour to be repaid.

10. Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions

11. Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island): to borrow objects one by one from a neighbour's house until there is nothing left

12. Radioukacz (Polish): a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain

13. Selathirupavar (Tamil): a word used to define a certain type of absence without official leave in face of duty

Of course, I’m just relying on the accuracy of online resources for this information, if you speak any of these languages please let me know if there are any errors or inaccuracies above.

Update: Sources were Times Online and NPR




Anonymous said...

Having been a Pochemuchka much of my life, I'm glad to know there's one word for it! I love these...more, more! Great way to see one's own mind and assumptions without traveling (still the best way) -- va momma

Bpaul said...

I have contacted an old poetry professor who had a whole book of these, AND knows what the damned correct word is for them.

Hoping he gets back to me, and I'll b uy a book and make it a regular thing on the blog. I love them.

Shocho said...

I am reminded of the wonderful Spanish teacher I had for several years, who taught me that there is no such thing as a synonym. Little, tiny, small, petite... they all have distinct meanings. So each word in every language is like its own special snowflake.

I am also somehow reminded to tell the KFC/A&W near my old house that my name is "Carlos," because there is no way the Spanish-speaking people working there can pronounce "Chuck."

Bentley said...

Shocho: I work around a lot of ESL (english as a second language) people, mostly japanese

so i always get "BENTORII SAN!" (instead just just Bentley)

matt_stansberry said...

I'm feeling Ilunga about this election cycle.