When I was younger I was so fascinated by etymology and language that I thought I might like to become an etymologist or a linguist. I still have moments when I suddenly realize that two words share a root and suddenly their meaning makes so much more sense. I remember driving in Regina one day, after four years of film school, and suddenly piecing together why the word “nickelodeon” existed. Nickelodeons were places people could go in the early days of moving pictures to see a film. I learned about them in my film history class and for some reason it never clicked that they were called this because a nickel was the cost and an odeon was essentially an ancient greek theatre venue. When I tell my friends about these moments I wind up feeling a bit embarrassed because they all give me that look, and say things along the lines of “Really? You just figured that out NOW?” Deep down, I think they have moments just like this and only react this way to seem smart in front of other people.

In the long run my grammar didn’t become as strong as it should have and I feel like my vocabulary isn’t nearly as wide as I would like it to be. This is something I’m working on. I have an ongoing list of words that grows every time I read a book. New words to add to my vocabulary as I try to expand my knowledge of language and become a stronger writer. Despite the fact that there are so many words in the English language it manages to fall short in some ways. Ways that I don’t even realize until I do the research. There are quite a few ideas that English fails to find words for. We have long, awkward phrasings trying to describe certain sensations or feelings. We all have these strange, emotional moments that we understand conceptually but don’t have a word for. Or a type of person we are not quite able to describe. Once in a while, when I watch a quiz show or do a bit of reading, I discover that other languages have found words for some of these things. I get downright giddy when I read these words and realize that not only do other people experience these things, but enough do that cultures have found words for them. I really hope to add a few of these to my vocabulary until English manages to catch up.

Some of them are incredibly poetic.

Komorebi (Japanese) The sort of scattered, dappled light effect that happens when sunlight shines in through trees.

Gokotta (Swedish) To wake up early in the morning with the purpose of going outside to hear the first birds sing.

Aware (Japanese) The bittersweetness of a brief and fading moment of transcendent beauty.

Some are downright practical and efficient.

Tretar (Swedish) The second refill (third cup in a row) of coffee. (A patar is the first refill.)

Prozvonit (Czech) To call a mobile phone only to have it ring once so that the other person would call back allowing the caller not to spend money on minutes.

And some, to an English speaker, seem sort of funny.

Gattara (Italian) A woman, often old and lonely, who devotes herself to stray cats.

Age-otori (Japanese) To look worse after a haircut.

Tingo (Pascuense) The act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.

These are a few I found that I thought were particularly interesting. I think all of them are beautiful simply because they manage to express an idea that English has been unable to. Most of these are singular things and ideas but for some reason, in its fumbling and awkward way, English fails to describe them efficiently. I’ve seen other examples around (and I’ll post the links where I found these below) but these caught my interest today. Hopefully as I read and research in the future, I’ll find some words to describe my own complex feelings. A word for the excitement of suddenly realizing the origin of a word. Or maybe a word for the kind of people who pretend to know things that you mention to them, just so they can look smart around others.




One thought on “Untranslatable

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s