# Publisher: Oxford University Press (March 17, 2005)
#Genre: Language Arts and Etymology
#Listen to the author on NPR
I think it would be fair to surmise that we have all loved someone romantically and then lost them. If we are honest with ourselves, even today we think back to that certain someone and although we don't feel the same way about them anymore, we are still able to conjure up that melancholic, bittersweet feeling when we think of them and the love that was shared. Now wouldn't it be great if we knew of one brilliant, succinct word to describe and capture that feeling we get when we think about the person we once loved and then lost? In English it's a hopeless task, what word can we possibly use that would effective describe that particular love? But the Russians have a word it and it's called razbliuto.
Then, how many times has it happened that some makes a witty remark in your presence and you're unable to come up with an equally witty rejoinder, but the minute you leave the room and you're walking down the stairs, you think of a smart retort, but too late! Again, is there any word in English that can quite describe this phenomenon? I think not, but the French have a word for it, it's called "espirit de l'escalier" an idiom which literally means a witty remark that occurs to you too late!
Razbliuto and Espirit de l'escalier are just two of many, many words that Christopher J. Moore (linguist) has collected from languages around the world for which there is no equivalent in the English language. He also sets out to translate expressions, words and phrases from different parts of the world that sometimes leave us feeling lost and confused.
Along with words like "schmuck" "Schadenfreude", "doppelganger" "sang-froid" etc, some of my other favorites were:
Taarradhin: Arabic has no word for "compromise" in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement. But a much happier concept, taarradhin, exists which implies a happy solution for everyone as in "I win, you win". It's a way of solving a problem without anyone losing face.
saudade:A kind of intense nostalgia that only Portuguese people are supposed to understand. In his 1912 book on Portugal, A.F.G. Bell writes: “The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning toward the past or toward the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.”
This book is a lot of fun and well put together. The words are arranged country-wise and divided into sections with a nice introduction to each section offering entertaining explanations and stories behind the words and the people that speak them. Buy a copy or borrow it from your library and you'll never be "lost in translation" again.
Also,I invite you to list your favorite foreign words/phrases and their meanings, I would really love to hear them. I found one in a short story in the New Yorker today, kæreste sorg—sweetheart sorrow—is danish to describe the sadness one feels at the thought of a love affair nearing its end. The story, also titled "Sweetheart Sorrow", is a great short story on language and identity and is by David Hoon Kim who makes his debut in the New Yorker.
(pic: Courtesy The New Yorker)
Finally, Chimananda Adichie, author of the tremendous book on the Nigerian Biafran War "Half of the Yellow Sun" has won the Orange Prize 2007 for literature. If you haven't already read her novel, I urge you to do so, you won't be disappointed! She gave a very nice interview to the Guardian UK lamenting the fact that the west doesn't "get" Africa. "..."What I find problematic is the suggestion that when, say, Madonna adopts an African child, she is saving Africa. It's not that simple. You have to do more than go there and adopt a child or show us pictures of children with flies in their eyes. That simplifies Africa. If you followed the media you'd think that everybody in Africa was starving to death, and that's not the case; so it's important to engage with the other Africa."
I think she's right and one of the ways we can engage with the "other" Africa is by reading novels written by Africans who live that life. Often (and I am very guilty of that) we will read about Africa through a foreigner's eyes... let the Africans tell their own stories is what Ms. Adichie is saying and I concur.