Tag Archives: words

Definitions without words (all suggestions welcome)

A while ago I came across this list of 20 untranslatable words (look up “tartle” and “mamihlapinatapei”). It got me thinking about other circumstances that happen regularly enough in the modern world to deserve a name and definition of their own.

So I’ve started on a list of modern Liff*, which I’ll update, and I’m hoping that other people might want to contribute – words for definitions or just definitions alone.

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The feeling of impending doom as you open a yoghurt and realise it’s about to explode on you.

On getting in the bath, settling in the hot water and leaning back before realising with a lurch that your towel is downstairs and the house is freezing.

A creeping, retch-inducing fart on a tightly-packed train that the pretty girl sitting in the priority seat is clearly blaming on you, when in fact she may well be the culprit.

The feeling of intense frustration you get for the person walking very slowly up the escalator in front of you.

That bizarre pantomime of exaggerated innocence you adopt near a shop door, because you’re convinced the Tesco security guard thinks you’re about to shoplift some baby spinach and a packet of spaghetti.

A furtive glance to see if anyone saw what you just did.

Seeing the shape of someone’s ear in the patina of grease on their touch screen phone.

Trying to open a kitchen drawer that is wedged shut thanks to a poorly stashed potato masher or cheese grater.

The sudden realisation that the reason the person you’re talking to is completely off their tits and that’s why they keep telling you about themselves.

A look shared between subordinates, realising that their boss has had a glass too much wine at lunch and is about to mess something up.

Realising that you’ve been singing to yourself and there’s someone walking right behind you.

The gentle slapping noise and associated choking caused by a wet tea bag hitting you on the lip as you finish the last bit of a herbal tea.

On replying instead of forwarding your sarcastic response to an annoying email.

The feeling that you get in that split second in the morning when you see that its going to be sunny today.

Getting to work and realising you’ve left your mobile at home.

The sort of half-run you do for a few paces after tripping up so it looks like you meant to do it.

That thing you do when you nearly walk into someone walking down the street, then dodge left and right in synch until someone get’s annoyed or embarrassed to stop and show you the way past them.

Realising your pin number is not the correct code to turn off the office alarm, and that the police are on their way.

“Typoo” – nonsensical typing mistake possibly related to predictive text and/or fat fingers and touch screens.

‎”Joggle” – verb
Peculiar style of running employed when trying to move down a busy street at speed whilst dodging people, pets and other unforeseen obstacles.

“Mornesia” – That thing one sometimes does in the morning where cornflakes get put in the fridge, milk in the dishwasher, and the bowl in the bin.

noun.— ‘Me-bop’
On waking, a satisfying percussive rhythm played with cupped hands on the male belly.

verb.— ‘Vafting’:
The simple act of repeatedly pushing water forward with one hand, and at the same time, backwards with the other hand creating a mini vortex around your body whilst sitting in a bath, in order to mix freshly added hot or cold water.

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*This sort of thing was first done in The Meaning of Liff. If it’s not already a part of your life, then it should be – Douglas Adams and John Lloyd taking odd place names and giving them meanings)

20 untranslatable words

(via matadornetwork)

“There are at least 250,000 words in the English language. However, to think that English – or any language – could hold enough expression to convey the entirety of the human experience is as arrogant of an assumption as it is naive.

Here are a few examples of instances where other languages have found the right word and English simply falls speechless.

1. Toska
Russian – Vladmir Nabokov describes it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

2. Mamihlapinatapei
Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start”

3. Jayus
Indonesian – “A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh”

4. Iktsuarpok
Inuit – “To go outside to check if anyone is coming.”

5. Litost
Czech – Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, remarked that “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” The closest definition is a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.

6. Kyoikumama
Japanese – “A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement”

7. Tartle
Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.

8. Ilunga
Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”

9. Prozvonit
Czech – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish, the phrase for this is “Dar un toque,” or, “To give a touch.”

10. Cafuné
Brazilian Portuguese – “The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.”

11. Schadenfreude
German – Quite famous for its meaning that somehow other languages neglected to recognize, this refers to the feeling of pleasure derived by seeing another’s misfortune. I guess “America’s Funniest Moments of Schadenfreude” just didn’t have the same ring to it.

12. Torschlusspanik
German – Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.”

13. Wabi-Sabi
Japanese – Much has been written on this Japanese concept, but in a sentence, one might be able to understand it as “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.”

14. Dépaysement
French – The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country.

15. Tingo
Pascuense (Easter Island) – Hopefully this isn’t a word you’d need often: “the act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.”

16. Hyggelig
Danish – Its “literal” translation into English gives connotations of a warm, friendly, cozy demeanor, but it’s unlikely that these words truly capture the essence of a hyggelig; it’s likely something that must be experienced to be known. I think of good friends, cold beer, and a warm fire.

17. L’appel du vide
French – “The call of the void” is this French expression’s literal translation, but more significantly it’s used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.

18. Ya’aburnee
Arabic – Both morbid and beautiful at once, this incantatory word means “You bury me,” a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

19. Duende
Spanish – While originally used to describe a mythical, spritelike entity that possesses humans and creates the feeling of awe of one’s surroundings in nature, its meaning has transitioned into referring to “the mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person.” There’s actually a nightclub in the town of La Linea de la Concepcion, where I teach, named after this word.

20. Saudade
Portuguese – One of the most beautiful of all words, translatable or not, this word “refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.” Fado music, a type of mournful singing, relates to saudade.

For myself, the hardest part about learning a new language isn’t so much getting acquainted with the translations of vocabulary and different grammatical forms and bases, but developing an inner reflex that responds to words’ texture, not their translated “ingredients”. When you hear the word “criminal” you don’t think of “one who commits acts outside the law,” but rather the feeling and mental imagery that comes with that word.

Thus these words, while standing out due to our inability to find an equivalent word in out own language, should not be appreciated for our own words that we try to use to describe them, but for their own taste and texture. Understanding these words should be like eating the best slab of smoked barbequeued ribs: the enjoyment doesn’t come from knowing what the cook put in the sauce or the seasoning, but from the full experience that can only be created by time and emotion.”

Name that tune

On a cool, clear night (typical to Southern California) Warren G travels through his neighborhood, searching for women with whom he might initiate sexual intercourse. He has chosen to engage in this pursuit alone.

Nate Dogg, having just arrived in the east side of Long Beach, seeks Warren. On his way to find Warren, Nate passes a car full of women who are excited to see him. Regardless, he insists to the women that there is no cause for excitement.

Warren makes a left turn at 21st Street and Lewis Ave, in the East Hill/Salt Lake neighborhood, where he sees a group of young men enjoying a game of dice together. He parks his car and greets them. He is excited to find people to play with, but to his chagrin, he discovers they intend to relieve him of his material possessions. Once the hopeful robbers reveal their firearms, Warren realizes he is in a less than favorable predicament.

Meanwhile, Nate passes the women, as they are low on his list of priorities. His primary concern is locating Warren. After curtly casting away the strumpets (whose interest in Nate was such that they crashed their automobile), he serendipitously stumbles upon his friend, Warren G, being held up by the young miscreants.

Warren, unaware that Nate is surreptitiously observing the scene unfold, is in disbelief that he is being robbed. The perpetrators have taken jewelry and a Rolex Watch from Warren, who is so incredulous that he asks what else the robbers intend to steal. This is most likely a rhetorical question.

Observing these unfortunate proceedings, Nate realizes that he may have to use his firearm to deliver his friend from harm.

The tension crescendos as the robbers point their guns to Warren’s head. Warren senses the gravity of his situation. He cannot believe the events unfolding could happen in his own neighborhood. As he imagines himself making a fantastical escape, he catches a glimpse of his friend, Nate.

Nate has seventeen cartridges (sixteen residing in the pistol‘s magazine, with a solitary round placed in the chamber and ready to be fired) to expend on the group of robbers. Afterward, he generously shares the credit for neutralizing the situation with Warren, though it is clear that Nate did all of the difficult work. Putting congratulations aside, Nate quickly reminds himself that he has committed multiple homicides to save Warren before letting his friend know that there are females nearby if he wishes to fornicate with them.

Warren recalls that it was the promise of copulation that coaxed him away from his previous activities, and is thankful that Nate knows a way to satisfy these urges. Nate quickly finds the women who earlier crashed their car on Nate’s account. He remarks to one that he is fond of her physical appeal. The woman, impressed by Nate’s singing ability, asks that he and Warren allow her and her friends to share transportation. Soon, both friends are driving with automobiles full of women to the East Side Motel, presumably to consummate their flirtation in an orgy.

The third verse is more expository, with Warren and Nate explaining their G Funk musical style. Warren displays his bravado by daring anyone to approach the style. There follows a brief discussion of the genre’s musicological features, with special care taken to point out that in said milieu the rhythm is not in fact the rhythm, as one might assume, but actually the bass. Similarly the bass serves a purpose closer to that which the treble would in more traditional musical forms. Nate displays his bravado by claiming that individuals with equivalent knowledge could not even attempt to approach his level of lyrical mastery. Nate goes on to note that if any third party smokes as he does, they would find themselves in a state of intoxication almost daily (from Nate’s other works, it can be inferred that the substance referenced is marijuana). Nate concludes his delineation of the night by issuing a threat to “busters,” suggesting that he and Warren will further “regulate” any potential incidents in the future (presumably by engaging their antagonists with small arms fire).

Regulate (song) – Wikipedia

(via Day of the Dreamers)