Anyone who has spoken a second (or third or fourth) language has been faced with that one beautifully tricky word that just won’t translate into any other. In Afrikaans, if you’re feeling sickly, you would say you feel naar, where the closest English translation is nauseous. Go on, Google Translate this baby – typing it in Afrikaans won’t even yield an appropriate result. And while you can nail this one down to a single corresponding English word, the feeling behind it all is missing. The deep and stomach-crunching pain of naarheid just doesn’t translate.
What’s even more ironic is that English is the thief of all languages! We beg, borrow, steal (we go easy on the begging, really), and pick and choose from whatever other language suits. French? Gee, thanks guys but déjà-vu is now ours. Oh, and we’ll take ballet and sabotage while we’re at it. Greek? Cheers, we’ll have thermos and phobia. And don’t you Germans think you’re getting away with it! We’ll show you and take poodle! And if that’s the case then we might as well grab zero from Arabic. But damn it English, you let some gems slip through your fingers! One reason for this might be that these magnificent words are so incredibly difficult to translate. I just call it laziness on our part:
Ever had your heart broken? Lost a loved one? Saudade is the word that describes how you’ve felt. It translates most closely to the feeling of longing for something (or someone) that you have lost.
We all have a friend (or boyfriend, or father – yes, it’s probably a man), who tells the most horrendous jokes. Whether you emit an awkward giggle, or burst out laughing simply because the joke is so bad, this word describes it. Your reaction I mean, not the joke.
Your husband coming home from the army, your mom coming back from a holiday, your owner coming back from the corner store (this one’s for all dogs out there) – these moments tend to lead to an intense anticipation, causing you to constantly look outside to see if anyone is coming. Thank you iktsaurpok, we now have a name for it.
Feeling that biological clock ticking? Have you finished that last essay in the exam? Have you done everything you always wanted to do with your life? Gosh, has your basketball team got enough seconds left on the clock to pull off a win? Torschlusspanik is the panic associated with feeling that your time is running out.
Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan, from Tierra del Fuego)
This is undoubtedly my favorite. In the Guinness Book of World Records as “the most succinct” word in existence, it describes a look that passes between two people, both of them knowing what the other one wants but neither of them willing to make the first move. It’s a magical expression that is ridiculously hard to pin down, and can be connected to everything from a shy look between two would-be lovers, to a fierce one between two competitors.
Don’t get me wrong, poodle is great and all but there’s a part of me that looks at this list with the longing equivalent of a prisoner craving freedom, or a junkie craving a fix. I want these words. They are the embodiment of what language is supposed to be: a way of expressing fleeting moments and lasting feelings that exist only as pictures in our heads or hearts. So this is my petition. I am hypothetically standing in front of the buildings of every English dictionary in the world, placard in hand, demanding the immediate theft of these words. Learning how to pronounce them will be my next task.