Saturday, November 6, 2010

Untranslatable Words

Everybody tells me that I should learn a language. It's the trendy thing to do. Wouldn't it be amazing to go to some remote village in Bolivia and speak to the locals, and find out about their lives?

Well no, frankly. At the moment, if you put me in a truck stop in the middle of Nevada, I am completely capable of speaking to the locals and finding out about their lives, which are surely quite different from mine.

And yet I don't want to. I feel like a slightly lesser person for not wanting this, but that alone doesn't get me over the hill. And somehow, I can't imagine this feeling changing when the locals are in some godforsaken part of a foreign country.

Still, there is one legitimately cool thing about learning foreign languages - finding out about awesome words that English doesn't have an equivalent for.

But thanks to Jonah Goldberg's G-File, I don't actually have to go to the hassle of learning to get this cool! Here's a fascinating list of 20 'untranslatable' words, which they really mean 'words which require a whole sentence to describe, as the single word version of the concept doesn't exist'. A really untranslatable word would be, well, untranslatable.

My favourite:
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.”
Huh. That does warrant a separate word.For all its faults, Russia sure has some interesting cultural ideas.

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