Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Word

Last week I wrote about synaesthesia, a confusion of the senses that leads people to see and describe the world in strange and interesting ways, ascribing texture to color, scents to sounds and so on. A number of great poets and novelists have had this condition, drawing attention to both the beauty and the limits of language for expressing ourselves. Language carries culture, identity, ideology, dreams, emotions, entire worlds. And some languages have a knack for capturing concepts that elude all others, as if there is one, and one word only in all of existence that can define a particular idea, sensation or experience. Here’s an interesting article that pulls together a great selection from the global vocabulary. Words like this make the world a richer place, perhaps worth dropping into your next water cooler conversation:

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.

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

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

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

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.