Friday, March 15, 2013

365 Days of Happy - Day 74

I would love to set foot on every continent on Earth. Heck, I would love to travel to space and set foot on the moon! Travel is in my blood. I inherited the travel bug from my mom. I feel whole when I'm in a different city. As much as I love being home, cozy in my bed with all my stuff surrounding me, there is something so thrilling and peaceful about existing in another country.

I found this work of art on Thought Catalog a few months ago, and I love it. It describes exactly why I, as a journalist, love traveling.

The Beauty of Untranslatable Words

By Alex Brueckner

I have been obsessed with language, both my native one and otherwise, ever since I learned to read. I've been a voracious reader my entire life, and in the past ten years, I've studied two languages, German and Japanese, in-depth, while delving into two others, Arabic and Spanish, for shorter, less dedicated stints. Now, I make a living out of trying to explain the labyrinth of the English language to Japanese high school students. I like words, to put it plainly.

And though there are about a million reasons that I'll call myself a lover of words, one of the main reasons lies within words that are untranslatable into any other language. Every language has them, words that just don't resonate correctly when you try to put them into a tongue other than that which originally expressed them.

Google 'untranslatable words' and you'll be greeted with dozens of lists of the 'top' foreign words that just can't be translated into English (of any other tongue, for that matter, if English isn't your first language).

The thing is, most of these words don't describe concepts that are completely foreign to society. Every person has felt 'l'esprit d'escalier' (literally, 'staircase wit'), or the feeling of thinking of the perfect comeback for an argument only after you've walked away, but we don't have a perfect term to describe it. Most men are probably familiar with the concept behind 'Drachenfutter,' or the gift a husband needs to buy to placate his wife when he's done something wrong. We've all told a 'jayus,' or a joke executed so badly that you can't help but laugh at it. If we've gone walking on a summer day, we've probably marveled at 'komorebi', or the way sunlight filters through leaves from above. There are words like 'mamihlapinatapei', which describes the look shared between two people who want a relationship, but are both too shy to initiate it. I'm willing to bet that every person has exchanged that glance with someone else. We've all felt the pain behind the Czech word 'litost,' or the unhappiness caused by seeing the person or thing responsible for our misery when we aren't expecting it. Then there's 'sobremesa,' a Portuguese word that is defined as the time you sit around after dinner, having finished eating, and just enjoy the presence of others' company. How many of us are guilty of leaving a bill unpaid for hours and just relaxing while a restaurant closes up around us?

There are dozens and hundreds more of these types of words. And save for a few exceptions, we probably all understand the concepts they represent and have felt for them ourselves. So why doesn't every culture have words like these ones, if they represent things that are relatable to all of us? The novelist Salman Rushdie once wrote on his novel Shame, 'To unlock a society, look at its untranslatable words.' How true is that? America is known for being a fairly unhealthy country; I know it's a fairly recently popularized term, but does any other language have a word that means 'food baby'?

Maybe all of our respective societies don't have the building blocks to express certain concepts, even if we feel them regularly. Or rather, they have certain aspects that specifically allow them to find the perfect term for something. Japanese parents are notorious for pushing their children towards academic perfection; maybe it's only natural that they'd have the word 'kyoikumama,' or a mother who does just that.

To be honest, though, maybe it's better if those words are untranslatable. Better to leave them in their original form, rather than translate them and leave something necessary out in the process. I wish we could start adopting those words, though, because I'd love to be able to use words like 'wabisabi,' or the Japanese concept of finding beauty in the imperfections of life and accepting them. Kind of like accepting that untranslatable words, as beautiful as they are, can't be said in our own languages.

The author mentions how he is a voracious reader, and I can completely relate to that. When I was in first grade, I read at a third grade level! I love books. I have shelves upon shelves of books in my room back home. Most of them I've read, some of them I'll get to, and a few of them I have just because. An old, dark green, dusty Jane Eyre book is one of those just because books. I wish I had more time to read.

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