The Gift of Words

Dickinson on Words

There’s been so many words of hate and fear unleashed in the world recently that this holiday season I’d like to share some that can bring us together, not tear us apart. They all come from an utterly wonderful book by Ella Frances Sanders called Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World, which I discovered through Maria Popova’s equally wonderful website brainpickings.

As Sanders writes in her introduction: “The words in this book may be answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask, and perhaps some you did. They might pinpoint emotions and experiences that seemed elusive and indescribable,” but are, in fact, part of our common human experience. And as such, Sanders says, they are reminders, that [we] are fundamentally, intrinsically bound to every single person on the planet with language and with feelings.”

So while we’re surrounded by divisive words, here’s some that can remind us of what we all share—especially if we’re word and book lovers.

Dutch adjective

Dutch adjective

Italian verb

Italian verb

Untranslatable Boketto

Japanese noun

Urdu noun

Urdu noun

Now here’s hoping that this holiday season gives you lots of time to commouvere and is filled with much gezellig boketto and goya. And may next year bring more peace on earth and good will toward men.

16 thoughts on “The Gift of Words

  1. Thank you, Vicki. Good words are in short supply in the news. These are a good antidote.

    I have this book and love it, too, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it with kids. I think they’d like it. Do you know THE DICTIONARY OF OBSCURE SORROWS on YouTube? I love that project, too. While too “heady”– perhaps–for the age kids in my teaching life now, kids need words to describe their feelings/aspirations/identities, too; I wonder what might happen if kids were to create words for themselves, like THE DICTIONARY has done, and like the search in other languages that the author of TRANSLATIONS as done? Would the kids notice the words that already exist even more AFTER they created a few themselves? Would the rich idea of “connotations” have greater meaning? Would they learn to build words from pieces of other words, thereby experiencing the process of how languages grow and change? Just musing…

    • No surprise that you have this book, too, Steve – and have wondered about what kids would do if they were invited to create words to express things we have no words for. And now that you got me musing . . . maybe first describe something you wish there was a word for (like I feel a real need in this world of ours for a word that means choosing to not live fearfully despite sometimes being afraid). I think kids could have a lot of fun with it, maybe coming up with a word for the feeling of knowing you have to tell your parents something they didn’t want to hear (like a bad grade or visit to the principal’s office) or a word to describe a kind of wind on the prairie. Anyway – let me know if you try it & in the meantime enjoy the almost here break!

    • Thanks, Tara. And this gives me a chance to thank you for the poem you put up a short while ago by Maria Maziotti Gillian. I’ve used her poems with kids before because she’s so great a writing from a child’s perspective. And this one I didn’t know.

  2. I love that you included the Dutch word gezellig! I’m an American teacher living in Amsterdam now and on leave from teaching. I am trying to learn Dutch, which has given me a lot of empathy for what my students who struggled to read went through. I love reading your blog posts. They help me feel connected to the world of teaching.

    • Thanks, Suzanne. And, yes, trying to learn a language is always – for me, at least – an experience in humility, which is so important to have every now and then, especially when you’re in a place like Amsterdam where so many people speak multiple languages. So best of luck with Dutch! And may you have lots of gezellig times with family and friends over the holidays!

  3. Vicki,
    Every time you post, I know that I’m about to get treated to some humane, wise, and thought-provoking ideas. Thank you so much for this, and for everything! XO

    • Oh, the Greeks! There’s a great Greek word in Lost in Translation: meraki, which Ella Sanders says means “pouring yourself wholeheartedly into something, such as cook, and doing so with soul, creativity and love.” Seems connection to the idea of agathos – and I love a culture that’s built around passion and hope instead of anger and fear, which seems like where we’re headed.

    • Thanks, Jama. And having just popped over to see your blog, I need, as a tea drink, to thank you for a quote: “A cup of tea is a cup of peace.” I’ll be thinking of that this afternoon when I fill up the kettle!

    • Thanks, Catherine. I think I need a word to describe the wonderful friendships and sense of connection I feel to online friends like you & Collette. It’s really special—and quite gezellig!

  4. Beautiful! Such a great way to lift spirits in such hard times around the world. Thank you for this insight!! Best wishes for the new year! Will definitely be keeping tabs on your site! I love blogs that come from such a good place! xx

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