Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Untranslatable Words

A few beautiful and profound words used in other languages. 

Schadenfreude (German): the satisfaction we find in another person’s failure or suffering. The source of the pleasure (which in polite circles we are supposed to find shameful) is at heart simply relief (rather than nastiness): that another person has been shown to be, like oneself, inadequate and unfortunate.

Litost (Czech): the humiliated despair we feel when someone accidentally reminds us, through their accomplishment, of everything that has gone wrong in our lives. They casually allude to a luxurious house they are renting for the holidays. They mention the glamorous friends they have had for dinner. We feel searing self-pity at the scale of our inadequacies.

Toska (Russian): a refined, elevated and appalling kind of boredom. One is bored not by lack of appealing stimulants but by the very things that are supposed to be interesting: creativity, wit, intelligence, history, the universe. In its religious sense, one is bored by God. Nowadays, we might say – with far less dignity and resonance – that we are depressed.

 Friolero (Spanish): having a special sensitivity to cold. Being friolero doesn’t imply criticism. It’s like being left-handed or lactose intolerant: just a fact about you. The word is affectionate, some of one’s favourite people might be especially friolero – and therefore in special need of blankets and hugs.

Wabi-Sabi (Japanese): the quality of being attractive because of being imperfect in some way. Instead of getting annoyed and upset by imperfections, which are experienced as spoiling something, wabi-sabi suggests that we should see the flaw itself as being part of what is charming. Can apply to pots, furniture, houses – and whole lives.

 Ya’aburnee (Arabic): The desire to die before another person, because of how unbearable it would be to learn of their death. A sense frequently experienced around one’s children.

See the full list of words here!

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