To learn and love a language.

My vocabulary is beginning to improve. I treasure each acquisition, remembering the exact circumstances—time, place, company—under which it was made. English is a trust fund, an unearned inheritance, but I’ve worked for every bit of French I’ve banked… 

Schnapsidee—the way a German would describe a plan he’d hatched under the influence of alcohol. Pilkunnussija—Finnish for “comma fucker,” a grammar pedant. In Mundari, ribuy-tibuy refers to the sight, sound, and motion of a fat person’s buttocks. Jayus, in Indonesian, denotes a joke told so poorly that people can’t help but laugh. Knullrufs is Swedish for “post-sex hair.” Gümüş servi means “moonlight shining on the water” in Turkish. Culaccino is the Italian word for the mark left on a table by a cold glass. 

Words like these are marvellous. We make lists of them, compile them into treasuries, trade them over any dinner table at which holders of various passports have convened. (The German, armed with Kummerspeck—“grief bacon”—will always win the day.) They’re fun to say. They’re funny to think about, in their Seinfeldian particularity. They expand and concentrate the world, making it bigger-spirited while at the same time more specific. In Russian, you can’t call the sky “blue.” The language obliges its speakers to make a distinction between siniy (dark blue) and goluboy (light blue), so that what is in English one color becomes in Russian two.

— from Lauren Collins, Love In Translation. Go and read the whole thing; it’s very much worth the investment.

Perqs of the job.

Guess what? It’s not “perks” of the job. It’s perqs! Short for “perquisites”.*

Not to be confused with “prerequisites” … Although the two do share the same Latin root: perquisite = perquīsītum and prerequisite = prerequīsītus, both modified past participles of “sought for”.

See also: “request” (requarere: to seek) and “require” (requīrer: to search for). Which explains why we ask questions  (request) when we seek (require) answers, and when we’re searching for something, we go on a “quest” (quaesītus).**

In other words, there is a definite connection between what you ask for and the perqs you get.

So thank you, StarTalk, for delivering this enlightenment straight to my inbox. And to think, if I’d only heard it in the podcast and never seen it written, I’d be none the wiser.

And the moral to that story is: read your emails.

 

*Who knew? My computer even tried to autocorrect the title of this post.
**Disclaimer: My knowledge of Latin is close to nil, informed only by etymological investigations, so feel free to challenge me on any of this.

List: Untranslation.

“A foot brushes your ankle on a peak-hour bus
Someone’s hand on the small of your back as they pass
A shopkeeper’s fingers while handing you change
Can lightly brush yours without feeling too strange.

But why I felt so alive I can’t quite determine
There could be a word to explain it in German…”

Elbows, Darren Hanlon.

I feel I’m forever hearing that non-English languages are much better at describing profoundly complex, delicately nuanced concepts with simple, single words and phrases.

The example that comes to mind is the Japanese phrase mono no aware, which I first heard described as “the bittersweet impermanence of all things, as epitomised by the beautifully brief cherry-blossom season”.*

{ from Wordstuck, which you should definitely be following }

Such an astonishingly complex description of a profoundly human condition. To encapsulate so much meaning in six syllables is a truly adept feat of human language. In a word, deft.

The internet, often visually, alerts me to other lovely and/or gigglesome examples:


{ vague and nebulous }

large
{ via weheartit }





{ more from Wordstuck }

Not-so-plain English

The thing is, English is also riddled with magical words that somehow pinpoint un-pin-downable ideas. One need only read one of Mark Forsyth’s books (or just his blog, actually) to realise that. If you’ve thought “there should be a word for that” it’s quite likely there is a word in English for it. But it’s also quite likely that word has fallen into disuse — from lack of utility, or despite its seemingly timeless utility.

This, of course, is my cue to again poke you in the ribs and encourage a reading (or rereading) of Reading the OED. Having done so, I’d include apricity (the pleasant warmth of the sun in winter) in my active vocabulary for at least half of the year if it was fashionable to do so.** Living in any city, you would think there are plenty of occasions to use peristeronic (adj., suggestive of pigeons), solivagant (n., one who wanders about alone) and fornale (v., to spend all one’s money before it has been earned). But nobody does. And then we muse wistfully about the rambling-cottage-garden–like magnanimity of other languages, when it seems we’ve wilfully whittled our own language into something simpler and less eloquent, in some sort of 1984-ish search for efficiency.

Humbly untranslatable

Where things really get interesting is at the subtler, simpler level — the different between different varieties of regular, everyday English. On her blog Separated By A Common Language, M. Lynne Murphy has a semi-regular (annual) summary of “untranslatables”: UK English words that have no apparent natural analogue in US English — and vice versa. Many aren’t even as endemic as slang — think punter (UK) and trailer trash (US) rather than ma’m and rad.

The most fascinating realisation, as an Australian proofreader: although AU English often seems terribly akin to UK English while sharing traits that some would call “super American”, most of these untranslatables seem completely native to me — and I’m astounded to think that any native English speaker wouldn’t feel the same. Only Americans eyeball things rather than measuring them accurately? Americans don’t fancy other people in the romantic sense?

Then again, most of the 2012 untranslatables I’d never heard of at all (crunchy-earthy? GUBBINS?) so perhaps I just need to get out more. Who’d like to sponsor my extended transatlantic holida– …erm, research trip?*** I might have a touch of the old wanderlust. Itchy feet. Fernweh.

*Japanese also gives us kintsukuroi:
tumblr_mvhzylzYaE1qfvq9bo1_500
My mother is a potter, and as a little girl I was quite enamoured with those seemingly organic veins of gold winding through otherwise stony ceramics.

**Okay, so I do anyway.

***I might have said vacati– here, to the same effect. But Australia favours the British option here, and so must I.

An A–Z of Unusual Words.

I have noticed that other people are also noticing — and illustrating — the obscure, almost-forgotten corners of our language. Wallflower words, if you will. So rather than wax lyrical I’ll just share visuals, from The Project Twins A–Z of Unusual Words.

These images explore the meaning behind the words, which are sometimes even more strange or unusual. This project explores the synthesis between form and content, and words and images with the aim of producing work that is both visually interesting and informative.

Dactylion: An anatomical landmark located at the tip of the middle finger…
(Relevant to those who practise yoga.)

Montivagant: Wandering over hills and mountains…
(Relevant to those afflicted with bucolic wanderlust.)

Pogonotrophy: The act of cultivating, or growing and grooming, a moustache, beard, sideburns or other facial hair…
(Relevant in this charitably hairy month.)

Vernalagnia: A romantic mood brought on by Spring…
(Seasonally relevant, depending on your hemisphere.)

PS. The Project Twins also did a completely charming piece — “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” — for the completely charming Illustrated Beatles collection.

Wallflower Words: Koan (n.)

Wallflower Words is a series of Proof (v.) posts dedicated to beautiful but under-appreciated and seldom-encountered words. Those that are never invited to dance at the parlance party; those that deserve more exposure than is currently afforded by contemporary trends in popular English. This is their turn on the dancefloor.

The Word: Koan (n.)

Huh? In Zen Buddhist theory and study, a koan is a paradox proposed for the purpose of confounding the mind into an unthinking stupor, whereupon the stupefied mind becomes so stupefied as to enter a whole new level of conscious, awakened thought.

As in?


And? Well, at 3.28 on a Tuesday afternoon we could all do with more mental stimulation, lest we be trapped forever in The Long, Dark Tea-Time of The Soul.

We might also like to remember that there is a moral to every story.

We might ALSO like to remember that animated introspective thought might never produce a finite answer.

And I need a name for that process of suddenly realising the answer to 14-down in the cryptic crossword a full 5 hours after I began puzzling over the clue.

See also:

Wallflower Words: Liminal (adj.)
Wallflower Words: Saturnine (a./ n.)
Wallflower Words: Quantise (v.)
Wallflower Words: Vitriol (n.)

Wallflower Words: Vitriol (n.)

Wallflower Words is a series of Proof (v.) posts dedicated to beautiful but under-appreciated and seldom-encountered words. Those that are never invited to dance at the parlance party; those that deserve more exposure than is currently afforded by contemporary trends in popular English. This is their turn on the dancefloor.

The Word: Vitriol (n.)

Huh? Originally, referred to sulphates of metals in general (iron vitriol, copper vitriol, sulphur vitriol &c.). Subsequently, ‘vitriol’ became a specifically synonymous term for sulphuric acid (aka. Oil of Vitriol). Hence, ‘vitriol’ in its currently popular role, as an apt reference to bitterly abusive language or vituperation: nothing short of spitting, spiteful, acerbic, acidic ire.

As in? Give it a little bit of vitriol!


And? ‘Vitriolic’ has a nice Sherlockian ring to it. AND it is formed naturally in the upper atmospheres of Venus and Europa, which I consider to be a particularly cool triviality. AND, Bluejuice played at Big Day Out! AND they were awesome. As in… they were all dressed like Quentin Tarantino’s The Bride! (aka. Beatrix Kiddo; aka. Black Mamba; aka. Mommy)

14158__uma12_l
{ via Entertainment Weekly }

Now THERE’S a woman with vitriol!

See also:

Wallflower Words: Liminal (adj.)
Wallflower Words: Saturnine (a./ n.)
Wallflower Words: Quantise (v.)

Wallflower Words: Quantise (v.)

Wallflower Words is a series of Proof (v.) posts dedicated to beautiful but under-appreciated and seldom-encountered words. Those that are never invited to dance at the parlance party; those that deserve more exposure than is currently afforded by contemporary trends in popular English. This is their turn on the dancefloor.


The Word: Quantise (v.)

[or Quantize (v.), depending on your hemisphere]

Huh? To divide into discrete units or into the smallest possible component parts; to express in terms of quanta.

As in? Solace, quantised. Not really. More like “Could you kindly quantise how many times you have rewatched Quantum of Solace?”. [I could not]. Or “Please quantise the expression on your face while listening to The xx on new birthday earphones”.

Again, I shurely could not.

And? Well, it just sounds cooler than ‘quantify’, despite being more or less synonymous. Note to self: preference ‘quantise’ whenever possible. Especially when describing nerdy, spacey, technobabble [<alt=“cool”>]stuff.


See also:

Wallflower Words: Liminal (adj.)
Wallflower Words: Saturnine (a./ n.)