green_grrl: (SG1_JDWhat)
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This Friday editorial is fun, plain and simple. The staff of The Week compiled 14 wonderful words with no English equivalent, and the headline is entirely accurate.

For all that James Nicoll's joke is true—English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary—there are still so many concepts we don't have words for in English. Sometimes these are locally influenced, such as distinct terms for snow in Inuktitut or for sweet potatoes in Hawaiian, but other times there are new ways of looking at life that other languages bring to the fore by naming them. How many of these words do you want to kidnap?

The list of words chosen for the article starts off with shemomedjamo, a Georgian word the authors define as "I accidentally ate the whole thing." Despite a classic ad campaign by Alka Seltzer in 1969 highlighting this concept, we never created a word for it. If I can learn to pronounce it, shemomedjamo will be just the thing to pull out at Thanksgiving!

There was one word on the list I'd heard of before, the Scots tartle, which is "that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can't quite remember." Of course where I'd previously seen it was on a list of foreign words we don't have an English equivalent for, but it's so irresistibly relatable, isn't it?

English speakers on the internet have recently coined and popularized the phrase "embarrassment squick," but apparently fremdschämen (German) and myötähäpeä (Finnish) long pre-date it. I'm going to try to work fremdschämen into my vocabulary—it's a feeling I'm very susceptible to, and the German version is lighter on the umlauts.

Thanks to judicious choices and excellent definitions, every one of the 14 words on the list is understandable, even though English doesn't have an equivalent word. Not every one is easily spellable or pronounceable, so they might not all catch on, but they are fun to read.

Linguistic anthropology proposes that languages influence thought and social behavior. I enjoyed this opportunity to expand my thought processes with ideas that other cultures find important enough to name. And what I found in the concepts on this list was that empathy transcends languages and cultures.
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