Archive Tag:pop linguistics fangirl

Drabble 85 – Iktsuarpok

Dreamer, this is for you by Geoff Llerena

A good indication that a word might not be real is that, when you google it, all you can find is websites gathering words that can’t be translated into English. That’s definitely the case with today’s word, but it also raises an interesting question–is there such thing as an untranslatable word?

Certainly, we can’t translate iktsuarpok in a single word. We don’t have an equivalent in English. But we certainly have words for the experience; they’re what I use to define it below. The trouble with translation, of course, is that you can never be quite certain that you’ve accurately captured whatever it is. Language is more than just a concrete representation of a thing or abstract idea; there’s connotation and context and tone and all these other things that contribute to our understanding of a word.

To be honest, I know very little about translation other than that I’m forever interested in the way words do and don’t fit together when changing from one language to another. This ongoing question I run into about what is or isn’t a real world is as interesting to me as the words themselves.

Anyway, here’s a drabble.

Drabble 81 – Cualacino


All language is arbitrary. You’ll often run into people who want to shut down conversations by saying that something isn’t a “real word” or that a lack of “proper” grammar somehow obfuscates a point. If it’s not clear, I find those arguments absurd; language is all an invention, and, if you can understand a person’s meaning even when it isn’t expressed exactly how you’d like it to be, there’s no breakdown in communication.

It seems like people really believe in real words, as if those, too, weren’t invented by somebody somewhere. But that raises an interesting question; at what point does an invented word become a real one?

“Cualacino,” my word for today, is apparently an Italian word for the ring left behind from a cold glass. Except it’s not; as far as I can tell, it’s a word somebody made up as part of one of those ‘untranslateable words’ lists that then got circulated as truth. At what point does its meaning become concrete?

Research is important.  I found this word on a list of words that don’t translate into English (despite the fact that ‘the ring left behind from a cold glass’ is, in fact, a translation) and I could have continued pushing the idea that this word really exists in Italian because it’s convenient or interesting or because I trusted a site with a cute illustration more than a lack of etymology or the Italian people I saw blogging about having never heard the word. It isn’t real, no matter how many cute drawings you attach to it.

Anyway, here’s a drabble.

Drabble 60 – Mamihlapinatapai

Veda Wildfire

It’s difficult to look at our own language as an outsider would, but it always seems like other languages have so many more specific words than English. We have kind of an obsession with them–you’ll find entire blogs consisting of these words, all of which express emotions we don’t have words for. They’re great fodder for drabbles, in fact.

Does that mean that other languages value these emotions more, to assign them their own word? Is English lacking, or are these emotions we deliberately don’t name? Can we accurately capture the specific feeling these words evoke in translation, or are we doomed to always be shy of the mark?

I have exactly zero answers, but I do have a lot of emotions I don’t quite have names for. That searing mixture of hope and determination I get right in the center of my chest. Sadness and regret and heaviness beating at the back of my knees. Needle-like fear prickling up and down my skin. Of course, none of those capture the entirety of the emotion–each one is tied to something specific, something unnameable, at least so far in life. Instead of giving it a name, I try to capture it in other ways.

Anyway, here’s a drabble.

Drabble 58 – Sylvisonance

Forest by Nova

There are some idioms I just can’t quite get a handle on. Since I was a kid, I’ve had a longstanding friendly argument with my grandpa about whether the phrase “have your cake and eat it too,” makes any kind of sense. It doesn’t. It firmly does not. What is the point of a cake if you’re not going to eat it? Apparently, the idiom has undergone some changes since it was first written all the way back in the 1500s, but I maintain that it’s a silly phrase and I want nothing to do with it.

Similarly, “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” I get that it’s about not being able to see the big picture, but really, what is a forest without trees? If I can’t see the forest, I’m instead seeing a bunch of trees, which is, in fact, a forest. And even given the meaning, isn’t it important to consider the little details when talking about a larger idea, anyway? Not to say we should quibble away at the whys and hows when there’s action to be taken, but honestly, these idioms seem to cause more confusion than illumination, so what’s the point?

I’m being pedantic here and I recognize that. I’ll own it. But until these idioms are replaced by something that actually makes some kind of sense, I’m going to sit here and grit my teeth and think that maybe if we’d just eat the damn cake and look at the trees things might be a little better.

Anyway, here’s a drabble.

Drabble 57 – Ambedo

Same rain doesn’t fall down twice by Chiara Cremaschi

Something interesting I found while looking into this word–another fake word, whatever that means–is that ‘ambedo,’ originally a creation of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, took on a life of its own. The original definition is as follows:

Noun. “a kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details—raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee—which leads to a dawning awareness of the haunting fragility of life, a mood whose only known cure is the vuvuzela.”

Only, as I found when googling the word, people didn’t much like the vuvuzela bit at the end. Sure, vuvuzelas became a symbol of annoyance during the World Cup (I’m not sure why I know this, I’m not a sports person in the slightest), but it seems that people found the reference so annoying that they needed to delete it from the original text and add an extra ‘d.’

Which, like, this is a rant I’ve had about a thousand times before–maybe not here, specifically, but certainly elsewhere, at length, and with great passion. There’s some kind of weird connection between melancholy and intelligence and adulthood. True adults are sad. Truly intelligent people are unhappy. There is no maturity without grimdark.

Eff that. If a vuvuzela breaks you out of the haunting fragility of life, good. We can appreciate how precious everything is, how a single moment can contain an incredible amount of beauty, and we can laugh at a silly joke if we want. It’s amazing, the span of emotions humans are capable of holding. I get the desire to preserve the sanctity of a deep moment, but also, it’s fine to laugh and be silly and remember that not everything has to be deadly serious.

Anyway, here’s a drabble.

Drabble 42 – Kāihuā

“Chrysanthemum” by Benjamin Brackman

I have dreams of being a polyglot but so far all I’ve managed is English and some French. Spoken French is still a mess for me; I can pick out certain words and take an extra few seconds to translate them, by which point the meaning is lost and the conversation has moved on. But I keep practicing, listening to the same songs and hoping someday I’ll understand the lyrics as effortlessly as I would in English.

Learning languages is difficult. Words are packed full of meaning, not just at surface level but deeper, with context overlaying literal interpretation overlaying etymology and connotation all swirled around in there too. The difference between yell and shout is subtle, but they sound different to our (or at least my) mind’s ear–the former being sharp and painful, the latter being lower and generally more frightening.

When we translate words to other languages we lose meaning. It’s why translators often appear on book jackets–translating a work isn’t just flipping a word from one language to another. It’s analyzing all those other elements like connotation and context and wordplay and literal meaning to create something like, but not exactly the original. It’s an art in itself, and different translations will yield dramatically different responses from readers.

Case in point: my least favorite work of Greek literature is The Iliad, not because it’s particularly bad but because the translation I read was so poor in comparison to Fagles’ Odyssey and all the other texts I read, it forever feels inferior, amateurish, in my head.

When I write about words from other languages I can only rely on translation and hope I don’t lose too much of the meaning along the way.

Anyway, here’s a drabble.

Drabble 3 – Grammatolatry


love language.

That might have come across somewhat in my last drabble, “Sonder.” I find language fascinating, in part because it’s continuously changing. I love slang and vernacular and punctuation not because they’re hard and fast rules, but because a simple change (the way that this seNTENCE SUDDENLY SHIFTING INTO CAPITALS has the connotation of rising enthusiasm, for instance) can mean a change in tone without us ever being taught that in school.

Language is at its most interesting when it’s evolving. While I wouldn’t say I worship language, I do have a fascination with it–hence this week’s drabble, “Grammatolatry.”

Drabble 2 – “Sonder”

Image Source: Warren Antiola via Flickr

This word is a bit different. It’s not a “real word” (a topic worthy of its own blog post)—it was created by The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a blog of invented words by John Koenig. Like any word, It’s begun to take on a life of its own; it’s been added to UrbanDictionary and passed around other internet sources as a “real word,” lending it some legitimacy. As The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows aims to create words for feelings we feel but don’t have words for, and, because a word is nothing but a string of arbitrary letters with meaning attached (you can read more about what a “real word” is in relation to “sonder” here), it has arguably succeeded.

But anyway, a drabble.