From a capella to zeitgeist, English has always filched other people’s words and run with them. There are so many more waiting to be used. And Ella Frances Sanders has brought them to life. As she says in Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World (Square Peg, 2015), “there may be some small essential gaps in your mother tongue, but never fear; you can look to other languages to define what you’re feeling, and these pages are your starting point.”
She’s illustrated them– you can buy individual prints too. Here are three of my favourites.
Iktsuarapok might be an Inuit word, but I felt it staying with friends who live in the middle of nowhere in rural Finland, where any bird flying over the lake or distant sound of a car engine is an Event.
Glas wen is Welsh for a “blue smile”, that cold-coloured, insincere smile that doesn’t reach the eyes. Reminds me of times when being a teenager in a Cardiff high school wasn’t always fun.
And I’ve only been to Japan once, but yes, I have a tsundoku problem. I even have a special tsundoku bookshelf, though I call it “books to read next” rather than “unread books”. They are still corralled, but my mother’s house tells me that the middle-aged spread will set in one day…
Sanders’ illustrations are all over the internet, but this book’s really worth buying. I’m sure you’ll find several words you’ll want to start using.
Once you’ve got your favourite word – write about it.
The Bridge Called Language anthology is collecting real-life stories inspired by “untranslatable words” until the end of March. The aim is to bridge the gap between the worlds those words come from. You can find more information here – and more new words to get you going…