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Le Mot Juste

October 18, 2011

To that writer who’s searching for just the right word, the proverbial “mot juste“, searching in vain for a word that conveys just the right sense, emotion, thought, or whatever: maybe the problem isn’t you.  Maybe the problem is the language you speak. 

This article on Mental Floss was amusing to me: it contains a short list of useful words from other languages for which there is no direct English equivalent.  My favorites:

  • “Shemomedjamo”, from the Georgian language (i.e. the former Russian satelite, not the U.S. State, which also has it’s own language, y’all*), which refers to when you’re so into whatever you’re eating that you forget to stop when you’re full.  This has happened to me.  On more than one occassion.
  • “Pelinti”, from Buli, Ghana, which is when you put some over-hot food in your mouth and juggle it around with your tongue trying to cool it by blowing through your cheeks.  This has happened to me.  On more than one occassion.  My Dear Wife teases me mercilessly for it.
  • “Tartle”, from Scots, which is what happens when you’re about to introduce someone, but have forgotten their name.  This has happened to me.  I’m a chronic name-forgetter.

And others, just as fun.

It does have one swing-and-a-miss, though.  It defines “Pålegg” from Swedish as sandwich toppings (or “anything… you might consider putting into a sandwich”)… but we do have a word for that in English, it’s called: “condiments”.  It’s not even that rare a word in English.  Traditionally it’s ketchup and mustard and pickles and whatnot.  But in theory it could be… well… anything you might consider putting into a sandwich, isn’t it?

Anyway… for lovers of language, you might want to check it out.  Have fun.

 

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*Note: Georgia, the U.S. State, does not actually have its own language.  Depending on who you’re speaking to, it’s a regional accent, or possibly a dialect.  There are a few non-standard words, phrases, and uses though.  At least in my experience as a non-native Georgian.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2011 12:07 pm

    There are some things you can do in other languages that you can’t in English! This stuff is fascinating. Just some rambling thoughts: there are 4 words for love in Greek. And that’s detail you don’t usually get into in English. I notice that when translating from one language to another, there’s not usually a perfect fit, because the words don’t always have the exact meaning they do in one language as the other.

    • October 18, 2011 3:00 pm

      Yeah, it’s one of the reasons why I’m so keen to learn some other languages. I feel positively impoverished that I know only a smattering of French along with English. I’d love to be able to speak French fluently, as well as a bit of German and some non-European language as well. I’ve got a list of languages I want to learn… but language learning tools aren’t cheap, and neither is the time. 😦 The different words for “love” in Greek are actually pretty important, because the different versions appear a lot in various religious scriptures – and the nuanced meanings really impact how you might read it – but in English we just get a generic “love” and have to suss it out based on context. Sometimes we get it wrong…

  2. October 18, 2011 1:26 pm

    One of the comments for the Mental Floss article mentioned that “ubermorgen” is the German equivalent for the Georgian “zeg” = “the day after tomorrow”.
    I prefer the German version. Thursday is ubermorgen!, I say happily.

    • October 18, 2011 3:02 pm

      Yeah, “ubermorgen” is a pretty good-looking and functional word. In fact… based on that construction, I think I can suggest an easily-understood English-language equivalent: “Aftermorrow”. I think it’s pretty intuitive what I mean by aftermorrow. Say, would you like to catch up a little more aftermorrow? See how it just rolls off the tongue? 😀

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