I recently received the gift of a beautiful book called Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders. The book is filled with words from different languages, each with a meaning that is hard to pin down yet specific at the same time. I opened the book expecting cerebral responses such as, “Oh, how interesting!” and “Wow, I didn’t know that!” Instead, I found each untranslatable word invited me into a mood, an atmosphere, a feeling I have experienced yet never thought to express.
The words in this book may be answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask, and perhaps some you did. They might pinpoint emotions and experiences that seemed elusive and indescribable, or they may cause you to remember a person you had long forgotten. If you take something away from this book other than some brilliant conversation starters, let it be the realisation (or affirmation) that you are human, that you are fundamentally, intrinsically bound to every single person on the planet with language and with feelings.
– Introduction, Lost in Translation
Sanders’ beautiful illustrations invite us to dive deeper into the experience of the word. One of my favourites is Komorebi. I have enjoyed the way the sunlight filters through the leaves of the trees. But to discover that there is a word for it brings this experience to the fore. Something that seems so delicate and ephemeral is recognised and celebrated in language. Next time I am walking in the woods and those little patches of sunlight shimmer above my head, I will have a word for the experience.
Another favourite word (that also happens to be Japanese) is Tsundoku. In my flat, there are shelves of unread books, continually growing in number. I have a host of feelings on the matter, ranging from despair at my inability to read faster to delight at finding yet another new book. There is a word for it, this recognisable human experience: Tsundoku. Suddenly my unread book collection is not so ungainly. There is something beautiful about it. The unread books are as essential as the read ones, with a dignity and life of their own.
Reading Lost in Translation makes me wonder about the experiences I haven’t yet put into words. Today is one of those rainy Sundays when you want to stay in, wrapped in a blanket, drinking tea and watching old movies. The mood is almost melancholic but not quite. It’s cosy, restful, rejuvenating in its own quiet way. I wonder, is there a word for this?
In the meantime, while I am wondering, today is the perfect day for Fika (Swedish): “v. Gathering together to talk and take a break from everyday routines, usually drinking coffee and eating pastries – either at a cafe or at home – often for hours on end.”
I hope you are all enjoying this Sunday afternoon, wherever you are, whatever the weather!