They say you can tell a lot about a culture by how many different words they have for certain things. The classic example is the Inuit people, having 30 or 50 or even 100 different words to describe different types of snow. When something is important to you, potentially hazardous, a bit of detail is called for. It’s not always life-or-death… but the ability to be a little more descriptive than usual is always helpful.
It was amusing while reading about this topic to find that the English language has 40 different words for the word… “different”… like alternate, dissimilar, eclectic, mixes, varied… and so on. I also found that English has over 300 different words to describe… drunk.
Sometimes, something doesn’t need lots of different words… but just a single word that captures a lot of meaning. You can certainly learn a lot about other cultures as well, when they have certain words to describe something oddly specific… such as German, and their famous word “schadenfreude (n): pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune”
You know how sometimes, as a joke, you like to tap someone’s shoulder while standing behind their other shoulder? There’s a word in Indonesian for that: “mencolek”
You know the people who sit around coffee shops for hours on the laptops, using up the free WiFi and not really buying anything? The French have a word for them: “seigneur-terraces”
You know that feeling you get when your haircut is finished, and you sit there, looking at the mirror… in horror, because it’s nothing like what you were hoping for? The Japanese would call that “age-otori”. I suspect many of us will be feeling that in the coming days… I don’t know about you, but I’m really enjoying this full-on fro I’m presently sporting.
You know the feeling you get when you’re sitting on a barstool, and it starts to tip over backwards? Well, turns out there’s no word for that, but there should be. We’ve all felt that particular instant fear/horror/panic induced by that experience.
So, here’s a good word… and I remember the most powerful experience I’ve had of this emotion… Monday, March 1st, 2010… at around 9pm, I stood in the middle of the intersection of Burrard and Hastings. There was not a single car or person visible in any direction…. talk about eerie. If you’re wondering, it was the day after the Canada/U.S. gold-medal game; the day after the 2010 Olympics. It as all over and we were all Olympic’d out I guess. Downtown was a ghost town.
The word for that is: “kenopsia (n): The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.” This is something we’ve all felt at one point or another in the last couple of months… and if you’ve felt it… and/or if you’ve felt the emotion of my bar-stool example, I’m just here to state the obvious; you’re not alone. We’ve all felt it, but perhaps we didn’t have the word to describe it. Words are important. Being able to talk about it is important. And as recent events have shown us, even when we haven’t been vocal about it, we’re all capable of feeling the same thing. Let’s keep adding new words to our vocabulary… because we have a lot to discuss.