Seeing as it’s Valentine’s Day, I though I’d dedicate a post to Cupid and his well-aimed (well…sometimes) arrows. Before I moved to Japan, I confess that my opinion of Valentine’s Day had flat-lined at “meh”…now, though, it just means that my desk disappears under a mountain of homemade chocolates, cookies, and other deliciously unhealthy sweets from my students. It’s a pretty good development all around.
I’ve written about how much I love untranslatable words in the past; the fact that a feeling is familiar to people across cultures and continents and yet is only expressed in a certain language is fascinating to me. On Valentine’s Day, emotions run a headier, more dramatic spectrum than most other days of the year, and there are plenty of foreign language words to describe all of those feelings. Here are fourteen of my favorite untranslatable words that have to do with love in some way or another. Some are about the euphoria of falling of love, some are about the depths of heartbreak, but most are feelings that, I’m willing to bet, we’ve felt at one time or another.
1.) Forelsket (Norwegian) – Let’s start off with something positive. Forelsket describes how you feel when you first begin to fall in love. It’s that euphoric feeling of walking on air, when you view your paramour through rose-colored glasses and are convinced that the sun shines out of their posterior. All you want to do is gaze into each other’s eyes longingly and forget the rest of the world exists.
This year, May 20th and June 17th have been the biggest dates on my 2013 musical horizon. They’re the release dates for new albums from The National and Sigur Rós, respectively. Those two bands have the ability to evoke some pretty intense emotions from me. And they range from heartbreak (On one particularly gloomy Saturday morning, listening to “Runaway” from The National’s High Violet, caused me to break down into sobs for no particular reason while doing my dishes.) to total euphoria (To hell with the standard wedding march. If I ever get married, I will walk down the aisle to a Sigur Rós song. Nonnegotiable, future husband.). Here’s the big difference though: while The National’s lyrics really resonate with me, I can’t understand a word of a Sigur Rós song, because 99% of their discography isn’t sung in English. Continue reading On Loving Music I Can’t Understand→
Sometimes studying Japanese involves meticulously memorizing kanji, poring over textbooks, and pulling my hair out in frustration. And sometimes my Japanese lessons consist of the math teacher drawing doodles on the back of school memos and teaching me the words for them.
Surprisingly, I’ve almost never made mention of the “cuteness” of Japanese society in the ten months that I’ve had this blog. One of the first words that a foreigner almost always learns to describe Japanese culture is かわいい (kawaii). It means “cute,” and it’s a word that I hear almost every day, whether it’s my students describing the charms dangling from my cell phone or I say it myself when greeted with an adorable drawing that accompanies an essay homework.
(I also learned pretty quickly that when you’re first learning Japanese, かわいい and 怖い [kowai] can sound pretty similar. One means ‘cute’…one means ‘frightening.’ I’m pretty sure I told more than one student that I thought their Pikachu-adorned pencil case was scary.)
When I published my post What a Life of Travel Does to You, an editor from Matador, an online travel magazine, got in touch with me about possibly writing some travel essays for them. This piece was born out of that, and I’m pretty proud to see my writing appear on a site dedicated exclusively to my greatest love. A slightly shorter version also appears here on Matador.
I have been obsessed with language, both my native one and otherwise, ever since I learned to read. I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life, and in the past ten years, I’ve studied two languages, German and Japanese, in-depth, while delving into two others, Arabic and Spanish, for shorter, less dedicated stints. Now, I make a living out of trying to explain the labyrinth of the English language to Japanese high school students. I like words, to put it plainly. Continue reading The Beauty of Untranslatable Words→
When I started learning German in high school, I, like so many others who have delved into the language of the Vaterland, encountered scores of people who would make a face and ask me, “Why would you want to learn German? It’s just such an…ugly language. Everything sounds so mean.” Continue reading Why I Love the German Language→