Untranslatable Part III

Language. I can't get enough of it. I think I told someone last year that if I won the lottery and could do anything, I would devote a couple years to just language study, living abroad and becoming quadrilingual or something.
Pretty interesting though, that the longer I am in Sweden, the worse my English has been getting. I can't always find the exact word I'm looking for in conversation. When I write, I always need to read through the email or essay at least a couple times to check for grammar mistakes, and I'm not accustomed to that. And forget trying to speak Spanish... whenever I've tried that here it's all mixed up with Swedish words. My brain isn't used to balancing two foreign languages at a time.
Anyway, I digress. Here are more untranslatable words.

1. Torschlusspanik (German) – Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.”
It's not like I'm so old or anything, but sometimes I get a little anxious about things in relation to this whole "diminishing opportunity" idea. I think that anyone in their last semester of school as they start looking for a job starts feeling anxious though. But most everyone I know is going through it. Like, a "gate closing on your education" type of panic.

2. Ilunga (Tshiluba from Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”
This word comes up on every list of untranslatable words and it's quite fascinating in how particular it is. There's a phrase in English... "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" that reminds me of this one, but Ilunga is more about forgiveness followed by patience and less about blame. Reduced to a single word. Cool.

3. Iktsuarpok (Inuit) – “To go outside to check if anyone is coming.”
I found this one very interesting right away because it illustrates how differently language is used based on the lifestyle, environment and culture of a people. I think about this sometimes when learning Swedish. I can't think of why I'd need a quick one-word reference for this situation of Iktsuarpok. A more survival-oriented, rural, not so technological life of the indigenous people of northern Canadian regions might.

4. L’appel du vide (French) – “The call of the void” is the literal translation, but more significantly it’s used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.
I love heights and climbing things. I don't really have that instinct to jump you hear people speak of, but more of an instinct to go right to the edge, lean my face over it, and stare it down. There are actually a lot of great things to climb in Lund (trees in the Botanical garden, ladders on sides of buildings, statues, etc) and I look forward to the opportunity to climb them as the weather gets warmer and we are up for more mischief on our party nights.

5. Drachenfutter (German) – While this word literally means “dragon fodder,” it refers to a type of gift German husbands bestow on their wives “when they’ve done something wrong or they have otherwise engaged in some kind of inappropriate behavior” – gifts like chocolates or flowers or a nice bottle of perfume.
German is full of great visual words. The metaphor is a hilarious image, though annoyingly stereotypical. Guy acts poorly, the woman gets upset, and guess who's called a scary fire-breathing monster? Right. Too funny to dispute, I guess. "Put a foot wrong and unless you buy me presents I will blow flames on you." Haha!

6. Wantok (Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea)- Refers to people who speak the same language as you do and “have some claim on you.” It translates literally as “one talk” and usually includes people of your family, village, clan or larger geographic area.
"Corinne, if you are from California, how come you do not have the same funny accent as Ross has? No one can understand him" an Italian guy said to me the other day. We all laughed, and it wasn't the first time this has come up about my friend Ross, he's even brought it up himself that some people around Lund have a hard time understanding him. Of course, I had to think about why that would be at first, since I can understand him perfectly. He speaks fast, assertively, running words together a bit, and uses a lot of catchphrases and slang and mashup words. This doesn't work so well in speaking to people who aren't native English speakers. But Ross and I both grew up by San Francisco. I don't speak just like him but I can follow every word and the humor and slang feel so familiar, it's effortless. He is a Wantok... from my village, basically.

7. Jung (Korean) – “A special feeling that is stronger than mere ‘love’ and can only often be proved by having survived a huge argument with someone."
Such a specific word for a certain point in any type of relationship. I want more words like this for different points in relationship or specially formed ones. There should be one for the friends you survive a year or so of living abroad with. Infinitely bonding.

8. Koyaanisqatsi (Hopi, Native American) - Means “nature out of balance” or a “way of life that is so crazy it calls for a new way of living."
I don't know if this word is referring to a life so crazy it needs a better word to describe it or that life is too crazy and needs to change. But it makes me think of when it could have applied to me, not so much here in Sweden, but last year or two in Santa Barbara. I was beyond busy. So many different job commitments all over town each day. A social or sporting event almost every night of the week and sometimes weekends. So many friends. An addiction to saying yes to every activity. Trips out of town, lack of sleep, stress, sickness, and continuing to push on, desperate not to miss anything. It was the time of my life and I think it was literally making my hair fall out it was so crazy. Literally. Yes life in Sweden has some of the wildest moments I've ever had, but not all of them, and even with the sometimes overwhelming task of being a graduate student, being out of Santa Barbara and going through the relative quietness that the Scandinavian winter demands has allowed me to really get back to being more "balanced." I'm healthier by leaps and bounds and despite job and school concerns, infinitely less stressed. I hope it lasts.


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