If you look at the statistics around the English language you’d think that we already have more than enough words in this ‘language of the World’ – estimates vary between 500,000 and just over 2 million, depending on how you count them.
Most educated people, however, use no more than 20,000 words or so, which means that we ought to have plenty to spare. Yet we’ve all had those moments when we want to say something and we can’t find exactly the right word to use.
As much as we like to think of English as the biggest and best of all the World languages, it turns out there’s just some things you can’t express in one word … but you can in other languages. So in this article we look at a few – and if they’re sometimes very funny – well, how good is that!
Visceral or spiritual feeling evoked by the arts
In Spanish and Portuguese mythology, the word referred to a sprite or fairy that might play tricks on travellers astray in the forest, or sometimes to a more sinister red-robed skeletal figure who carried a scythe and presaged death. Those whom he visited could sometimes be inspired, in their fear and mental turmoil, to heights of creative brilliance. That quality of inspiration is at the heart of the word’s more modern meaning.
So musicians, singers, dancers and other creative artists may channel duende through their work. And for those who experience a work of art – the ones who watch the dancer or hear the music – duende will manifest itself as a sudden, potentially life-changing moment of insight, an instant in which time seems to have stopped. It is beyond analysis, beyond explanation, beyond criticism- art experienced in the deepest recesses of the soul.
Emotional warmth created by being with good friends and well-loved family
Hygge (HEU-guh) is a Danish word that helps the Danes get through their long, dark winters. It’s sometimes translated, inadequately, as cosiness or well-being, but it is specifically about the reassuring emotional warmth, comfort and security that come from being with good friends or well-loved family. The glow of a roaring log burner is often a part of it, but dinner around a restaurant table, with the conversation and laughter swinging easily back and forth, could be hygge. So could flickering candlelight, with a glass of wine and a favourite companion, or a favourite seat in a bar or cafe. When the weather doesn’t make you warm, hygge does, wrapping your love and your friendships around you like a fur coat.
The magical atmosphere created by sunlight filtering through leaves
Komorebi (KOH-MOH-REHB-i) is made up of a group of characters which individually signify trees, escape and sunlight, and it’s usually translated – or rather described – as sunlight filtering through the leaves.
That awareness of light and its subtle creation of atmosphere is a quintessential aspect of the appreciation of nature among the Japanese. A Japanese garden will be a flickering patchwork of light and shade, not just a collection of neatly labelled plants. Komorebi provides a gentle, understated hint of the characteristic way in which the Japanese see the beauty of the world about them.
Alternating fast and slow running
Inside each one of us, hidden deep in the recesses of our inner psyche, is an 8 year old child trying to get out. Every now and then, that inner 8 year old needs to be let out to play. And this is where the Swedish word fartlek (FART-laik) comes in. It literally means ‘speed-play’ and describes a type of athletics training devised in the 1930s in which periods of fast and slow running are intermingled.
It has now been adopted into English as a useful to word to describes a mixture of running and walking, so strictly speaking it IS a work you can now use in English.