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The Power of Words

The Power of Words

The Power of Words

We often say that something cannot be put into words; an emotion, an event or perhaps a dream. But according to iconic writer Rudyard Kipling, words are “the most powerful drug used by mankind”. So maybe it’s worth trying to find words to describe what we’re feeling or talking about. That’s exactly what some creative foreign cultures have done – creating completely untranslatable words to describe sensations and situations that we, as a global race of humans, are all too familiar with. As you read through them, I’m sure you’ll be able to relate. I think it’s a wonderful concept!

Sobremesa (Spanish) – the time spent after lunch or dinner, talking to the people you shared the meal with.

When I came across this, I racked my brains trying to find the English equivalent. Surely we have a similar word?! It seems not – “after dinner chat” doesn’t really have the same ring to it. What I find fascinating about this word is the way it reflects our different cultures. One reason the English language hasn’t set aside a word for this is perhaps because English speaking countries don’t, on the whole, approach meal times with the sociable, relaxed attitude which exists on the continent. Having lived in France and spent time in Spain, I can vouch for the fact that even the most average meal times are viewed as sacred opportunities to chat with family and friends about the day’s happenings, and often last for a couple of hours. Put it this way, the lap tray dinners eaten in front of the TV, with a few mumbles exchanged between family members, which many of us English-speakers are all too familiar with, would be considered utterly absurd and, frankly, appalling by many foreign cultures.

Waldeinsamkeit (German) – forest solitude; the feeling of being alone in the woods.

It’s that eerie sensation we’ve all felt in a wooded area, feeling tiny compared to the tall, shadowy trees staring down at you with a sense of superiority. You feel stripped of control, mere humanity having fallen victim to the incomprehensible and disarming power of nature. But the Germans have rather cleverly managed to sum it up into one all-encompassing word.

Goya (Urdu) – the transporting suspension of disbelief that can occur in good storytelling.

I think what this word is referring to is that moment (usually on public transport, if you’re me), when you’re deep in a book and realise your mouth is wide open, or you’re frowning or laughing at something shocking the protagonist has done. Sometimes you might even be having a mini bawl. The art of causing a reader to lose their inhibitions from being so wrapped up in a story is one which only a few good writers have mastered and, with Urdu being the lingua franca of Pakistan and six states of India, I am tempted to sample some local writers to see whether they induce goya good enough to warrant having its own word. I’m feeling hopeful.

Depaysement (French) – the feeling of not being in one’s home country.

I think when the majority of us step off a plane in a foreign country, it’s safe to say there’s a sliver of our body which feels a little different. Whether that sliver is filled with nerves, excitement, curiosity or a mixture of all three, we feel marginally more on edge than we do when we’re chilling on our sofa at home. I don’t think the French mean this word necessarily to have a negative connotation, it’s just a way of defining that sliver out of body sensation that all humans of all races are capable of feeling.

Other beautifully untranslatable words that I came across when researching this article were pochemuchka (Russian) – a person who asks a lot of questions, komorebi (Japanese) – sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees and iktsuarpok (Inuit) – the feeling of anticipation that leads you to keep looking outside to see if anyone is coming (though I think that may be a rather local one; where I’m from in London, you want to keep your head as firmly indoors as you can!).


Anna is currently spending the fourth year of her Law degree in France, studying for a Masters in French Law at the University of Rennes. She is slightly obsessed with learning languages, having knowledge of French, Spanish, Portuguese and a little Russian under her belt so far. Alongside her studies, Anna tutors English to foreign students. 


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