Friday - - MIND GAMES -

The be­lief that Eski­mos have 50 words for snow may be a cliché, but it does un­der­score how cul­tural dif­fer­ences and ge­o­graph­i­cal preva­lence can lead to the coinage of words for which there are no English equiv­a­lents. For in­stance, in coun­tries where rice is the sta­ple food most lan­guages have a dif­fer­ent word for raw rice and cooked rice, un­like in English.

Never mind snow and rice, though. For all its boun­ti­ful trea­sury of words (at last count the Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary con­tained full en­tries for 171,476 words in cur­rent use, and 47,156 ob­so­lete words), the English lan­guage still lacks words to de­fine com­mon­place and ev­ery­day sit­u­a­tions, emo­tions and re­la­tion­ships.

In Hindi sin­gle words ex­ist that de­fine an older or younger brother or sis­ter, a pa­ter­nal or ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther or grand­mother, and ev­ery va­ri­ety of brother-in-law, sis­ter-in-law, aunt and un­cle. There is even a word that asks what rank a per­son holds in the or­der among his or her sib­lings.

Here are some use­ful words that English could do with in trans­la­tion:

An­tier/An­teayer (Span­ish) – “the day be­fore yes­ter­day”, ab­bre­vi­ated from “antes de ayer”, mean­ing just that. We don’t have a word for “day af­ter to­mor­row”, ei­ther.

Upachara (from San­skrit, now in sev­eral In­dian lan­guages) – orig­i­nally meant ‘flat­tery’, with ref­er­ence to elab­o­rate rit­u­als in wor­ship, but in com­mon par­lance used to de­note ex­ces­sive for­mal­ity, fussi­ness, coax­ing and in­sis­tence in the way one serves or treats a guest.

Tar­tle (Scots) – As de­fined on­line, the nearly ono­matopoeic word (al­most ‘star­tle’) for that pan­icky hes­i­ta­tion just be­fore you have to in­tro­duce some­one whose name you can’t quite re­mem­ber.

She­mo­med­jamo (Ge­or­gian) – the act of con­tin­u­ing to eat or overeat even af­ter you’re full, be­cause the meal is too good to re­sist!

Aşer­mek (Turk­ish) – the ex­pe­ri­ence of crav­ing cer­tain foods or ab­nor­mal sub­stances such as clay or chalk, while preg­nant.

Ob­ste­tri­cians do use the word ‘pica’ to de­note this, but that’s it­self a loan­word from the Latin for mag­pie, a bird known for its om­niv­o­rous feed­ing habits.

And, fi­nally, one to leave you pon­der­ing: Pana po’o (Hawai­ian) – the act of scratch­ing one’s head in or­der to re­mem­ber the lo­ca­tion of a mis­placed ob­ject.

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