Dis­cov­er­ing un­trans­lat­able words and some new ones

The Review - - OPINION - Jim Smart Of All Things Visit colum­nist Jim Smart’s web­site at jamess­mart­sphiladel­phia. com.

An ar­ti­cle in Time mag­a­zine a cou­ple of weeks back got me search­ing for more about a chap named Tim Lo­mas, de­scribed as a se­nior lec­turer in pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of East Lon­don.

The mag­a­zine said that Dr. Lo­mas had as­sem­bled a col­lec­tion of nearly 1,000 un­trans­lat­able words which de­scribe plea­sur­able feel­ings that we don’t have words for in English.

I am quite in­ter­ested in words, prefer­ably English, which I fre­quently as­sem­ble in what I hope are in­tel­li­gi­ble ar­range­ments, such as this weekly ef­fu­sion.

I also won­dered what pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy is; it’s ob­vi­ously a se­ri­ous mat­ter if it needs a lec­turer. The sim­plest def­i­ni­tion I found was “the sci­en­tific study of what makes life most worth liv­ing,” and I’m cer­tainly in fa­vor of that.

One of the chief pro­po­nents of pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy is a psy­chol­o­gist named Mi­haly Csik­szent­mi­ha­lyi, which I men­tion only be­cause that name may be an un­trans­lat­able word that pro­duces a plea­sur­able feel­ing.

Fur­ther re­search dis­cov­ered that, though Time didn’t men­tion it, Dr. Lo­mas has com­piled and pub­lished “The Hap­pi­ness Dic­tionary: Words from Around the World to Help Us Lead a Richer Life,” which sells for about 20 bucks here and there.

The Lon­don Daily Mail news­pa­per wrote about the book and quoted Dr. Lo­mas as say­ing, “The trou­ble with ‘hap­pi­ness’ is not that it means noth­ing, but that it means too much.”

Some­where be­tween those choices, his dic­tionary of­fers as un­trans­lat­able plea­sure “fika,” the Swedish name for a tra­di­tional twice daily cof­fee break, mid­morn­ing and mid-af­ter­noon.

And “koi no yokan,” Ja­panese for love at first sight. And “mor­gen­frisk,” Dan­ish ex­pres­sion of “the joy­ous sen­sa­tion of wak­ing af­ter a great night’s sleep.”

As if it were not enough that Dr. Lo­mas’s col­lec­tion of for­eign hap­pi­nesses was un­leashed, Mer­riam-Web­ster, at about the same time, an­nounced the ad­di­tion of 300 new words to the 100,000plus words is the sixth edi­tion of the Scrab­ble dic­tionary, just pub­lished.

Now ac­cept­able for start­ing ar­gu­ments among play­ers at Scrab­ble matches is the word “ew,” de­fined as an ex­pres­sion of dis­gust. It’s the 107th two-let­ter word the Scrab­ble gods al­low. And “ok,” as in “okay,” is also now okay.

Other words newly per­mit­ted on the Scrab­ble board are “bestie,” as in best friend; “twerk,” a danc­ing ma­neu­ver that in­volves the but­tocks; “schneid,” a los­ing streak in sports; “pug­gle,” a dog breed; and “nub­ber,” a weakly hit ground ball in base­ball.

Among the more com­mon new words are “emoji” and “bit­coin.”

“Frowny” is in the list, de­scrib­ing a fa­cial ex­pres­sion of­ten no­ticed dur­ing Scrab­ble con­tests. It isn’t ac­tu­ally a new word. It was in Mer­riam-Web­ster’s reg­u­lar dic­tionary as early as 1864 but was re­moved in 1961 due to dis­use. Scrab­ble has brought it back.

And the word “Qapik” is in­cluded, de­fined as “a mone­tary sub­unit of the manat (Azer­bai­jan.)” I have the feel­ing here that Noah Web­ster, who founded the pioneer dic­tionary in 1828, and Ge­orge and Charles Mer­riam, who took over when Noah died in 1843, would all think that this may be go­ing too far.

Ge­orge, Char­lie and Noah never played Scrab­ble. Those of you read­ers who do: just think what a heck of a player those guys would be.

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