Discovering untranslatable words and some new ones
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.