Lost in Translation_Ella Frances Sanders

2015 Dec. 23  71

picture from Waterstones

Lost in Translation

Ella Frances Sanders

Vintage Publishing

「’Ubuntu’ (Nguni Bantu): n. Essentially meaning “I find my worth in you, and you find your worth in me." Can be (very) roughly translated as human kindness.」

As an Foreign Languages and Literature graduate, I see myself more as a linguist than a literati. Actually, I would love to do a second master in social linguistics. I love linguistics, cultures, and languages in general. Therefore, this book is a perfect read to me.

Lost in Translation is a collection of untranslatable words. These words come from all over the world. Though the author did not provide detailed information about each word, the embedded cultural connotations are still extremely interesting, and worth further research.

I highly, highly recommend this book. The amazing illustrations make it suitable for both linguistics nerds, and general readers. It’ll give you good vibes even just flipping through the pages.

Some words are so hilarious that I just laughed out loud, thinking it’s absolutely brilliant of them to even think of creating such words.

For example, Malaysian use the word ‘PISAN ZAPRA’ to describe the time needed to eat a banana (what? why?). But my favorite word in the book is ‘KUMMERSPECK’ in German. Literally it means ‘grief-bacon,’ referring to the excess weight we can gain from emotional overeating. I love it! German really know the nature of human beings.

Also, there are some words that cannot be translated into English, but exist in Mandarin. Like, ‘STRUISVOGELPOLITIEK’ in Dutch (Literally, ‘ostrich politics.’ Acting like you don’t notice when something bad happens and continuing on regardless, as you normally would.), which is basically 鴕鳥心態 in Chinese. In Yaghan, they use ‘MAMIHLAPINATAP AI’ to describe the silent acknowledgement and understanding between two people, who are both wishing or thinking the same thing. In Chinese, we say 默契 in such cases.

However, the book does not include any word from Mandarin whilst I can think of at least two right now. One interesting example is ‘很Q’. ‘Q’ is an adjective used to describe the texture of food. It is similar to chewy, but not exactly the same. We say gummy bears are Q; bubbles in bubble tea (we can them pearl) are Q. Yet we also say high noodles are Q. I have no idea where does this expression come from, but it is really interesting because it’s an ‘untranslatable English word’.

Anyway, this is a really lovely book. Please give it a go if you see it in the bookstore.

Introduction: As much as we like to differentiate ourselves, to feel like individuals and rave on about expression and freedom and the experiences that are unique to each one of us, we are all made of the same stuff. We laugh and cry in much the same way, we learn words and then forget them, we meet people from places and cultures different from out own and yet somehow we understand the lives they are living. Language wraps its understanding and punctuation around us all, tempting us to cross boundaries and helping us to comprehend the impossibly difficult questions that life relentlessly throws at us.

COMMUOVERE (Italian) (v.): To be moved in a heartwarming way, usually relating to a story that moved you to tears.

MÅNGATA (Swedish) (n.): The road-like reflection of the moon in the water.

MERAKI (Greek) (adj.): Pouring yourself wholeheartedly into something, such as cooking, and doing so with soul, creativity, and love.

KARELU (Tulu) (n.): The mark left on the skin by wearing something tight.

WABI-SABI (Japanese) (n.):  Finding beauty in the imperfections, an acceptance of the cycle of life and death.

RESFEBER (Swedish) (n.): The restless beat of a traveller’s heart before the journey begins, a mixture of anxiety and anticipation.

YA’ABURNEE (Arabic) (n.): Meaning ‘you bury me,’ a beautifully morbid declaration of one’s hope that they will die before another person, as it would be too difficult living without them.

DRACHENFUTTER (German) (n.): Literally, ‘dragon-fodder.’ The gift a husband gives his wife when he’s trying to make up for bad behavior.

KABEL SALAT (German) (n.): A word to describe a mess of very tangled cables, literally a ‘cable-salad.’

COTISUELTO (Caribbean Spanish) (n.): A man who insists on wearing his shirt tail untucked.






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