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Tuesday, April 29, 2003



They Have a Word for It
: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases

I love languages. Each one has their own words and phrases that are entirely untranslatable without several sentences of explanation. As I have learned Italian over the last few years (in order to converse with my wife's relatives) I have found certain phrases in English that just don't translate into Italian directly. Now the tables are turned, as this book provides me with some Italian phrases that have a much deep meaning than might be imagined.

The author, Howard Rheingold, has collected words for a lot of different languages, including Chinese, Hindi, Italian, French and even Hawaiian. In fact, one of my favorites comes from that language -- ho'oponopono (HO-OH-poh-no-poh-no). It means "solving a problem by talking it out", something that I do on a regular basis (even if I am only talking to myself!)

Italian gives us attaccabottoni ("a doleful bore who buttonholes people and tells sad, pointless tales.") I have run into a few of these in my life, so it is nice to have a new word with which to reference them. (SMILE)

Each time I flip through the book I find more and more interesting words. Rheingold encourages you to start using the words in your vocabulary and I think I just might try. That way, the next time a friend bangs his or her thumb with a hammer you can reply "uffda", a Swedish "word of sympathy, used when someone else is in pain."


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