Tuesday, November 24

The Made Up Words Project

I am always fascinated when foreign words pop up (usually on Pinterest these days, but also in books) for which there is no English equivalent. They run gamut from deeply elegant to jocularly practical.

For example, Hiraeth is a Welsh noun for “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.” Kummerspeck is German for “excess weight gained from emotional overeating.” (It's literal translation is “grief-bacon”!) The foodie in me especially enjoys sobremesa, which is a Spanish term for time spent around a table after a meal, talking to the friends/family you shared the meal with. (See more such fascinating terms here, here, and here.)

Although English is known for liberally stealing – I mean borrowing- words from other languages,
there's no denying that Americans have a tendency to make up our words when we feel that the options our disposal are inadequate to meet our linguistic needs. To catalog these forays into linguistic invention, The Made Up Words Project was created. The project invites the public to submit the “made up words that we share with family and friends.”

While the project is just for fun, it did give me amusing memories to laugh at. (When I was in junior high, three friends and I used the term “I-triple-L” to describe really stupid people. It stood for Immature Lower Life Forms of Larva. What can I say? We were in junior high, and we got plenty of use out of it at the time!)

Juxtaposed with the foreign words for which there are no English translations, however, it also proved rather thought provoking. Why is it that other cultures have specific words for things that English speakers are content to express imperfectly, only through full sentences? Why has it never occurred to me that we might need a word like irusu (Japanese for “pretending to be out when someone knocks on your door”)? What other practical, amusing or elegant feelings and situations am I lacking words for without even noticing?

For years when I was younger, we used the term “chippy” to express a cross between chilly and nippy when it was cold outside. It started as a slip of the tongue, but we quite liked it so it stayed in use. Sadly, I can't think of any more recent examples, which makes me suspect I should be exercising more creativity in my words. These days, I mostly just borrow words from other places. (Too often, this equates to lift curse words and exclamatory phrases from science fiction universes, but not always.) I discovered and love the Greek word “meraki” which is “the soul, creativity, or love put into something; the essence of yourself that is put into your work.”

So perhaps I shall put some meraki into being more aware of – and coming up with – creative words myself. What made-up words do you use? What can you think of that you wish there was a word for?

No comments:

Post a Comment