How to say things you've never said
English is not much of a language by itself. But if you added the words it has stolen then â woohoo
We needed a new word to describe the egregious, limp feeling of a lifeless handshake. Some people just place their hand, like a gulab jamun without an owner, into your hand and call it a handshake. A bit like being handed a dead mouse. You want to drop it and run from the room screaming. It turns out there simply is no word in English to describe that feeling.
I told my writers to get on the case and create a new word if necessary. By afternoon, we had pilshum. He placed a pilshum in my hand. I thought to myself, this one is not getting the job.
I have long been a collector of words that describe things for which we don't have words. I have a durable list of favourites and am pleased to share my trove with you — may you say things you've never said before.
Altschmerz: Weariness with the same old same old that you've always had — the same twitches and tics, the same personality flaws that you've never been able to correct, nothing new under the sun, everything is been-there-done-that, nothing to do but lie there and do nothing. That's altschmerz.
Kuebiko: I feel this a lot and I bet you do too. A state of near exhaustion inspired by an act of senseless violence. You feel like an ineffectual scarecrow, caught in the middle of turbulence, arms flapping but helpless to do anything about it.
Onism: I will never freefall from a plane. Nor go bungee jumping. Nor eat fermented fish in Iceland. Or stand at the tip of a volcano's crater watching lava surge out. Or touch the shell of a Galapagos turtle. So little time and so many things I will never do. That's the feeling of onism.
Opia: Ever tried staring into someone's eyes without flinching? Experienced that intensity of being vulnerable to a stranger whose privacy you are invading while being invaded in turn? A moment of nowhere-to-hide nakedness. That's a moment of opia.
Vemödalen: In a world where everyone has a smartphone capable of taking breath-stoppingly beautiful pictures, everyone has vemödalen — that moment you click a photo of a stunning sunset or waterfall or full moon or a smile in close-up, and realise that you must be the zillionth person to be taking the exact same photo.
Vellichor: Any book-lover would love this. It's the strange wistfulness of used book shops, filled with shelves upon shelves of priceless books you will never have time to read, books abandoned by their authors and owners, sitting like lonely widows waiting for a lover's touch. That's vellichor.
Mal de coucou: Designed for the Facebook age. It's when you have an active social life, maybe on Instagram, but no real friends you can trust or turn to when you need a shoulder to cry on.
Anecdoche: Ever been part of a conversation in which everyone is talking but no one is listening to what anyone is saying? Like a game of Scrabble gone bananas? That's an anecdoche.
The English language is remarkable for two things — the number of words it doesn't have, and the number of words it shamelessly borrows from other languages. The British came to India, left behind the railway lines and famines, but stole gymkhana, loot, dekko, charpoy and curry. Well, here's a list of words English ought to steal but hasn't yet.
Cafuné: The gesture of affectionately running one's fingers through a loved one's hair. (Portuguese)
Sobremesa: When the food is over but the conversation is still flowing. (Spanish)
Nervio: A feeling of affection so intense that you want to squeeze the object of it almost to the point of harm. (Spanish)
Tartle: That panicky moment of hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can't quite remember.
Pelinti: Ever bit into a piping hot pizza too soon and then hopped about the room shaking your head with your mouth open, unable to chew and unable to spit? That's a moment of pelinti. (Ghana)
Mencolek: When you're feeling frisky so you prankishly tap someone on the other shoulder from behind. You're doing that old menfolk again. (Indonesia).
Faamiti: You hear it in Mumbai a lot and it sounds like chwooooop. A squeaking sound made by sucking air past the lips to get someone's attention. (Samoan)
Ya'arburnee: Makes me cry, this one. It's the wish that you may die before the one you love so deeply.
But my all-time favourite because of the surge of complex interwoven feelings it evokes is —
Petrichor: I'm walking down a street under a lowering, thundering sky. The wind becomes chillier and leaves rustle in eddies. Your nose twitches to that unique aroma of wet earth. You know a hard rain is coming.
That smell. That's petrichor.
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at email@example.com
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