Wordly wise

Updated: 16 December, 2018 08:50 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

This new collection of untranslatable words from across the world is what every linguaphile needs

The word Komorebi means the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees. Pic Courtesy/Rituparna Sarkar, Wonder Words (PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE)
The word Komorebi means the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees. Pic Courtesy/Rituparna Sarkar, Wonder Words (PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE)

It's been a while since we've read a book, and thought how we need to carry it everywhere we go, because referencing it, would come in handy. The last time it happened was when this writer was down in the dumps, and believed that The Bible, would help get her through.

In school, it was the Pocket Oxford English Dictionary, our guide to building great vocabulary. Rituparna Sarkar's Wonder Words: Untranslatable Words From Around The World (Penguin Random House) is that book for us now. It's the kind of collection that would make any linguaphile go weak in their knees.

Rituparna Sarkar
Rituparna Sarkar

Like Sarkar explains in the introduction that while English is spoken in 94 countries across the world - that is nearly one-third of the world's population - it is possibly not enough to explain everything we see and experience in the world. One could argue that it's not really the case, but wait till before you read this book, which comprises 65 words - Sarkar describes them as wonder words - from languages across the world.

For instance, recently on my birthday, I got myself a trim to cheer myself up. But my scissor-happy hairdresser ended up giving me a fringe that looked more like a 70s puff. It made me feel miserable, of course, and I don't think the English dictionary had a better word to articulate that torment. But Sarkar tells us about the Japanese word "age-otori" (say it like: aah-gay-oh-toh-ree), which is what you feel when you look worse after getting haircut.

We loved the Indonesian word "desus" (say it like: they-saa-s), which means the smooth sound of somebody farting quietly, and Romanian word "door" (say it like: door), which means the intense longing for someone you love, when you have separated from them. But our favourite is cafune (say it like: ka-foo-nay), a Portuguese word, which actually means to tenderly run your hands through a loved one's hair - remember that time, your mother did that, while oiling your hair?

Along with the words, Sarkar offers a simple guide on the word's origin, pronunciation and how it can be used in daily conversation. All of this together, makes it a keeper.

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First Published: 16 December, 2018 08:29 IST

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