A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Verbalocity, redux

TOF ran across one of those list-sites and found thereon 25 handy words that English does not have, but should. 

One of the benefits of having a word for something is that one can talk about it without talking around it.  For example, the ancient Greeks had no word for 'velocity' and so could not easily discuss the physics of local motion.  Not that they were unaware that things changed location at various rates, but they simply called it 'motion.'  A constant velocity was said to exhibit uniform motion, that is, it's motion had a single form.  Acceleration, by which a thing took on successively greater forms of motion, was call difform motion.  But that's as far as they took it.  Terms like 'velocity,' 'instantaneous velocity,' and the like awaited the Middle Ages.  So did terms like 'numerator' and 'denominator,' which you kinda need to speak of velocity intelligibly.

Thing is, the ancients (and early medievals) were interested in motion as such, more so than in its magnitude, so they wondered how a thing might move at all rather than in how one would describe that motion arithmetically, and their vocabulary reflects this.  We Moderns are just as hobbled when we try to talk about love, since the distillation of modern English boils everything down pretty much to plumbing.  The fine distinctions of eros, agape, philos, and the like are not for the blunt Modern ear, which just wants to know if she is available and if so, how soon. 

Of the words on the list linked to above, the one that seems most keenly wanted is:
Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist
Simply to define the word conjures up many needful applications.  

OTOH, only in German would that even qualify as a single word....

Your task, should you decide to accept it, is to create word badly needed by the English language and give its definition.  The word should be eminently plausible.  It may even be an actual foreign word!

An eager world awaits your contribution.  


  1. "Backpfeifengesicht" did find its way into Russian, as "морда кирпича просит" (face which asks for a brick.)

  2. Some words, and some phrases:

    'Advertlets' - those irritating little adverts that appear (and play out loud) on the margins of websites. I'm looking at you,!

    'kench' - an English word from pre-Elizabethan times, meaning to snigger uncontrollably.

    'Eet met lang tande' is Afrikaans for 'Eat with long teeth' - used of someone who hates the food, but eats it to be polite (or because his parents tell him to). Kind of like me when people serve cauliflower.

    A really sneaky, underhand person has been referred to as 'laer as slang-kak se skaduwee' - lower than snake-sh*t's shadow.

  3. Early in my marriage I was talking to my wife and said, "If I had my druthers. . . " only to get a blank stare from her. I had to explain that, in Tennessee, one might say, "I'd ruther walk than run" thus, "druther" as a noun. I personally never used "tote" as a noun but many of the more country types did. Your tote was the lunch you took to school.

  4. I have forgotten the actual word, but there is one in Japanese for a woman who looks great from behind, but not so much when you see her face.

    1. When I was in highschool and college we used "butterface" for that phenomenon. It seems to belong to the particularly vulgar and cruel part of adolescence.

  5. I've often wanted to distinguish between something good that I enjoy and appreciate, and something good that I acknowledge without personally enjoying or appreciating.

    If I were to coin words for these, I would probably call the former "megust" (may-goost) and the latter "segust" (say-goost), because Latin is the language I know best beyond English.

    I might add in "tegust" which would essentially mean, "Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

  6. Ser in spanish is the esencial parte of the Boeing and estar is a temporal descripción of.the subject.

    1. I have sometimes pulled a leg or two: When asked "What is that?" I will answer "That is brown" (or some such thing). The ser/estar distinction did not exist in Latin, so I wonder where Spanish picked it up.

    2. That's a good question. Ser is the normal to be stuff, but estar seems to talk about states. So if I had to guess, I'd guess a verbing of "status."

      (Looks it up)

      Ha! I'm kind of right! "stare", to stand, is related to "status" and "estar" both!

    3. "estar" is not from "status". It's from "stare" - "to stand" (in place, not stand up). "Status" does come from "stare" though.

      In French, "être" comes from "stare", not the old Latin "to be". This is true for any Romance language that has a "t" in "to be". I think this comes from Vulgar Latin, but I am not sure where the distinction thing comes from, or if its only in Spanish.

  7. Douglas Adams did a whole bunch of these in his little book THE MEANING OF LIFF, but some might argue he cheated by using actual place names ("words which are doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places," he argued). My home city *Toronto* was defined as: "Something which comes out in a gush despite all one's efforts to let it out slowly and carefully, e.g. ketchup onto French fries, flour into a white sauce, sperm into a human being, etc." And my favourite, *Damnaglaur*, was: "A facial expression mastery of which actors are required to display before they may be permitted to play Macbeth."

    For myself, I will suggest the totally made up term Zuspatwortenangst, which is the German for the sudden sick dismay you feel the instant you realize you've said something you can't take back; this usually manifests within seconds verbally but can take up to an hour to appear after Internet posts.

  8. This reminds me of Sniglets, a book of "words that aren't in the dictionary, but should be" that I read when I was a kid. There are a few of those that I remember, and sometimes still use occasionally, to the blank stares of those around me. Examples:

    backspackle (n): the dirt you get on your back after riding a bike without a rear fender.

    noflet (n): A wave in the hair, as exemplified by Ronald Reagan (or more recently Conan O'Brien).

    nurge (v): To inch up to a traffic light in an attempt to get it to turn green sooner.

    flarp switch (n): The one light switch in every house that doesn't appear to do anything.

    That's all I can remember at the moment, although there are more I use commonly.

  9. I thought "schadenfreude" had been naturalized by now.

  10. My favorite neologism:

    “To Trenk” means “to show a lackadaisical attitude toward the law, with catastrophic results for the client.”

  11. The link in the post above no longer being functional, I produce a link to another post that reproduced the list of words, as well as the complete list. Lest this fascinating information be forever lost from the internet.

    1 Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut

    2 Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude

    3 Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist

    4 Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind

    5 Desenrascanco (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it)

    6 Duende (Spanish): a climactic show of spirit in a performance or work of art, which might be fulfilled in flamenco dancing, or bull-fighting, etc.

    7 Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love

    8 Gigil (pronounced Gheegle; Filipino): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute

    9 Guanxi (Mandarin): in traditional Chinese society, you would build up good guanxi by giving gifts to people, taking them to dinner, or doing them a favor, but you can also use up your gianxi by asking for a favor to be repaid

    10 Ilunga (Tshiluba, Congo): A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time

    11 L’esprit de l’escalier (French): usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it. UPDATE: the english equivalent is ‘tintiddle’.

    12 Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery

    13 Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan): A look between two people that suggests an unspoken, shared desire

    14 Manja (Malay): “to pamper”, it describes gooey, childlike and coquettish behavior by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men. “His girlfriend is a damn manja. Hearing her speak can cause diabetes.”

    15 Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee; Greek): Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing

    16 Nunchi (Korean): the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood. In Western culture, nunchi could be described as the concept of emotional intelligence. Knowing what to say or do, or what not to say or do, in a given situation. A socially clumsy person can be described as ‘nunchi eoptta’, meaning “absent of nunchi”

    17 Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation

    18 Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions

    19 Schadenfreude (German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain. UPDATE: the english equivalent is ‘epicaricacy’. Thanks to John Ruppin!

    20 Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky

    21 Taarradhin (Arabic): implies a happy solution for everyone, or “I win. You win.” It’s a way of reconciling without anyone losing face. Arabic has no word for “compromise,” in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement

    22 Tatemae and Honne (Japanese): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively

    23 Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island): to borrow objects one by one from a neighbor’s house until there is nothing left

    24 Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods

    25 Yoko meshi (Japanese): literally ‘a meal eaten sideways,’ referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language


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