As someone who works a lot with the written word, nothing annoys me more than forgetting a specific word or phrase. Even worse is that feeling when I’m looking for a word, but it doesn’t actually exist (at least, not in the language I speak).
There are some rambling descriptions of feeling that I know in my bones are reduced to one clean word in other languages. For instance, that moment when you start to remember a dream, but suddenly the whole thing slips away from you. Or when you have a craving for one particular kind of food that’s so strong you aren’t interested in anything else. There must be words for these, right?
After all, I highly value conciseness, and in my mind there’s nothing more concise than one word representing an entire phrase. Luckily for me, Mental Floss clearly agrees this kind of conciseness has great value, as I recently found this article from them covering fifteen words with no English translation.
“Kummerspeck (German) – Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, grief bacon.”
Grief bacon!? Perfect.
What this leads me to wonder is why some cultures have designated words for certain experiences while others don’t. How does this evolution happen? How do some feelings get words while others must rely on whole sentences?
As this article by Jon Hamilton says, “Language is a behavior, not a physical attribute.” While Hamilton may be speaking of all language – of the fact that we speak and communicate at all – this sentiment can be applied to the specific words we develop, too. We develop them based on behavior; we develop them based on what’s important to us.
With that in mind, I sat down to read the list of English words added to the dictionary in 2012. They cover of wide variety of what’s happening in our modern culture. From technology (“cloud computing”) to Oprah (“a ha moment”), our accumulation of words is cataloging our actions.
For me, nothing will top when they added “muggle” to the dictionary in 2003. What about you? What’s your favorite word added to the English language in recent years?