Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

25 words you wished were in the English language

In what i'm reading on June 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm

The English language is an amazing thing. It’s a truly international language – over the centuries it has gathered, stolen, pilfered and otherwise acquired new words from other languages, devouring them and assimilating them into itself at a rapid pace.

This evolving language is not without its absences, however. This article got picked up on the So Bad So Good blog earlier this year: Alex Wain’s 25 Words That Simply Don’t Exist in English.

These are all words that I wish we had in our language – words that would be really useful to writers and linguists. Instead we have to explain our meaning in long sentences. Such as the Japanese word age-otori (to look worse after a haircut) or the word from Easter Island tingo (to borrow objects one by one from a neighbor’s house until there is nothing left).

I only knew three of these words, some of which have passed into common parlance in English as far as I’m concerned:

Schadenfreude (German) – the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain;

L’esprit de l’escalier (French) – translated as ‘staircase wit’. The act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it;


Waldeinsamkeit (German) – the feeling of being alone in the woods.

But there are many more here that I wished I knew. I’ll be trying to drop them into my writing in the future – with explanations of course.

Do go and read it – it’s rather fun.

The ever-changing nature of the English language was covered in an excellent exhibition at the British Library last year, called Evolving English. There are some remnants of its content available to read and podcasts to listen to online here.


Dreaming of libraries

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2012 at 10:16 am

I had a dream about libraries the other night. Yeah, it took me by surprise as well. I thought I’d write it up.

It started strangely when, like all good dreams, the world had been taken over by aliens. The invading forces informed the human race that one of their first acts was going to be vaporising all the national libraries and archives on the planet. How unfair, I hear you gasp.

The generous aliens did, however, allow us to remove and keep just five items from all of the libraries in the world. Five items in total to sum up humanity.

I flattered myself in my dream that I’d been summoned to the committee that was going to save them. What would be pick?

In the end we opted for Magna Carta, a first folio of Shakespeare, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a Gutenberg Bible and – due to pressure from the Americans – the US Declaration of Independence.

The documents were saved and the libraries duly destroyed. But then the aliens informed us that three of the documents were far too concerned with the rights of humans and their plight for democracy, so vaporised those too.

So in the end we just had a bible and a copy of Shakespeare which, incidentally, is what you get provided as reading material on Radio 4’s Desert Island Disks.

And then I woke up.
Strange dream I know, but there we are.

What would you have picked if there were allowed to choose just five objects from any library in the world? Would you have chosen historically signifcant documents? Or your favourite author? Hmmm, I wonder what I’d choose if I wasn’t in dream-world …