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.