Carmen chose LACUNA as this week’s word. And what an interesting one. It’s one of those lovely words that are satisfying to say – you roll all those vowels around in your mouth like toffee. And I also think it also conveys some of what it means – ‘lacuna’ suggests a gap, a void, something missing.
So I was thinking about gaps and voids, and if there were any in my life and (happily, I suppose) I was drawing a blank. So I searched for definitions and found that in linguistics, a lacuna is a lexical gap – a word that’s missing in a particular language. Which just shows that Weekword is plugged into the great synchronicity machine in the sky, because:
I have just finished a book – this book– which attempts to explain the credit crunch and why it happened in terms the non-economist will understand. (It’s very good – I recommend it.) And inside the cover flap, it says this:
There’s probably a word in German for that feeling you get when you can understand something while it’s being explained to you, but lose hold of the explanation as soon as it stops.
And that tickled me – that German has a reputation for having words for very specific feelings (some of which we borrow, like ‘angst’ and ‘schadenfruede’). So I asked the posters on a very cosy little corner of the internet I like to hang out in: ‘What do you wish there was a word for?’ And the answers were really interesting. And as I can tie the discussion in with the Weekword (thank you, Wikipedia!), I shall share them with you.
We had some straightforward ‘I want a word for…’:
The pain when you stub your toe.
‘Grown up children’ – so people could talk about their children while making it clear they weren’t little kids.
The feeling when you think you have one more sweet/biscuit/crisp left in the packet but actually, you’ve eaten them all.
Pain that’s actually quite nice
That peppery/tingly/itchy feeling you get in your nose before you sneeze.
So, there are some straightforward lexical gaps.
And then some speakers of other languages described the ‘untranslatables’ from their languages – words that had no direct equivalent in English:
The Dutch have ‘gezellig’ and the Danes have ‘hygge’ to describe a sort of warm, comforting cosiness. The Welsh have ‘hiraeth’ to describe the longing and nostalgia for home that surpasses homesickness: the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke described it as ‘a longing of the soul to come home to be safe’, which I think is a beautiful description.
There’s no real English equivalent of the Italian ‘bella figura’ – something that is ‘the done thing’ or the Swedish ‘pyssla’ to tinker with something crafty. (I need that word.) The Spanish have a word for ‘citizen of the United States’, which is more precise than ‘American’.
The Welsh have ‘cwtch’ which means a cuddle or a snuggle (and it’s widely used by English speakers in Wales – so much so that it’s treated as an English word and we now have ‘cwtching’, ‘cwtchy’). In Arabic there is a word (hias) to describe that feeling you have where you’re bored and restless and irritable, and yet there is nothing that you actually want to do and everything that anyone suggests you do to try and relieve the restlessness/boredom just irritates you more. (I need that word too.)
On the other hand, there’s no word in Urdu for coffee. The Danes have no word for custard. The French use ‘maison’ for both house and home, which convey very different meanings in English. Many languages don’t have separate words for borrowing and lending. Apparently, Romanian has no word for ‘shallow’ – they just say ‘not deep’.
Before you hop over to Carmen’s blog to see the other Weekwords, please share your lexical lacunas with me. What do you wish there was a word for? If you speak two (or more!) languages, what can you say in one but not the other?