Tag Archives: english

Top 10 Relationship Words That Aren’t Translatable Into English

Elephant-Heart-726472These are words that in other languages describe the subtle realities of love, desire and relationship… but seem to have no direct English translation. Compiled by Pamela Haag at BigThink:

1. Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan, an indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego): The wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something, but are both reluctant to start.

Oh yes, this is an exquisite word, compressing a thrilling and scary relationship moment. It’s that delicious, cusp-y moment of imminent seduction. Neither of you has mustered the courage to make a move, yet. Hands haven’t been placed on knees; you’ve not kissed. But you’ve both conveyed enough to know that it will happen soon… very soon.

2. Yuanfen (Chinese): A relationship by fate or destiny. This is a complex concept. It draws on principles of predetermination in Chinese culture, which dictate relationships, encounters and affinities, mostly among lovers and friends.From what I glean, in common usage yuanfen means the “binding force” that links two people together in any relationship.But interestingly, “fate” isn’t the same thing as “destiny.” Even if lovers are fated to find each other they may not end up together. The proverb, “have fate without destiny,” describes couples who meet, but who don’t stay together, for whatever reason. It’s interesting, to distinguish in love between the fated and the destined. Romantic comedies, of course, confound the two.

3. Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese): The act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair.

4. Retrouvailles (French):  The happiness of meeting again after a long time. This is such a basic concept, and so familiar to the growing ranks of commuter relationships, or to a relationship of lovers, who see each other only periodically for intense bursts of pleasure. I’m surprised we don’t have any equivalent word for this subset of relationship bliss. It’s a handy one for modern life.

5. Ilunga (Bantu): A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.

Apparently, in 2004, this word won the award as the world’s most difficult to translate. Although at first, I thought it did have a clear phrase equivalent in English: It’s the “three strikes and you’re out” policy. But ilunga conveys a subtler concept, because the feelings are different with each “strike.” The word elegantly conveys the progression toward intolerance, and the different shades of emotion that we feel at each stop along the way. Ilunga captures what I’ve described as the shade of gray complexity in marriages—Not abusive marriages, but marriages that involve infidelity, for example.  We’ve got tolerance, within reason, and we’ve got gradations of tolerance, and for different reasons. And then, we have our limit. The English language to describe this state of limits and tolerance flattens out the complexity into black and white, or binary code. You put up with it, or you don’t.  You “stick it out,” or not.

Ilunga restores the gray scale, where many of us at least occasionally find ourselves in relationships, trying to love imperfect people who’ve failed us and whom we ourselves have failed.

6. La Douleur Exquise (French): The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.

When I came across this word I thought of “unrequited” love. It’s not quite the same, though. “Unrequited love” describes a relationship state, but not a state of mind. Unrequited love encompasses the lover who isn’t reciprocating, as well as the lover who desires. La douleur exquise gets at the emotional heartache, specifically, of being the one whose love is unreciprocated.

7. Koi No Yokan (Japanese): The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall into love.

This is different than “love at first sight,” since it implies that you might have a sense of imminent love, somewhere down the road, without yet feeling it. The term captures the intimation of inevitable love in the future, rather than the instant attraction implied by love at first sight.

Read the rest over at Big Think

Creative Commons License photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography

Originally posted in February 2012

photo by: ildalina

Yoga Books and More: A Reading List Fit for a Yogi

Stacking Up and Defying Time (+1)Yoga is great for stretching. If you do it enough, you can touch your toes and improve your parallel parking skills by twisting to see behind you.

But, it’s also great for stretching and expanding things beyond your muscles—namely your mind. Through concentration and meditation, in particular, the mind becomes stronger and more agile, in the same way our muscles are strengthened by a Vinyasa class or trip to the gym.

Another way to stretch our minds is through svadhyaya or self-study, which encourages yogis to be students of their practice and the world. One easy way to do this is to read.  Since you’re reading this now, you’re off to a smashing start. BRAVO!

I recently had a request to share my favorite yoga and meditation books, so here’s a quick sampling of the ones I turn to most.

Modern yoga resources:

  • Living Your Yoga (Judith Lasater)
  • Eastern Body, Western Mind (Anodea Judith)
  • Yoga for Emotional Balance by my friend Bo Forbes
  • Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga by the late Georg Feuerstein
  • Mudras: Yoga in your Hands (Gertrud Hirschi)
  • Anything by B.K.S. Iyengar…

Classical yoga texts (each with multiple translations):

  • Bhagavad Gita
  • The Upanishads
  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Meditation books:

  • Wherever You Go There You Are by mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn (and dad to one my dearest friends).
  • When Things Fall Apart by no nonsense Buddhist nun Pema Chodron

As an English major, former English teacher, writer, and proud nerd founder of the Om Gal Book Club, it’s no secret that I’m a major bookworm. I even have the knots in my shoulder and neck to prove it from lugging 2-3 books in my handbag at all times. I think it’s time for an e-reader…

And since they’re not all yoga books (not even close), I’ll share what else I’ve been reading lately and what I plan to read next.

Lately…

  • Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers by the inimitable Anne Lamott
  • Lean In by Facebook COO and feminist superhero Sheryl Sandberg
  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, also known as the book that changed my life most this year.  (If you don’t have time to read the book, watch her TED Talk).
  • Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield
  • Buddy: How a Rooster Made me a Family Man by my friend and editor of the Boston Globe, Brian McGrory.
  • Undiet by Candian gal pal and nutritionista superstar Meghan Telpner
  • New & Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (which I could read every day and still have my breathe taken away at least once on each page).

Up next…

  • Learning to Breathe by my friend Priscilla Warner
  • Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham
  • A literature heavy hitter… like Infinite Jest or Anna Karenina. If I start now, I can finish by Christmas, right?
  • The September issue of Vogue—seriously, have you seen this thing? Magazine doesn’t cut it. Definitely a book.

What about you? What are you reading? Which yoga and meditation books expand your mind, and which works of prose or poetry stretch your soul and fill your handbag?

Originally published on my website, Om Gal.
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