as someone with an english degree, i think a lot about words that we don't have in english.
the fact that we don't have words in english at all is quite a feat because english has the most words out of any language in a world with over 7,000 written and oral langauges.
my linguistics professor will disagree with me about this. he doesn't think that there are more than about a thousand languages.
but he also doesn't believe that words exist, so.
you've probably seen a buzzfeed list or something on the internet that's like "these 30 cool words that are untranslatable in english!"
the most common is probably "fernweh", which is a german word for the feeling of being homesick for a place you've never been. the closest english word to it is wanderlust but it doesn't quite capture the meaning. (i have some friends with some cool fernweh tattoos. i definitely feel fernweh about the scottish highlands.)
in my linguistics class, which i LOVE by the way, we're moving into morphology, which is the study of building words. we build words out of morphemes, which are small linguistical units that have meaning.
for instance, in the word irreplaceable, there are four morphemes, place, re, able, and ir. place is the root or stem, because it can stand on its own. we can attach re to form replace, then able to form replaceable, and then ir to form irreplaceable. every time we add a new morpheme, the meaning or grammar of the word changes. (these are all derivational morphemes, but i won't get into that.)
sorry that this is like, awkwardly lecture-esque, but i REALLY like morphology. doing my morphology homework was really fun (and really nerdy) and it was like solving a gigantic puzzle.
by looking at a set of words in a language i don't know, i can build a word.
i figured out how to build the word "of our little hands" in turkish. it was awesome.
I AM A GIGANTIC WORD NERD.
part of my homework was to find three lexical gaps. a lexical gap is something we don't have a word for in english.
my professor encouraged us to think of these in class on tuesday. when we came up with one, we were to share them.
some of the best ones we came up with:
1. snot that freezes in your moustache on a cold day.
2. the feeling of getting a pebble in your shoe.
3. the puddle of drool on your pillow when you sleep.
4. the feeling of tripping and falling.
we decided that the feeling of getting a pebble in your shoe was going to be SIS, or shit in shoe. i reminded my professor that this could be figuratively or literally, depending upon whether or not you had a dog.
for our homework, we needed to come up with three of these ideas and make a word for it in english.
we had a lot of ways to do this and we had to describe which ways we used.
getting all lecturey again, there are a lot of ways to create words by attaching morphemes. affixation is where we attach morphemes together to form words. there are lots of types of this, like adding prefixes and suffixes. there are also infixes, or sticking morphemes inside other morphemes.
english has one infix. and that is the word fucking.
(sorry, mom, if you're reading this. i'm describing my linguistics homework.)
my professor: what's the only infix in english?
my professor: fuck-ING. GOD WHY DOES NOBODY IN MY CLASSES EVER REMEMBER THE PROGRESSIVE ING MORPHEME.
that actually happened on tuesday. like, that's a real conversation that happened.
there's shortening, like CIA or NSA, there's acronymy, like NASA and scuba, there's clipping like turning christopher into chris, which is just blatantly chopping part of a word off. i think my favourite is blending, where you combine two words to form one word, like bromance.
bromance = brother minus ther (clipping) + romance minus ro (clipping) to form bromance. so it's a blend of two clipped words.
i'm getting really excited. i'm so happy that i have two linguistics classes at the grad level starting in the fall because this class is awesome and i will write more about it later.
honestly, my professor is what makes it awesome. it could be boring as hell if you really wanted it to be.
after i did my morphology trees (showing how morphemes are added to change the word meaning and sometimes lexical category) and figured out how to add morphemes in turkish and a native american language that i can't remember off the top of my head, i had to come up with three lexical gaps, make english words, and describe what process i used to create them.
i wasn't worried about the process. in class i came up with somnosalivation as the act of drooling in your sleep, and not to brag, but my professor was very impressed.
i was more worried about finding a lexical gap than making a new word.
everyone in my class seemed to come up with lexical gaps really easily. i had a hard time thinking of things for two reasons.
1. i was too excited about morphological trees to really think about lexical gaps
2. i wanted them to be REALLY GOOD and SUPER UNIQUE to impress my professor.
(his kids dance at the ballet studio i work at. they're so good that they're studying with the new york city ballet currently. he has two doctorates. i feel the need to impress him.)
i took to googling things like "untranslatable words".
i found a really cool website where you can find a word in another language that doesn't have an english equivalent and post it, or "donate" it. you would write the word, the language it was from, the pronunciation, and what it meant in english. then people could comment on it and be like "thanks for sharing, larry!"
there are some cool words out there. like there's a norwegian word for a pregnant woman who craves a specific food. there's a word in afrikaans for food that you take specifically for road tripping. there's another word for the breeze that you feel when you stand between an open door and an open window.
english may have the most words out of any language in the world, but we should step up our game.
after looking at these words (find a cool list of them here.) i came up with three lexical gaps that i was pretty proud of. and i set to work building the words for them.
1. joysong- a blend of the english words joy and song. the happiness that comes from singing.
2. pennewriten- a blend of the french word penne, meaning feather pen, and writen, the old english word for write. the feeling of writing with a smooth pen.
3. phantomfear- a clipping of the english word phantasmagoria blended with the english word fear (as it alludes to anxiety). a nightmare that comes from a specific anxiety, such as forgetting your school books.
i don't know, man. i'm just really nerdy and really excited and really proud.
RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU'RE A MORPHOLOGY NERD.
that's cool. it's not for everyone. but when i'm bored, i'm definitely going to be spending some time finding lexical gaps and building words to fit them.
snush- the snot that freezes in your moustache on a cold day.