I glanced at her. I spied her. I looked at her. I gazed at her. I watched her. I ogled her. I leered at her. I eyed her. I peeked at her.

I saw her.

This is one of the greatest things about English – one of its best and most useful features, and one that gets taken for granted far too much. The sheer linguistic versatility that we have access to is incredible. Without getting out of our chair, we can sit or laze or relax or recline or slouch or slump. Depending on our mood, we can mutter or murmur or mumble or grumble. We can speak or talk or whisper or yell or coquette. Coquette, for Christ’s sake. Sure, we owe it to the French (who else?), but we have a word for flirting for the sake of flirting.

There are a lot of reasons for this. One of the most prevalent is that English is basically a filthy scumrat of a language. It picks things up from everywhere. In no particular order, we can thank (or blame) the French for ‘beef’, the Italians for ‘carpet’, and the Arabs for ‘candy’. It may be a slightly tired point to those of you out there who know anything at all about linguistics, but English owes a lot to everyone else. (“Everyone else” being the languages that it’s slowly replacing all around the world, obviously.)

We are lacking in a couple of places, obviously. Other languages do have a few points up on us, in terms of wonderfully useful words that probably say a lot about the sort of people that thought of them. Schadenfreude is one of the ones that gets brought up a lot. Maybe it says something about the history of the English temperament, I’m not sure, but for some reason we never decided we needed to succinctly express “happiness at someone else’s misfortune”. There are lots of other great ones out there, though.

Plaatsvervangende schaamte, for example. “Place-exchanging shame”. In what can only be a testament to the Dutch’s empathy, they have devised a term for the embarrassment you feel on behalf of someone else – that cringe when you see someone foul up so horribly bad that you feel it yourself. This fantastic person coupled it with that video of Miss South Carolina, which… well, let’s face it, if you have a heart it’s a great combination.

On the other hand, the Czechs have litost. As put by Milan Kundera, this is a “state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery”. In fact, I’m not going to bother elaborating on that definition. Here, go to this excerpt from Milan Kundera’s most excellent book The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and then try to appreciate the sort of people that not only need to express that feeling, but have it down to one word.

Hell, there are entire books about this sort of thing. Christopher J. Moore’s book, In Other Words, is one you should check out if you get the chance. That way you can learn about yoko meshi: “a meal eaten sideways”, the Japanese expression for the stress caused by speaking a foreign language (also a pretty nifty pun based on the fact that Japanese is written vertically and not horizontally, like most languages). How can you not love that? If you adopt the use of yoko meshi, you can use a word from a foreign language to describe the feeling of speaking a foreign language. You know you want to.

That’s not to say English is without remarkably specific and useful words on its own. For instance, ‘velleity’. A velleity is desire in its weakest form: a wish you have without the effort of obtaining it. A ‘susurrus’ is the indistinct sound of people whispering, and also a word that you need to go out and use within the next week. And, of course, we have coquette from back up-post.

This is a point that’s made an incredible amount, but can never be made too many times. Words are amazing. Learn you some.

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