Friday, April 10, 2009

New words to assimilate

I love English. Yeah, it's my mother tongue, but it's also the Borg of linguistics. Encounter a new word that you can't translate? Assimilate!

Several years ago, I happened upon a list of potential new words and phrases for English to steal in the 1995 edition of the Book of Lists :

1. Cavoli riscaldati — This is supposedly an Italian expression for trying to revive a dead love affair, likening it to reheating cabbage. My Italian friends at the time claimed it was new to them. Must be dialect or something.

2. Dohada — A Sanskrit word for "the unorthodox cravings of pregnant women". (No further comment needed.)

3. Drachenfutter — German for "dragon fodder", a gift that a husband buys to placate his wife when he arrives home late.

4. Esprit de l'escalier — "The spirit of the staircase", or thinking up a great comeback too late to burn the other guy. This one has real potential.

5. Kyoikumama — A Japanese mother ("school mama") who pushes her kids into academic achievement. And here you thought it was just a stereotype...

6. Nakhes — Yiddish for the combination of pleasure and pride that you get from your kid's achievement, especially if you're a kyoikumama.

7. Ondinnonk — Iroquois word for the soul's innermost benevolent desires. A really optimistic taked on human nature, IMHO.

8. Razbliuto — Apparently a Russian term for the non-feelings a man has towards an ex lover.

9. Schaddenfreude — The joy Germans feel when someone they don't like gets what's coming to him.

10. Tartle — Supposedly a Scottish term for not remembering something right away. (Doesn't say whether it's Gaelic or dialect, but I definitely detect a whiff of Scotch.)

Recognize any of these? So far, only #9 (spelled "Schadenfreude") has gotten any traction that I've noticed. As far as I know, they could all be made up. But I would like to add one of my own experience that I think has great relevance in the current age of social networking:

11. Cazzate — Italian for what we might call "talking shit", but it's a little more specific than that. When Italians pepper cazzate (pronounced like "cats-atta", and loosely translated as "penis words") into their conversation, they are engaging in an Italian form of humour that involves saying ridiculous things with a straight face to amuse themselves and their friends. It's like trolling, but in sophisticated company.

Enough with the cazzate. Enjoy your Good Friday! And please feel free to add to my list of borg words for the long weekend.


  1. "Schadenfreude" came into English much earlier -- I remember learning it in English lit class in high school or undergrad university.

  2. Fair enough, David. But do you have any new contenders to add?