Is It Too Late to Join The Summer Party?

A little while ago, I mentioned that I was studying for some extremely stressful exams, and then I tried to keep blogging, and then I disappeared.

One 15-week revision plan later, and here we are!

Project Words-That-Don’t-Translate is still a go. Now that it’s summer, I should be able to finally continue ‘The Greats’ series as well.

But as usual in revision season, I’ve been doing a lot of running recently. Would people be interested in blog posts about that, either here or at a sister blog? It would really help me make up my mind if you guys could answer this quick poll – thanks in advance!

Thank you for your patience, and never doubt that:

rursus redibo


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WTDT 3: Leg-Stomach

Does it count if the word-that-doesn’t-translate was just adopted? This is a word that technically does exist in English, but it’s been handed over without any modifications, probably mostly because we don’t generally think of ourselves as having a ‘leg-stomach’ any more, or rather two leg-stomachs.

Gastroknemia was originally a Greek word, from gaster γαστήρ (stomach) and knema κνήμη (leg). It was then borrowed and latinised by the Romans, and then we got in on the act and stole it too.

It’s the name for one of your calf muscles, the one which runs all the way down the back of your calf and causes the bulge (which apparently makes it look like a stomach, go figure), and it’s in my mind at the moment because I have pulled it three times in the past ten days.

I recently took up running again, it being summer. I don’t tend to have time in the winter, and anyway it’s cold and miserable and rainy. It’s rainy in the summer too, but you can at least hope for sunshine. All went well for the first few weeks, but then my gastrocnemius decided to throw a tantrum.

I tried to feed the leg-stomach. Really. I took a rest for three days, I stretched, I reduced the distance I was running, but I guess it’s a picky eater.

So today, I finally looked it up, and now have some stretches that may actually feed it. Honestly. People say I’m picky because I’m a vegetarian but this is taking the cake.

Thank you for reading!

rursus redibo


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WTDT 2: Glove-Wearing-Thrower-Of-Snowballs

Or to put it more concisely: Handschuhschneeballwerfer.

Let’s lighten the tone a little this time, WTDT1 was a little heavy in the emotional stakes. This is a German word, and it’s a composite – made up of several words.

Hand – schuh – schnee – ball – werfer

Hand – shoe – snow – ball – thrower

But does it just mean that? No, of course it doesn’t. It means fastidious, a bit of a drip, a bit of a wet weekend. It means someone who makes sure to be perfectly turned out…but. Can’t. Quite. Help. Joining. In.

Am I a Handschuhschneeballwerfer? Well…I do sometimes wear gloves for snowball fights (when I remember). Not that we get much snow over here in the sunny UK, where rain is the latest fashion all year round.

But as linguists, we can embrace the Handschuhschneeballwerfer. They’re nervous about that interaction – so they make sure they’re as prepared as they can be – and then they dive right in.

At the end of the day, the Handschuhschneeballwerfer is anything but a coward.

Thanks for reading!

rursus redibo


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WTDT 1: You Bury Me

Well, why not start with a classic? This is the most iconic ‘no translation’ word I know of.

It’s an Arabic word, pronounced variously ‘ya’aburnee’, ‘te’eburnee’ and ‘teq-burnee’ according to dialect, and it’s very, very romantic. Literally, it means may it (you) bury me.

It also means I can’t live without you. It means that if you had to outlive your partner, it’d be worse than death for you – that you’d rather be dead than be left to bury them. It implies that you’re planning on spending the rest of your life with them, come hell or high water.

It doesn’t just mean I can’t live without you right now – it means that you want to grow old together, you want to occupy a space in a community together where funeral rites will be expected. It’s a commitment.

I really love the layers of this word. As a student of words, I love the way it sounds – that aspirate that asks you if you’re really ready to apply this word, gives you the chance to pause. That means that when you say it, it’s because you made a conscious decision. I love the complete lack of hard consonants. It’s a word to handle with care, because it’s fragile – and because it means so much.

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live a day without you”

~Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne (with thanks)

Thank you for reading!

rursus redibo


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I’ve been watching the ‘total views’ counter for a few weeks now with fingers crossed, and today, it finally happened – 1,000 views!

It’s a total that wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t all stop by so thank you so much – special thanks to the brilliant Fortyc’estfantastique who has kindly linked to me a few times now, and to everyone who’s commented!

So, what now? Inspired by all the challenges flying around recently, ably accomplished by authors I admire, I’ve decided to set myself one! Recently, I posted about désoeuvrement, so running with that idea I plan to do a 100-post challenge, based on words that just don’t translate into English.

The rules? No repeats – each word must be from a different language. There are around about 6000 living languages in the world (and I think dead ones will be allowed), so that should be very possible (she says at the beginning of the challenge, jinx).

In between that, I’ll be carrying on the “The Greats” series – those posts rely on me having more time to read and reflect, so they’ll be less frequent.

I’ll be trying to stick to my current schedule of at least one post per four days – but no promises, unfortunately!

Thank you once again for taking the time to share this little corner of the Internet with me!

rursus redibo


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Horizons, What Horizons?

All I was trying to do was look up a Russian instrument. Really.

Next thing I know, I’m speaking French.

It went like this: I threw it into Google with the full expectation of a wiki page, and um, no. Nada. (I was looking up lojki, sort of like castanets crossed with the spoons).

In fact, the only page which seemed remotely relevant was in French.

How often does that happen? Not necessarily on the Internet, but in trying to find the right word, or explain a concept? I talked last time about words that don’t translate, but learning a language means so much more than that.

It’s not just access to a whole new range of expressions (though that’s pretty incredible), it’s access to a whole new store of knowledge, of reactions, of categories.

They say languages broadens your horizons.

To which I say, what horizons?

Thank you for reading!


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Le Désoeuvrement

…is a word I’ve never really been able to define. It’s idleness, or inactivity, but more than that. Literally, it means dis-work-ed, as in ‘one’s work has been taken away’.

To me, it sort of signifies that feeling of enforced idleness, either because somebody else has taken your occupation away, or even more because you yourself have. It’s like disenfranchised, but with a sense of personal responsibility. An oeuvre in French is a ‘work’, it’s more than a book or a film, it’s a piece of art, a meaningful occupation, and for it to be ripped away leaves a vague sense of hollowness.

It’s that feeling when something you were enthusiastic about yesterday is suddenly difficult, or when you don’t have time for something because you’re stuck doing menial tasks.

It’s a word that comes to me looking at the blank screen where a piece of writing ought to be, or finishing a book when it’ll be a few days before I can get to the library.

And yet…at the same time, it’s a word that holds some hope. A Pandora’s box of creative sentiment. Because I can’t define it, but because it’s the first word that comes to me when I feel that way. It’s a thought I hadn’t been able to express in English, and when I found it, it slotted straight into my thought-process, an idea that was always meant to be there.

Even as I feel désoeuvré, the word reminds me why I shouldn’t be – and that’s its own particular magic, the magic of any word that defies translation. It’s an experience unique to the language-learner, the ability to pick a word out of the air and spin it 90 degrees, give it a whole new sense and importance.

What’s that word for you?

Thanks for reading!

rursus redibo


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