Post by guest blogger Jamie McGhee: Jamie McGhee is a novelist, playwright and aspiring polyglot currently making her way through East Africa with a backpack.
Love is in the air, and your vocabulary flashcards are in your pocket. Maybe you have a crush on the cute newcomer in your German language exchange. Maybe you’re looking for a sweet way to show your partner how much you care. Or maybe your true love is Russian grammar. (No judgment.)
Valentine’s Day isn’t the only time when it’s nice to skip hand-in-hand with a special someone. Whatever the season, sometimes you just need a word to express a feeling that goes beyond words. Because let’s face it, the word “love” doesn’t always cut it.
So maybe some other words will.
“Forelsket” is exhilarating partially because it’s so impossible to control. It’s that fluttery, heart-pounding, palms-sweating, complete bliss that you feel when you’re first falling in love.
On the other side of the coin is “viraag,” a much more painful and heart-wrenching feeling. It’s the anguish you experience when you’re physically separated from the person you love. This could mean a wide range of things. Perhaps your crush is in a relationship with someone else, so you’re forced to love them from afar. Perhaps you and your partner are in a long-distance relationship counting down the days until you’re reunited. Or maybe (unfortunately) you’re enduring a breakup and struggling to cope with the idea of losing someone forever. That pain you feel? It’s viraag.
Romanians have their own word for “viraag.” The same sensation, “dor,” unfortunately transcends cultural boundaries. But hey, now you know how to describe the anguish in two different languages. Hopefully you only experience it once.
When you and your loved one are finally physically reunited, then pull them close and run your fingers through their hair. There’s a word for that motion of raking your fingers through their hair. It’s “cafuné.”
Not all love is romantic. When you see something cute--whether that’s a puppy, a baby or your significant other--and you feel the intense urge to squeeze it, you’re experiencing “gigil.” Give in to the desire, but just don’t pinch too hard.
This word is all too familiar for those out there who are a bit on the shy side. You like someone, and you think (maybe!) (hopefully!) that they like you too. You’re sitting across from each other, hands almost touching, but not quite. Your breath catches in your throat and you’re sure they can hear your heartbeat slamming in your ears. You look shyly at them. They look shyly back. But neither of you makes the first move. This moment--one of joy and anguish, fear and excitement--is summed up by the Yagan word “mamihlapinatapei.”
On the other hand, if you’re more of the confident type, then “naz” won’t be a new feeling to you. Once you find out that someone is interested, naz is the burst of confidence that you get as a result.
Someone is about to come over to your home, and you can hardly wait. It could be family, or it could be a lover, but the anticipation builds nonetheless as you keep checking the clock. This excitement is “iktsuarpok.”
La douleur exquise
Okay, this word is technically three words, but the emotion is so pointed that it had to make the list. If you’ve ever experienced the stomach-twisting anguish of wanting someone that you can never have, you’ve endured “la douleur exquise.”
This can be viewed in tandem with “la douleur exquise.” “Osra” describes the bittersweet feeling of having someone only for a short time. For better or worse, you know the love won’t last, even if you want it to.
After the love has ended, the lingering sentimental feeling--an affection, almost--that you experience toward them is “razbliuto.” You once loved each other. And even though it ended, a part of you always will.
If you feel “razbliuto” and decide that you really, really want to attempt that relationship again--don’t. It hardly ever works out. Just ask the Italians. “Cavoli riscaldati” (literally “reheated cabbage”) is when you try to bring a failed relationship back to life. Like lukewarm leftover cabbage, it might sound like a good idea when you’re desperate, but when you’re faced with the mess on your plate, you’ll remember why you didn’t want it in the first place.
Leave it to the Germans to be more pragmatic about their words for love--or something close to love, anyway. “Fensterln” (from “das Fenster,” which literally means “window”) is when you have to sneak into your lover’s bedroom by climbing through the window so that you can sleep with them in secret. Ah, love!
Just because you have to sneak in through the window doesn’t mean it’s not destiny. If you and your lover are fated to be together--if “yuanfen” could be used to describe you--then nothing will stand in your way.
On the other hand, maybe fate has other plans. You and your loved one aren’t destined to be together, and you know it. But instead of surrendering to the feeling of “onsra,” you decide that you’ll do whatever it takes to change fate and ensure that you and your true love stay together no matter what. Doomed? Maybe. But you’ll still try. This is “orenda.”
This is a (slightly) more pragmatic approach to the feeling above. Your illusions have subsided and reality has set in, but you’re not quite ready to give up on a doomed relationship yet, even if in the back of your mind you know it’s a lost cause. This is “won.”
Let’s end this with a love that goes beyond typical romance. After all, there are many types of love in the world--between you and your family, between you and your friends, between you and your flashcards. When you give something everything you’ve got, when you put your entire soul into accomplishing it, then this is “meraki.” This could be a relationship or it could be learning a new language. It doesn’t matter what it is--just that you give it your all.
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What’s your favorite word for love (or a lack thereof)? Leave your answer in the comments.