Pena Ajena!

So Bad So Good published an interesting article a few weeks back called 25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In English. It says, “We look at 25 words that simply don’t exist in the English langauge (and yet after reading this list, you’ll wish they did!)” It is a fun article, but I have a few thoughts about it.

1 Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut

We do have phrases like “getting your ears lowered.” But more specifically, we do have a word: nice. “Oh! You got your hair cut. It looks nice.”

2 Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude

This is a good one. We do have a specialized word for it, however: Christmas.

3 Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist

Leave it to the Krauts, huh? I can’t think of anything here, but I just don’t see the usefulness of this word.

4 Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind

I’m out of my depth here. I just don’t think about this kind of thing, but I suspect we have words and phrases for this.

5 Desenrasçanço (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it)

We do have a word for this: divorce. Geez!

6 Duende (Spanish): a climactic show of spirit in a performance or work of art, which might be fulfilled in flamenco dancing, or bull-fighting, etc.

What? The fact that it is associated with flamenco and bull-fighting might have something to do with the fact that we haven’t needed to coin such an odd word.

7 Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love

We’re Americans. We just call it love, because we never get more mature than that.

8 Gigil (pronounced Gheegle; Filipino): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute

I think we do have a word for this, or a sound. You know: oiggeeeg!

9 Guanxi (Mandarin): in traditional Chinese society, you would build up good guanxi by giving gifts to people, taking them to dinner, or doing them a favor, but you can also use up your gianxi by asking for a favor to be repaid

This is all very nice, but we most definitely have a word for this and it is even in the definition: favor. Or a phrase, “good graces.” This one isn’t even close.

10 Ilunga (Tshiluba, Congo): A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time

We don’t have such amenable people.

11 L’esprit de l’escalier (French): usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it

This is just silly. We definitely have a word that means L’esprit de l’escalier: L’esprit de l’escalier! Geez!

12 Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery

I don’t know about you, but I always use bergmanesque.

13 Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan): A look between two people that suggests an unspoken, shared desire

This is a nice one. I think it is well represented by “shared glance” however.

14 Manja (Malay): “to pamper”, it describes gooey, childlike and coquettish behavior by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men. “His girlfriend is a damn manja. Hearing her speak can cause diabetes.”

I don’t even know what this is supposed to be. Does it mean to pamper or one who incites the desire to pamper? Regardless, I don’t want to be in any social setting where I might need to use this word.

15 Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee; Greek): Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing

Like a soulless people would need such a word!

16 Nunchi (Korean): the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood. In Western culture, nunchi could be described as the concept of emotional intelligence. Knowing what to say or do, or what not to say or do, in a given situation. A socially clumsy person can be described as ‘nunchi eoptta’, meaning “absent of nunchi”

I think we would call this empathy, but this word has a nice specificity.

17 Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation

Leave it to the Mexicans to coin a phrase that—out of all of the words here—I really do feel bad about not having. I’ll just have to memorize this and start using it. Pena ajena!

18 Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions

I can see that my friends might feel deprived by the lack of his word. But in general, we have no use for such a word because as a people we do not ask a lot of questions. We just talk a lot. And there are lots of words for that!

19 Schadenfreude (German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain

Again: the Krauts! I am liking those people less and less. Contrast with the Mexicans.

20 Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky

I’m not a big whiskey drinker, but even still, I have no idea what this is. Perhaps you have to be a drunk. Or Irish.

21 Taarradhin (Arabic): implies a happy solution for everyone, or “I win. You win.” It’s a way of reconciling without anyone losing face. Arabic has no word for “compromise,” in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement

Perhaps we would just say “a solution” or “agreement.” I would say, “The denouement of every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

22 Tatemae and Honne (Japanese): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively

Not fair! That’s two words. Anyway, I don’t think these are difficult enough concepts to require their own words.

23 Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island): to borrow objects one by one from a neighbor’s house until there is nothing left

I don’t believe it! What? Like someone borrows your screwdrivers one by one until he has the set? Does anyone even live on Easter Island?[1]

24 Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods

Might I suggest: alone? Or “alone in the woods” if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.[2]

25 Yoko meshi (Japanese): literally ‘a meal eaten sideways,’ referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language

I wouldn’t know about that.

Are you experiencing Pena ajena?

[1] Yes! There are 5,034 residents of Easter Island, according to Wikipedia.

[2] Yes, I am quoting from The Big Lebowski, which I seem to do more and more as the years go by.

God Hates Figs

God Hates FIgsI’ve written before about Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church and their campaign (and website) “God Hates Fags!” Well, some clever person has noticed that they have it all wrong. It isn’t fags; it’s figs. Click on the image to buy the shirt. Or don’t. I have no stake in it.

Mark 11 (New American Standard Bible):

12 On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. 13 Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening.

American Unexceptionalism

Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman got caught in a brouhaha recently after claiming that he wasn’t sure if President Obama was a citizen. This is a big deal because it calls into question the legitimacy of the government by one of its official representatives. This statement didn’t really bother me, however. Coffman is just another crazy Republican, saying crazy things. And anyway, he apologized:

What bothered me about his statement was not his uncertainly; it was his certainty. Here is the whole quote:

I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don’t know that, but I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.

This does offend me. This isn’t just a partisan attack. This is the line that Republicans always hold. It is the same hubris that most Christians have in believing that they alone know what God wants. In this case, Republicans know what America is and anyone who disagrees with them is not an American. They define what it is to be American. (Of course, they hold a thimble full of liquid out of the ocean of truth.)

When Coffman apologized, he said more than, “I misspoke and I apologize.” Here it is:

I have confidence in President Obama’s citizenship and legitimacy as President of the United States… However, I don’t believe the President shares my belief in American Exceptionalism. His policies reflect a philosophy that America is but one nation among many equals. As a Marine, I believe America is unique and based on a core set of principles that make it superior to other nations.

So he doubled down on the, “If you don’t believe what I do, you’re a communist.” Whatever.

For the record, I do not believe in American Exceptionalism, although President Obama clearly does. I accept that Americans who believe in this doctrine are Americans, but I suspect they are delusional. And I’m not even talking about our many and varied policy failures over the years to spread “freedom and democracy” around the world. We have a big army and a big economy and we use it to bully the world into giving us what we want. This is the only way in which we are exceptional. But throughout history, this is exactly how all big empires operated. And there is nothing exceptional about that.