Monday, September 29, 2014

Worth a Thousand Unknown Words

Last year I highlighted a list of words from other languages which don't have exact equivalents in English; they require an entire sentence or phrase to be explained and even then the meaning might be fluid.

Illustrator Ella Francis Sanders created a book of 50 such words, accompanied by a drawing she intends to evoke the meaning of the word in question. The Japanese word wabi-sabi, for example,  means finding beauty in imperfections rather than in the flawless symmetry where we usually are told it resides. Ms. Sanders creates the following illustration of the concept:
The white spaces interrupt the repeating color patches and are "imperfections." Wabi-sabi means seeing them as enhancing the beauty of the overall design and pattern rather than detracting from it.

Two other words illustrated at the Mental Floss article strike uncomfortably close to home: Akihi, a Hawaiian phrase that means forgetting directions given to you as soon as you walk away, and tsundoku, a Japanese word that describes leaving a book unread after buying it and piling it with others similarly overlooked (It might be interesting to see how this word changes as e-readers become more popular and unused books are no longer piled on tables or shelves but stuffed in the "back" of the Kindle or other device).

Since I am in fact frequently guilty of tsundoku, I may wait to buy Ms. Sanders book until the pile is a little shorter.

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