978-1-889330-46-4 / 1889330469

They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases (The Writer's Studio)

by Rheingold, Howard

Publisher:Sarabande Books



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About the book:

Which came first: The worldview, or the words to describe it? Very possibly the latter, argues the author of They Have a Word for It. "Finding a name for something," says Howard Rheingold, "is a way of conjuring its existence." While collecting words for this book, Rheingold says he "became sympathetic to the idea that we think and behave the way we do in large part because we have words that make these thoughts and behaviors possible, acceptable, and useful." Rheingold's refusal to pull together words for entertainment value alone--though many of these words, and Rheingold's commentary on them, are highly entertaining--is what has given this book (previously out of print) a kind of cult following.

Hawaiian contributes a word (ho'oponopono) here that means "solving a problem by talking it out"; Japanese, a term (kyoikumama) for a "mother who pushes her children into academic achievement"; Indonesian, a word (kekaku) meaning "to awaken from a nightmare"; and Mayan (some things, it seems, are universal), a concise way to say "stupid in-laws" (bol). While it is the Asian and obscure linguistic groups that seem to come up with the most "powerful" ideas, German wins for packing a whole sentence's worth of meaning into one (albeit long) word. How much happier Strunk and White would rest if we could just say Torschlüsspanik when discussing "the frantic anxiety experienced by unmarried women as they race against the 'biological clock'"; Treppenwitz when referring to the "clever remark that comes to mind when it is too late to utter it"; and Schlimmbesserung when lamenting "a so-called improvement that makes things worse." --Jane Steinberg

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