An ode to words

Love of language

I’m fascinated by the way we create meaning with words. We describe things we see, taste and hear, things we can touch, but also things we feel.

What a gift that we can not only conceptualise the world by giving it meaning through words, but we can describe our experience of it.

We can also describe concepts, theories, things we don’t fully understand and things we can’t yet prove. What a magical thing that we can communicate things that aren’t yet known to be true.

Words can be used as weapons and as olive branches. They can offer us support and can take us away into someone else’s imagination. What perfect tools words are!

Words around the world

I find it curious that with all of the languages that have ever existed, we’ve found different words to describe the same things.

Even more curious, though, is the fact that some words only come to life in specific settings. Some cultures give multiple names for something that elsewhere has one name, or none at all.

Sanskrit, a classical language that has influenced some modern Asian and European languages that we still speak today, has 96 words for love.

Inuit languages have many hundreds of ways of describing snow through polysynthesis, where the base word attaches to suffixes which change the meaning. Snowflake is qanuk; frost is kaneq; snow on the ground is qanikcaq.

Many descriptions of beauty, joy, longing and pain exist as words in other languages, but not English, and yet the meaning is not unattainable because they can be explained to us through a combination of other terms and concepts.

In German, there’s a word that describes solitude and connection to nature while alone in the words: Waldeinsamkeit.

In Japanese, there is a term for finding beauty in imperfections: Wabi-sabi.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my favourite is the Welsh word for nostalgia and a longing for home: Hiraeth.

Lexical legacy

Almost all words we speak, write and hear today echo through centuries of history. Every word we utter has a legacy that we couldn’t even begin to imagine.

Through the words we use, we are connected to each person who spoke, wrote or thought that word before us and yet we are mostly blind to that legacy. For me, that creates the perfect balance between beautiful and bizarre.

I’m eternally grateful that we have been given the gift of words.