The top ten: Useful words for which there is no English equivalent
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Sunday 16 June 2013
David Remnick, editor of 'The New Yorker', once described the British as the only nation capable of feeling Schadenfreude about themselves. Thus he took a word that isn't even English, but with which we are familiar, and turned it against us. Words in foreign or dead languages are on my Banned List, but some are so useful they have to be admitted on a temporary idiom visa...
1. Schadenfreude: Joy in the misfortune of others. German.
2. Wei-wu-wei: Deliberate decision not to do something. Chinese. From an online list compiled by Feedbacq.
3. Prozvonit: To call a mobile phone to have it ring once so that the other person calls back, saving the first caller money. Czech and Slovak. Allegedly.
4. Age-otori: To look worse after a haircut. Japanese.
5. Chutzpah: Cheek but with extremely self-confident audacity. Yiddish. Nominated by Rafael Behr.
6. Zeg: The day after tomorrow. Georgian. Sometimes English lacks subtlety. Here it lacks simple utility.
7. Stramash: Fight, uproar. Scottish and northern English.
8. Esprit de l'escalier: The brilliantly witty response you didn't think of until too late. French.
9. Fremdschämen: Being embarrassed for someone else, often someone who should be but isn't. Given that English was a half-German pidgin, it is surprising how many words we still have to borrow.
10. Pesmenteiro: One who shows up to a funeral for the food. Portuguese. Also from Feedbacq, but disputed by Torre de Marfim, who is Brazilian.?
Next week: The top 10 visual clichés (a list that started with wedding-cake decorations used to illustrate articles about gay marriage). Send your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to email@example.com
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