Tuesday, March 25, 2014

For the Love of Words: Heartache Edition

Remember the television show The West Wing? One of my favorite things said by President Bartlet was:

In my house, anyone who uses one word when they could have used ten just isn't trying hard.

Except sometimes, a single word can express ideas that are rich and complex. They encapsulate the nuance of a thought better than any ten words. I like to collect those holophrastic* words. Yes, I am a total nerd. No, I don’t use them everyday or try to shoehorn them into a conversation. But, they make my writing more interesting. And they help make me hard to beat at Scrabble.

So here are a few words about heartache that I have filed away over the years. While the vocabulary might be varsity level, I think that the meanings can be universally understood.

You know that feeling when you meet someone the first time and you know—you just know—that you are going to fall in love with them? The Japanese have a word for that: koi no yokan. Certain recent life lessons have made me wary of koi no yokan. And being afraid of that feeling makes me sad, because it is such a beautiful, dangerous, exhilarating feeling. And a tiny part of me hopes I won’t feel again.

Another beautiful but dangerous word: sillage. French perfumers will often refer to the scent that lingers in the air, even after the wearer has left, as the sillage. But there is also the sillage of a person who leaves your life. The invitation to attend the Pink Prom. The email from your favorite Ogden restaurant.  The brochure in the mail with the summer symphony schedule. The picture you tucked away in a book because it was too painful to look at. That picture will always fall out of its hiding place at the most emotionally vulnerable time. It’s a given.

Love has a sillage. I both wish and fear that it lasts forever.

The Germans have a flair for poetic words. The chess term Zugzwang—a situation where every decision is a bad one that results in damage and loss—is often fitting beyond queens and rooks. The Germans also coined Schadenfreude, the shameful joy you might feel when you learn that some jackass you used to date in college has gotten a black eye because he is a Backpfeifengesicht (a person who needs to be punched in the face).

German is such a beautiful language.

For the record, I am discovering anagapesis (no longer feeling that ferocious, dramatic love for someone) can be a wonderful thing. It makes room for redamancy (loving one with that love returned in full). It also allows for a true friendship to gain a foothold. The la douleur exquise (the pain of loving someone unattainable) really doesn’t last forever. Don’t prematurely induratize (to harden yourself, resisting love) your heart. And remember, there are as many ways to love as there are people that are worthy of your love.

I knew all those creative writing and poetry classes would pay off. Take that college advisor. Pfft… math and science. Who needs that? Not when there is vocabulary! And keep an eye out for part two in the series, For the Love of Words: MS Edition

*Holophrasis: (n.) the expression of complex ideas in a single word or phrase

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