The English language contains thousands of words, all of which are used in beautiful, complex and distinctive ways, varying from person-to-person, region-to-region, continent-to-continent. And yet even with this much diversity available, we still don’t have a universal statement for that thing where you’re about to walk into a stranger in the street so you re-adjust your path only to have them re-adjust the same way and you keep on going back and forth in this awkward dance of impending shmushing. Sometimes the English language just isn’t enough and there are a couple things we could learn from other countries that seem a little more on the ball than us. They can keep their functioning governments and friendlier dispositions, I just want to be able to call my girlfriend lazy in a good way, without unleashing a fury strong enough to destabilize political regimes. So have a look at a couple handpicked words and phrases from other countries that we should really be using on our shores.
Meaning: Taking pleasure in another’s misfortunate
Example: “A wave of Schadenfreude overwhelmed me as I watched that stuck-up vegan Quorn-eating bitch unwittingly scoff down a plate full of chicken.”
Kicking off with a well-known goodie; what’s schadenfreude? Whenever the clangCRASH of a waiter’s felled order resonates through Pizza Hut, that is Schadenfreude. Everytime you see an infant bite down on a slightly less infanty infant’s finger on youtube, that is Schadenfreude. Each time Britney Spears goes through yet another break-up, that, is Schadenfreude. Literally translating to mean “harm-joy” it’s effectively the emotion that the phrase “guilty pleasure” described before Barry Manilow, 2 Broke Girls and worldstarhiphop.com claimed it.
We need this word in our camp (pardon any and all german-based puns) so to speak. Schadenfreude to the British condition is like unattractiveness to teenagehood – it’s just part of the experience. The swedish have “Skadeglädje”, the finnish have “Vahingonilo” and we have a bunch of war veteran grandfathers who’d rather be dead than hear us speaking german. Hardly seems fair.
Meaning: Just right. A positive expression denoting something to be enough, sufficient and/or adequate.
Example: Considering the money we have to hand, I think this place has lagom pole dancers.
Lagom; not to be confused with Lego – the small brick/imagination based toy you ironically can never have enough off. If you wanted an idea so desperately missing from the English language, look no further than the country that birthed the Crazy Frog. Only a culture so lax in musical subtlety, marketing discretion and modified amphibian genitalia could produce a word that essentially means, “let’s do just enough work to make this a success”. Nothing quite defines a country’s relaxed nature than having invented a word like Lagom. There are definitely countries more laid back, you only need to look at Britain’s immigration policies, Greece’s financial troubles or Italy’s…well Italy, to see that. But creating a word, most likely because saying “just enough” was considered too much hassle, sets its own standard.
However, in its truest sense the word doesn’t describe a laziness in production like say, Swedish House Mafia, but rather the skill and practically of doing what’s required to be successful like say, Avicii. For example, Sweden have 4 different words for grandparents (accurately describing which parent’s parent you’re referring to). In most english speaking countries we can rattle off a list of endearing terms for meemaw longer than Stewie. It’s more tragic than deciding where the money from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo goes to.
Meaning: A joke told so poorly and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh
Example: “PMS jokes aren’t funny. Period.”, “*scoffing laughter*…you jayus prick.”
Apparently comedy can go one of two ways in the archipelago (more on those later) of Indonesia. Interestingly it seems to go one of those ways so often, a word was invented just to capture the true despair it evoked. Why hasn’t English developed this yet? The closest we have to describing this is an old phrase of Italian-American descent called “Jay Leno”.
Between the our dad’s puns and that one mate who couldn’t nail the delivery of a knock-knock joke if he’s life depended on it, we’ve all had a jayus moment in our lives. There was a scene in the 1998 film Lost In Space that comes to mind where the son, Will (played by the forgettably named Jack Johnson), is fixing his pet/toy/ernie-to-his-bert robot companion. During this scene the robot’s speech capabilities are rebooted and in moment of light-hearted 90s sci-fi banter the robot says,
“Will Robinson! I will tell you a joke! Why did the robot cross the road? Because he was carbon bonded to the chicken!”
For the first 3 seconds, it’s a struggle to regain cognitive function after a blow to the funny bone of that caliber. However, surely enough, the aftershock of pure laughter erupts with the lasting power of negative Matt Le Blanc review. Brief and wrong, but enjoyable while it lasted.
L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Meaning: The predicament of thinking of the perfect retort too late.
Example: Dammit! I should have brought up the ‘hotel maid shaving surprise’ incident, that would have shut him up. I hate these l’esprit de l’escalier moments.
“A sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he reaches] the bottom of the stairs” – Denis Diderot, Wikipedia
A feeling so regretfully common, my memoirs will almost certainly contain a chapter entitled “Things I should have said”, and a phenomenon so spitefully sudden, even the simplest of remarks can leave you as speechless as an 18th century French philosopher.
This phrase would be far more useful on English speaking shores. While the french are known throughout history for their competence in smooth talking, elsewhere on the globe there was a significant duration of time where the phrase ‘yo momma’ was the height of witty rebuttals. In fact, the only members of society who’ll never need this phrase are sassy black women, the supporting role homosexual in any mid-weight sitcom, alzhemier’s sufferers and sassy black women.
While the originator equates “too late” to the end of the stairwell, I think “too late” is a 6 second window (snappy comebacks are very much a time/space debate). After a put down, if 6 seconds goes by without a decent follow up, any further exhalation is dismissed the spluttering of a peasant. Perfect comebacks (almost) definitely live in hot water. Every time you have a shower, or a cup of tea another entry is written into the “Things I should have said” memoirs (working title, The Miserables).
Mhamilapinatapi (Yaghan, Tierra del Fuego)
Meaning: A look shared by two people, each wanting the other to initiate something they both wish but are unwilling to suggest or offer themselves.
Example: 15 and 85 minutes into every 21st century romcom ever made.
First, here’s a little info on Tierra del Fuego. Tierra Del Fuego is an archipelago (a cluster of islands) off the coast of South America, just next to Argentina and Chile. Just a little ways south of it is Antartica, home of ice, more ice and Santa’s evil twin. Being between the heat of the tropics and the chill of the south pole means Tierra del Fuego’s mood flips between extremes faster than Jennifer Lopez. More awkward still is, alongside Yaghan, Tierra del Fuego has another 2 native languages; Kawésqar & Ona. Even awkwarder, in a population exceeding 100,000, Yaghan only has 1 living native speaker. Without another person to speak it with, how are you supposed to keep a language going? It’s like trying to make a V formation in the sky with 2 birds. Pretty impossible.
Mhamilapinatapi is a beautiful yet sad concept, which is a sensibility so rife in British life. There’s an irony that such an unknown people have surmised one of the most common feelings in humanity. And also that something so unrequitedly honest sounds like a special VIP service at a gentlemen’s club. Modern hollywood has trained the world to seek the ‘meet-cute’ moment by overindulging us with the likes of Amanda Seyfried, Katherine Heigl and Reese Witherspoon (let’s face it, they’re all effectively the same person). But what trope do we use for real life when that doesn’t happen? Mhamilapinatapi should be inducted into our language so that every time you contemplate striking up a conversation with that barista, only to disregard that returned glance as your own imagination, you can fully articulate your own disappointing cowardice. And make an elderly Yaghan native a little less lingually alternative. Win-win.