The Kaleidoscopic Languages of Love

Sana Ali

Sana Ali

Sana Ali is a fashion designer born in Pakistan and raised in New York with a Master's Degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

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14 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon
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    says:

    I’ve seen lists like this before, but I’ve never seen one run the other way.

    What English words (if any) have kaleidoscopic meanings that don’t translate directly into other languages?Report

    • Saana Saana in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      I am thinking of corporate lingo like “Let’s circle back to this.” I also would be curious if any language has a counterpart to “Wait for the other shoe to drop.” It doesn’t work in any of the languages I know, it sounds totally absurd haha!Report

    • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      I can’t think of any, but that may be blindness to my mother tongue. I will say there are some things (not having to do with love) that French says more concisely or with fewer letters total, and German has some fantastic states-of-emotion words that English seems to lack.

      Idioms are interesting though. Some German idioms and English seem to be similar, but then again, the languages are kissing cousins (English did kind of fuse itself with French a little bit around 1066, after originally having been Germanic).

      I also wonder what some northern languages called the color orange before oranges (the fruit) were widespread; ISTR that the word “orange” came from an Arabic word (filtered through Spanish) for the fruit. (Actually color perception in general is interesting: Greek and its “Wine-dark seas”)Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      I met a German woman once who told us how much she liked the Americanism of “bullsh1t” As something that looked maybe kind of impressive, but couldn’t stand to be poked at and had a bad smell.

      I had never thought at all about the metaphor behind that word. But I’m not sure that’s kaleidoscopic.

      When I visited China, I had to introduce our tour director to the concept of “herding cats”. She was trying to get everyone back on the bus and off to the next stop when I mentioned it. She gave me a questioning look, and I said, “Well, you can herd ducks, or sheep, or cows. But you can’t really herd cats”. She grinned and nodded and said, “I am cat herding”.Report

  2. Avatar Aaron David
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    says:

    A tall drink of water. I always loved how that describes both the physicality and perceived result of seeing someone attractive.

    This was a great post by the way!Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    I have told Maribou “I get to die first”.

    Lovely post!Report

  4. Avatar Blomster
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    says:

    In Afrikaans one may refer to someone one loves and cares for very deeply as ‘my hart se punt’, literally translated as ‘my heart’s point’ or ‘the point of my heart’.

    I would think it is reminiscent of the deep, physical ache one can feel in the heart (seriously, I feel it in my heart!) when, in a quiet moment, you contemplate the love you have for them, and the special role they play in your life.

    It is not necessarily connected to romantic love, and often may be used in the context of the love for a child.

    Beautiful post.Report

  5. Avatar Doctor Jay
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    says:

    I love this post. Very nice.Report

  6. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    Yī rì sān qiū (一日三秋) is an example of a four-character idiom, or chengyu, the most common idiom form in Chinese. In Chinese a single character virtually always corresponds to a single syllable, and vice-versa, so they end up being four syllables as well. Often these are oblique references to historical events or classical poetry, such that the figurative meaning can’t be inferred from the literal meaning without understanding the historical or literary context, much as we might in English speak of “sour grapes” or a “squeaky wheel” in reference to Aesop’s fables, or quote a phrase from Shakespeare or the Bible in a manner that might be utterly incomprehensible to a foreigner unfamiliar with the full context in which these phrases appear.Report

  7. Avatar Silver Wolf
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    says:

    French – Mon petit chou

    It literally translates to my little cabbage. I am not sure where it came from or why it is a complement but it is a deep expression of love.Report

  8. Avatar KenB
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    says:

    Some foreign idioms are bizarre, but others can be great for dropping into an essay to make you seem very creative and good with words. I recall proofing a paper for my (Polish) thesis advisor many years ago, and he mentioned a topic that “ran like a red thread” through all the writings of a certain author. It was a neat simile and I said so, and he said it was a common idiom in Polish.

    By the way, something went wrong with that Russian word — the root for “love” is “-liub-“, so having “bliu” in this one makes no sense. There’s a verb razliubit’ which means to fall out of love — presumably this would be a derivative of that, but it couldn’t be quite as written. I’m not fluent enough to know what the correct form might be.Report

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