The Kaleidoscopic Languages of Love
One of my most favorite expressions to hear from my parents is “دل کی ٹھنڈی” or in transliteration, dil ki taandh. It is a common expression of sweet love in South Asia, and has always had the effect of making me feel exceptionally loved and determinedly ambitious. Those are unique responses compounded together, because this phrase, like so many others I know in Urdu/Hindi/Punjabi, has kaleidoscopic meanings that can elicit an array of responses.
I don’t know how to translate this phrase (hey any South Asian folks want to give this a shot?) but here is the best I can do: Dil means heart and taandh means cooling. So imagine you go for a run (I cannot relate to this) on a scorching hot day (relate to this even less), and you come across a stunning view and take a swig of your ice water. THAT. That feeling right there, of knowing you are witnessing something truly special and feeling that calming coolness cascade through you…THAT is taandh. So dil ki taandh is when your heart is full, at peace and moved at once. It’s a sweet, soft phrase that startles when you think about the nuance it encompasses. Every time I heard it, I was both duly proud of having made my parents so happy and determined to keep doing whatever it was.
If you are lucky enough to grow up bi- or trilingual, you will find ready amusement volleying phrases across languages, wrestling with the best way to translate a particularly raunchy/wise/irreverent/proverbial idea into another language. And nowhere is that more fun than with love.
This got me thinking: what are some phrases in other languages that capture kaleidoscopic meanings that do not have ready English counterparts?
The world did not disappoint. Here are a few examples:
Adulterers in the 1980s, middle-schoolers in the 1990s and cash-strapped traveling millennials alike will appreciate this. This word — several feelings and actions at once — describes the following series of events: when you call someone and have the phone ring once so he or she knows it’s you and calls back, saving you money (and evidence of a phone record?) For what it’s worth, I appreciate a guy who takes my financial circumstances into consideration. I remember when it cost 10 cents to send or receive a text in the early days of cell phones when I was in high school. That all added up and I got in trouble.
This syllable-heavy word describes the look passed between two people who most definitely feel a spark and want to pursue something but both are scared and held back by…shyness? Fear? As I write this, there are two girls obviously having a “catch up” but the sparks could power this place, let me tell you. Both are shyly complimenting each other, laughing too soon at the jokes and one is fidgeting and forgot what to do with her hands. I hope someone asks someone out on a date, and if that doesn’t happen I may need to intervene.
The walking-on-air feeling when you are first dating someone you like a lot. I imagine it goes along with smiling without realizing it and that extra sparkle in your eye.
“Chi ama me, ama il mio cane”
It translates to “he who loves me, loves my dog.” It’s a darling way of saying you want someone to accept you as you are in life, at this point in your journey, with all you are and all you have…and if that includes a pet, then I definitely encourage it.
Avoir des atomes crochus
We all know the phrase “great chemistry” but the French kick up several scientific notches with this phrase that means “to have hooked atoms.” I would imagine it’s what it feels like to have insightful, witty banter with someone you find attractive and compelling — an overwhelming sense of connection on all levels. I hope you’re lucky enough to have experienced this one.
Yí ri san qiu
This means “one day, three autumns” and captures such ache for the lover you are missing that each day without her seems to last three years…Excuse me while I melt into a puddle.
(Spanish, mostly used in Costa Rica)
Why call someone your “better half” or “significant other” or anything really, when you can call him your “other half of the orange?” The more I think about this, the more I love it. An orange is a solid source of vitamin c, to boost your strength against the ills of the world, most people peel an orange and split it down the middle in equal parts, and lastly…nothing in the english language rhymes with orange. There’s nothing like it, and there’s nothing like this relationship. This needs to go mainstream, and certainly needs to replace the clinical “partner” of today’s vocabulary. Also, “partner” could apply to a corporate relationship, a compatriot in the wild west, or imply you’re gay. It’s gotta go.
The feeling a person has for someone he once loved but now no longer does.
Russian has always had a monopoly on heavy emotions, but this seems relatively painless, like seeing a former crush walk down the street. You might even wonder what you saw in him or her to begin with.
The fatalistic Arabs give the Russians a run for their rubles here. This roughly translates to “I wish you to bury me” in the hope that the person you love will outlive you so that you don’t ever learn how to navigate life without him or her. Conversely, it’s incredibly mean because you are effectively passing off unimaginable pain to your loved one. Just saying.
Cavoli means cabbage. This phrase translates to “reheating cabbage” and in the romantic sense describes when you try to restart a relationship with an ex. Much like the vegetable when heat is applied, that attempt will fall flat.
Hava do nafaras
Speaking Farsi sounds like singing a song, so it’s no surprise it is a truly emotional and poetic language. This phrase translates to “The weather is for two people” and is often used when it is particularly cloudy or raining, because to Iranians, rain conjures up romantic images of two people walking hand-in-hand.
The moon features high in subcontinental poetry, and so this is a weighty compliment. If someone says this to you, it means that the spectacular beauty of nature is rendered obsolete in comparison to yours…and there are no other words to express it.
And we return to South Asia, after traipsing over the world through several different stages of love and with this one insight. Love is scary, risky, challenging, difficult. It is also marvelous, poetic, strengthening, uplifting…and that is why we celebrate it, in each era, in every culture. People will continue to try and describe it for as long as people will continue to pursue it.
The English language is largely functional, and sometimes just gets to the heart of the matter so we can close on that.
All you need is love.