Words I Want: Hygge, Aware, Sobremesa

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There's a word I learned on a recent trip to Lisbon, saudade, that I can't stop thinking about. There isn't a direct translation for the word in English, but in Portuguese, it's used to convey a state of longing or nostalgia.

My tour guide, Rafa, took our group up the winding streets of Baixa Alto, the former center of Bohemia at the turn of the century and present day epicenter of nightlife in Lisbon. "Imagine these streets, full of struggling artists and musicians, begging the world to see it the way they saw it, the way they felt it."

I stared at the graffiti doors and imagined a time and place without cell phones and H&M and Starbucks. "We live in the past. We peaked 500 years ago. It's beautiful and it's tragic, but that's life. Saudade."

I'm sure his accent and the passion with which he spoke had something to do with it, but I fell in love with the word. I was jealous that we didn't have anything comparable in English and that as a result, our descriptions  and memories of the past are shallow by comparison. 

Since my discovery of the word saudade, I've become enamored with finding new words that don't have direct English translations. I tie it back to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that our language shapes how we think and ultimately how we construct knowledge.   

We've managed to get words or phrases like Bon Vivant (French), schadenfreude (German, thanks Avenue Q!), and Namaste (Hindi) added to our daily lexicon, but what would happen if we added others? 

Much of Steven Pinker's research explores language and its influence on culture and behavior. There's a neat Ted Talk about language and the role it plays on our attitudes towards money. If you've seen the movie Arrival, it's all about this.

Here are three additional words that I've discovered that I'd love to get incorporated into my lifestyle or way of thinking more: 

Hygge – Came across this last year in the New Yorker: "Associated with relaxation, indulgence, and gratitude ?hygge has long been considered a part of the Danish national character." It's cold in New York and I'm convinced the only way I'm going to survive this winter is to take on a much more cheerful attitude towards the weather. Bring on the hygge – complete with fireplaces, mulled wine, wool socks, and cuddles of all kinds.

Mono No Aware – Similar to saudade, this Japanese phrase is used to describe sadness one feels when something passes. In this case, it's more about a specific moment when beauty or aesthetic is fleeting or transient. As someone who takes a lot of photos, I often wonder how much of the moment I'm capturing or missing. Would I find more zen and beauty in my life if I used mono no aware more? 

Sobremesa – I spent 3 months this year speaking Spanish daily (one month in Mexico, 2 months in Spain) and this was by far one of the best souvenirs from my linguistic escapades. This word describes a gathering around the table where the food and drink might be gone, but the conversation and togetherness is still lingering. After more than a year of finding myself retreating from food, feeling trapped by it, and ultimately learning how to be liberated from it, I want to get back to my community building roots and start bringing amazing people together around dinner tables more. May 2018 be a year of many sobremesa moments. 

If you share my love of language and words that get lost in translation, read this and this, and then get lost in the ultimate Github repository of untranslatable words

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