Eskimos are (controversially) said to have hundreds of words for snow. Now, a University of East London psychology lecturer has speculated that maybe there could be value in looking more closely at these kinds of foreign words that cannot be translated.
Tim Lomas has established the Positive Lexicography Project to catalogue words that do not have any translation, such as the trendy Danish term ‘hygge’, which conveys a sense of homely warmth and comfort.
Besides offering a treasure trove of interesting words, such as ‘mbuki-mvuki’, which in Bantu means to get naked and dance around, Lomas believes the Project can offer a window into cultural differences while potentially expanding the emotional vocabulary of English speakers.
Speaking in The New Yorker, he also claims that some untranslatable terms, like Eskimo’s many words for snow, may have arisen in cultures that have unique environments.
Getting all warm and cosy makes a lot more sense in Denmark than in Italy, for instance, which may be why the Danish have hygge and the Italians don’t.
This kind of notion may be of interest to radiologists, given the growing internationalisation of the profession and its requirement for precise language in reporting. If you’re an aficionado of the idea, as they might say in Spain, then find out more with Lomas’s introductory paper.