Monday, May 21, 2007

razbliuto [sic]

Tingo from the Late Latin meaning 'I laugh at (these superstitions)'. Forms: tingo, tingere, tengi, tanctum. Borrowed and Englished by John Skelton as a fictive strong verb: to ting (tang, tung). There are two schools of thought regarding tingo: one is that it only has one meaning and is untranslatable and the other is that it has no meaning and is translatable. Though, one lexicographer maintained that it had many meanings, but she did not concern herself with translatability per se.

Of course, the previous paragraph is all a bunch of stercus taurinum. The word tingo comes from a book, The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World, by Adam Jacot De Boinod. This is one of a handful of books that collect a ragbag of words in different languages that are deemed “untranslatable” into English. (Untranslatable, in this case, means that English does not have a single lexical item for the word.) The linguist, Benjamin Zimmer, posted an excellent review of The Meaning of Tingo when it came out in 2005. (There are some other posts at Language Log, a collective linguistics blog.)

Tingo is not the first of its kind. There is a short but popular line of books stretching back into the ’80s: Howard Rheingold’s They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases (1988) and C J Moore’s In Other Words: A Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World (2004). Except for Rheingold’s book, the others never cite bibliographical information as to the origin of their words, but it’s obvious reading through them that each succeeding author has borrowed heavily from the earlier ones.

And, sometimes things get messy. An example: William Safire wrote in his April 17, 2005, New York Times Magazine column mentioning Moore’s book and listing some of its words, one of which is the putative Russian razbliuto ‘a feeling a person has for someone he or she once loved but no longer feels the same way about’. Cool word, and, there’s definitely not a single English word that conveys its meaning. The only problem is, as Language Hat soon pointed out in a blog entry, there’s no such word in Russian. The word itself came from Rheingold’s book, and, he gives a source: J. Bryan III’s Hodgepodge (1986). I soon picked up a used copy of this book and wandered through it looking for Russian words. Only one chapter of Hodgepodge is concerned with languages in general, and so my perusal was short. There it was on page 113, a sort of call to arms for the misguided, foreign, untranslatable-words horde.

Words we need in English:
Magari! (Italian): “Would that it were so!”
cursi (Spanish) or moche (French): “tacky”
razliubito (Russian): the feeling you have for someone you once loved, but now no more.
porte-douleurs (French): someone to share your sorrows gemütlich (German): “cozy, comfortable”

But, wait, the word is not razbliuto, but razliubito, which, except for the weird transliteration of the final soft sign as an o, is a verb in Russian, razljubit' ‘to cease to love, care for; get tired of’. So, one little mistake ripples out across the decades.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Language said...

Thanks for your detective work -- I've added an update to the post to reflect it!

May 22, 2007 at 5:10 PM  
Blogger Aliya said...

Now the damned "razbliuto" can be found all over Internet. People name their songs and books with this linguistic monstrosity.

February 19, 2008 at 1:06 PM  

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