Lost in Translation

April 9, 2007

(couldn’t resist the obvious title. I apologise deeply.)

Continuing the thought of words without adequate translation in English, I would like to put the Italian verb incuriosire on the table. There is a precise translation for it, supposedly: to be intrigued. Unfortunately, though intrigue is another one of my favourite words, both as a noun and a verb, it lacks certain connotations of interest and nosiness that are part of what renders incuriosire one of my favourite verbs. As an incurable snoop, eavesdropper, and person who becomes overly excited about absolutely every new possibility presented to me * I need these connotations, and I need the linguistic link to curious. I am not intrigued when I am incuriosita by something. I am rendered curious. It is a far more concrete emotion, and it constantly frustrates me that I have to explain it so haltingly.

One of the things that saddens me about the English language is the lack of reflexive emotion verbs. This hasn’t quite gotten in the way of my passionate love affair with this delightfully awkward tongue, but there is just something unfortunate in the fact that one finds themself at a loss when looking for a way to say “to be made happy by”. My boyfriend, whose English is pretty bloody amazing, but who is afflicted with some rather adorable linguistic gaps (ahhh… pesky articles! How cute you are when left out or added at random!) occasionally asks me how one says such and such a thing in English. In the case of these reflexive verbs of emotion, I find myself instantly coming up with a precise translation in Italian, and then having to manage an unwieldy phrase in English, while steeling myself for the ensuing diatribe on why English is a stupid language. It’s not a stupid language, just apparently our illustrious Anglophone forebears did not find the need to quickly communicate that they were being made happy by something (I suppose one could say gladdened, but I dislike the word glad, so I’m still casting about for a better alternative). Learning Russian is an utter delight in this regard. One word for “to derive pleasure through looking” (lyubovat’sa… one of my absolute favourite words, also because it includes the root for love in it, which I just find wonderfully amusing). One word for “to fall out of love”. Their words have crazy little prefixes, which are insanely frustrating to learn, but then expand the potential vocabulary no end.

Interesting, though: there is no Russian word for privacy, in the sense of “I want my privacy.” There is lichnost’, but that means more something akin to personhood, not “get out of my space”. Nor is there one in Italian– people have just adopted the English word, pronounced with a glorious rolled r and Italianate i. I love discovering gaps like these, and thinking about what that says about a culture.

* See: My post on samizdat. I actually emailed my professor about that, and was given a massive bibliography to peruse. Hurrah! Now I might email another professor and see if I can get her to drop earthshattering insights on the book-as-art-form of all this.

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