Weltschmerz R Us.

posted in: Word Nerd 0
What is absolutely superb about this picture is that these two kittens could be illustrating any one of the words I define in this post. Glorious. (Photo: Stephan Brunet, 2007)
What is absolutely superb about this picture is that these two kittens could be illustrating any one of the words I define in this post. Glorious. (Photo: Stephan Brunet, 2007)

The English language is a monstrous mutt. It’s a hydra. It’s a slouch. It’s messy, confusing, and — if I may be so bold as to say it — it whores around. The French have put a cap on the words in their language, but English? She takes all comers.

And thank goodness. Because as gorgeous and vast as the English language is (there were something like 1,025,110 words as of January last year) sometimes only a word or phrase from another language will get you where you need to go. Here now are three of my favorite foreign words and terms, favorites because in a matter of syllables they precisely describe universal concepts that English can’t do in a long paragraph. First I’ll give you the word, then the dictionary definition, then a working interpretation. Also, those are my own phonetics because writing phonetics is my kind of fun on a Saturday night and I am not joking even a little.

sprezzatura: (Italian; say “spret-za-TOO-ra”) rehearsed spontaneity, studied carelessness.
When you spend 1.5 hours getting ready for a date just so you can look like you don’t care, you’re practicing sprezzatura. 

l’esprit d’escalier: (French; say, “les-PREE de-skal-YEY”) Literally, “the spirit of the staircase”; the predicament of thinking of the perfect retort too late.
Some jerk says something awful to you. You fume, you steam. Five minutes after you and the jerk part company, it hits you: Ooooh! You should’ve said [insert awesome comeback here.] Yes, Virginia, there’s a term for that exact feeling. “L’esprit d’escalier” is what happens when you think of the perfect, deliciously awesome thing to say to a jerk when he/she is gone and you’re halfway down the stairs, headed to your car. We’ve all been there.

Weltschmerz: (German; say, “VEL-schmertz”) a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness.
I love how the Germans jam words together. Welt = world; schmertz = pain. When the bastards have gotten you down; when you don’t miss New York but you do miss the love you had there; when you spill tea in the kitchen and you clean it up but there’s still invisible-to-the-naked-eye honey on the floor in spots that sticks to your bare feet; when tax time approacheth and you’re a self-employed woman with a zillion 1099 forms that will surely all be lost in the mail this year because four addresses in 2014 (!!!!); when you go to a guild meeting — a wonderful, amazing, warm and inspiring guild meeting — and see no fewer than four pregnant women, and you feel pretty sure you will not be a mother in this life; when you forget to get shaving cream — this is Weltschmerz.

See what I mean about needing a paragraph? One word will do it if you pick the proper one. Or, as the stewardesses say (in English):

“Please locate the two exits nearest you, keeping in mind that the closest exit may be behind you.”

 

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