Bonjour, Hallo, Ciao, and Salve! Have you ever come across a word that struck you as being poetic, beautiful, or having such import beyond its surface meaning that you fell in love with it? I know I have. As someone who speaks (or at least aims to speak) a myriad of languages, I am on a constant quest for the most striking words in each language I might encounter… unlike some of you who know other languages and might teach the other spectrum of words available. Although, as a linguist, I somehow find it less offensive to be cussed out in say, Pashto, than I do in my native language. It feels like a learning experience. But I digress…

This article, which I hope to publish weekly, will showcase words and phrases that I’ve come across that are so remarkable that they have to be shared with you all! They will be in a wide variety of languages, some even in your own. (And if you’re wondering why I would have the time or effort to be thinking about words all day, I’m the student you might have seen in the Kochoff Foreign Language Lab who somehow seems to be a permanent fixture there!)

Here’s the first selection of words :

L’esprit de l’escalier (French) – Imagine yourself in a very sarcastic conversation where your skills of wit are hanging from a loose cobweb. And suddenly, the person you’re talking to says something that is begging for a witty response…but you blank on one, right there. The person you’re talking to continues on in the conversation and then as you leave, you think of a perfect comeback. This French phrase literally means the “spirit of the staircase,” or the fact that you probably will think of the comeback as soon as you’re walking down the stairs. The German word for the same thing isn’t too bad either—der Treppenwitz.

Kerihanki (Finnish) – A snow so cold that it doesn’t sink when you walk on it. A great word to know, especially with winter quickly approaching.

Kokoro (êS) (Japanese) – This is the word for heart. Not only is it beautiful to pronounce, but the kanji (letter) itself is representative of a heart, don’t you think?

_______ (Russian) –Pronounced soomerek. This very calming word is the word for twilight, and to my ears it sounds related to the English word soothing.

Until next week! If you have a word to suggest to me, please e-mail, with the subject line “Linguistic Libation.”