By: Anna Oposa and Joseph Mansilla
As English majors, we studied language and literature for 4-5 years. Which is synonymous to studying life and love. And politics, history, sociology, anthropology. This constant reading and writing has evolved into a highly specialized appreciation and heightened sensitivity for words that make our worlds, and the worlds created from our words. We’re extra grateful that we can speak and/or understand more than language — we have access to more than one world.
We both graduated with a degree in BA English Studies. She majored in English Language, he in Anglo-American Literature (after shifting from Language). Our paths first crossed in 2007, when we were classmates in An Introduction to Shakespeare (English 23), under goddess Dr. Judy Ick. Anna was seated at the front row, Jam at the back. We never talked. Ever.
Fast forward to March 2010. Jam emailed Anna asking for a copy of a piece she wrote. We’ve pretty much been inseparable ever since. We call each other Kaps, short for “kapatid” (sibling). Our recent adventures were in India, as co-delegates to the British Council’s Global Changemakers Summit, and Nepal (his story, her story.) Next stop is Taiwan to be speakers at the 10th Asia-Pacific NGOs’ Environmental Conference.
We are constantly in touch to discuss our love lives, literature and lexical items that catch our fancies. We especially love stumbling upon words that aren’t translated/translatable in other languages, and analyze what the absence means in our culture.
Here are some of our favorite words and phrases:
1) 有缘千里来相会，无缘对面难相逢 (Chinese): “We have the destiny to meet across a thousand miles. Without fate’s blessing, we will be strangers even when face-to-face.”
Anna: Perfect for long distance relationship victims/hopeless romantics… Like, well, us.
Jam: This is like the “P.S.” to Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.”
2) Hanapbuhay (Filipino): “To work.”
Jam: It literally means to look (hanap) for life (buhay).
Anna: As my brother pointed out, it’s not “to look for money,” but life. Find life in and bring life to what you do.
3) Hygge (Danish): “A feeling of coziness and a sense of warmth and companionship.”
Anna: The mark of a good, lasting relationship–any kind of relationship. Could also be quality HOHOL (Hang Out Hang Out Lang)!
4-5) Stira and sukha (Sanskrit): “Ease” and “effort,” respectively.
Anna: In yoga, every asana (pose) must be of equal stira and sukha. Everything we do on the mat must be applied off the mat–you know you’ve found your passion when you are in the space between ease and effort.
6) Padayon (Bisaya): “To continue,” “onward,” or even “go forth.”
Anna: It’s the battle cry of every changemaker. When in doubt, when down, padayon.
Jam: In other words, gora lang.
7) Paliparang pandaigdig (Filipino): “International airport,” but literally “airport for the world.”
Anna: There’s just something about the word “daigdig” that shakes you to the core.
8) Belum (Bahasa Indonesia): “Not yet,” but with a positive, optimistic connotation. It used for events not yet undertaken or experienced, yet that are hoped to be.
Jam: As we say in Global Changemakers, a “no” is a “yes” that hasn’t happened yet.
9) “Bukas Nalang Kita Mamahalin” (Filipino): Literally “I will love you tomorrow instead,” but it connotes having The Right Love at the Wrong Time. The desire to love him/her tomorrow or in another lifetime instead.
Jam: I’ve always found this line… Sublime. Ineffable. A handful of my friends know my love and fascination with this line, and when I tell other people about it, they’re like, “……” and I think that’s precisely because the line is simply ineffable.
10) Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan): “A look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to initiate.”
Anna: How to pronounce this, I don’t know. But we all have felt That Moment. Of doubt, hesitation, of like, of want.
Jam: This is for the inarticulate torpe out there.
11) Uros-uros na gugma (Bisaya): Uros is “flow” or “wave” and gugma is “love.”
Anna: Waves of love. Huge, powerful waves of love. Waves can be beautiful and destructive–think of a surfer who rides a wave versus a tsunami that wipes out a community. Fitting description for love!
Jam: Phonologically (phonetically?), if you can speak Bisaya well, this is like “daigdig”– it shakes you to the core.
12) L’esprit de escalier (French): Literally, “the spirit of the staircase,” but also “the feeling you get after leaving a conversation, when you think of all the things you should have said.”
Anna: The shoulda, woulda, coulda.
13) Sprezzatura (Italian): “A certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it; the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘studied carelessness.’”
Jam: I first heard of this from English 101: Introduction to British Literary History, from my favorite professor and thesis adviser, Dr. Jurilla. It hasn’t left my consciousness since. It’s a motto, a way of life. Anna has a wonderful illustration for this: she has been described as a duck who floats and appears so graceful, yet paddles her ass off beneath the water surface. That’s sprezzatura right there.
14) Sourire (French): Literally, “to smile.”
Jam: “sous” means “under,” so “sous” + “rire” (to laugh) = sourire. In other words, under your laugh is a smile. KILIG.
15) Vacilando (Spanish): “The act of wandering when the experience of travel is more important than reaching the specific destination,” or “[to go] somewhere, but does not greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction.”
Anna: The “pahampas hampas” lifestyle with direction. That’s you and me, Kaps! As J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Not all who wander are lost.” :)
Feel free to share your favorite words and phrases!
Inspirations and sources:
“Words that don’t (but should) exist in English.”
“Say again? Words that have no translation.”