January 15, 2014

I Know Karate

Bell Jar! Harvard U?

I like to collect words in English and other languages that compactly express so-called untranslatable emotions or states of mind. Such things have a cultural referent that may require growing up in a society to understand the nuance of what is paragraphs of prose to explain in another tongue, and yet doesn't capture the heart of it.

My friend Leah used the word saudade from the Portuguese recently. Wikipedia has a surprisingly lyrical definition:
It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or deeply melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.
We know this feeling, even if we can't put such a fine point on it in English. It is not just heartache, it is the ache of eternity, of things forever gone, and us forever remembering them even as we would like to forget them. That lover is never coming back: he or she has left you, stopped loving  you, is dead, has disappeared. This is saudade. I have inklings of understanding it.

(Leah has a tiny newsletter you might like that comprises pictures of her cats taken by her mother and may also have Leah's thoughts.)

Schadenfreude used to be described as a German word with a particularly Teutonic quality, but Americans have wholeheartedly embraced it as their own.  My German teacher in college, Ingrid Walsøe-Engel, defined Schadenfreude for us once—this was the late 1980s, before it had become so widely used:
Your see your enemy wearing a bowler hat crossing the street. His bowler hat falls off and is crushed by a passing car. The feeling you have in that moment is Schadenfreude.
I used to be enamored of QR Codes, which are 2D tags that act as a kind of glue between two media, like a poster or magazine and a smartphone. A code is specific, often containing embedded information (almost always a URL) that relates to the physical space you are interacting with, whether a billboard or a sign or a page of a magazine. But without integration in a phone's native camera app, they make no sense at all. You have to install and use a separate app, which you must launch and aim at the code. Siri and Google Voice are better ways to find something.

2D tags did find a great use, though, which is when they are generated on an event ticket or on a smartphone screen so that they may be scanned by a device specially set up for it (as at an airport) or when someone is using a custom app (like that by EventBrite) to scan codes.

It won't hurt you to smile. Oh, yes. Yes, it will.

With glowing affection,