The Marvel of Words

November Gratitude Shorts, Day 6

Today I give thanks for the gifts of language. To have such a vast array of words, in so many languages from around the world, to express our ideas, thoughts, and feelings—how magnificent!

My friend tells me a story about an exasperating conversation with her boyfriend. I start to remember a similar encounter with my husband.  Before long we’re laughing together, saying, “Yes!  That’s exactly how I feel!”

I read a blog here on WordPress where the author has written my thoughts better than I ever could have. Articles I find on Facebook, my friends’ posts, books that I read or listen to—words are what connect us.  By the way, audiobooks are my new favorite thing, especially when read by the authors. The Art of Possibility, Start With Why, Bossypants, Leaders Eat Last, Rising Strong, Big Magic—it’s like driving to work or sipping coffee in the intimate company of these amazing writers, sharing their divine truths with just me.

There is almost always a precise expression for our experiences:  Queasy. Slothful.  Euphoric.  Hung over.  Resonant.  Cosmic.  Mind-blowing.  Oblivious.

Then there are figures of speech that perfectly capture a concept:

Peeing in the ocean.

Needle in a haystack.

Mess with the bull…

Bite thy tongue.

Own your shit. 

The only other language I know well is Mandarin, and I often find myself thinking of phrases that have no English equivalents. For instance, “shang nao jing” literally means “wound brain scripture.”  It’s used when we feel severely mentally taxed—but trust me, ‘mentally taxed’ just sounds lame in comparison, and does not capture the full meaning.  One of my favorites, “yuan fen,” loosely translates to “fate; destiny that ties people together.”  The Chinese is much more elegant and efficient.  Similarly, my slack foreign grasp of the meanings of “ohm” and “ubuntu” probably fall miserably short of their native speakers’ understanding.

But no matter, language bonds us. I don’t paint or play an instrument.  Though I appreciate art and music, they are not my media for relationship.  The most rewarding moments at work are always when I’m talking with my patients—hearing their stories, getting to know them, relating.  It’s probably no accident that I ended up in primary care, where every encounter carries such potential for rare connection—through words.  And I’m forever grateful for the privilege.

11 thoughts on “The Marvel of Words

  1. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could take all the best (or all our favourite) words from all languages – depending on context – and still have everyone understand everyone else?! I find it difficult enough to understand or make myself understood just using whichever language my ‘Gegenüber’ (in this situation German for ‘person I’m talking to’) speaks best, because there are almost always better words in a different language. (Like in the example 😉 )

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