Hofstra University Honors College's Blog

Sickle cell anemia prevents malaria. The name Catherine can be anagrammed 553 different ways. A rat can last longer without water than  a camel. A crocodile can’t stick it’s tongue out. Genetically speaking, we are more closely related to bananas than Neanderthals.

As you might have guessed by that introduction, I love useless trivia. I feel like knowing random facts about the world purely for entertainment’s sake, is great! True I may never need to know any of this in any situation other than to inform other people who love useless trivia, but the point isn’t to use the information. The point is to enjoy the information. To revel in just how cool and interesting all of this is.

My newest trivia obsession: words we don’t have in English, or foreign words that can’t be translated into English. They’re called lexical gaps, or lacuna. For example, the word “Hygge” in Danish means “complete absence of anything annoying, irritating or emotionally overwhelming, and the presence of and pleasure from comforting, gentle and soothing things.” Also I’ve heard that there is a Romanian word for “not a virgin” but I’m having a lot of trouble finding out what it is. And English isn’t the only language with lexical gaps, they all have them! Going back to Romania, they don’t have a word for “shallow”.

I think what’s fascinating me about lacunae so much is the idea that the concepts that these words mean are concepts that we as English-speaking people have thought of, but rather than giving it a word we’ve given them phrases or explanations (and it’s a lot harder to talk about something if there’s no word for it). The fact that other cultures also have these concepts but they’ve given the concept words is really sends my mind into a spiral of thought about language and communication and it makes me want to learn what all of these words are so that I can better communicate, not only with people who also speak these languages, but with other English-speaking people who want to talk about these concepts more easily. It’s useless trivia that has a very important use. Also, lacuna’s just a great word!

P.S: A strawberry isn’t a berry. But a banana is.


Comments on: "Linguistically Challenged" (3)

  1. I have one word for you.
    Schadenfreude! I think that is the most famous one. (It’s German for taking pleasure in other peoples’ misfortune)

    Last week in German class we learned about translations between German and English that aren’t equal or literal. Sometimes Germans can say something in fewer words than we can. (And in a few cases its the other way around)
    Other times to translate an expression, a word will literally change from a noun to a verb or a verb to an adverb etc.

  2. Raisa said:

    I’m the same way– lacuna fascinate me~ I have a book dedicated to Japanese lacuna, and I’ve found that often times when learning about these words it offers a unique insight to that culture and how they view things. There is lacuna in Japanese “iroke”, which I’ve only been able to explain to people using examples to which it is supposed to refer. It literally means “color feel”, and it refers to something that is subtly erotic, yet the instant you recognize it as such, as soon as you pinpoint that thing that’s turnin you on, it ceases to be iroke. For example, a single loose strand of hair in an otherwise perfect hairstyle of a geisha; playing the shamisen with your fingernails instead of the pick. Little quiet things like that. But only before you notice them…

    That /fascinates/ me. Glad to know someone else shares this~

  3. cdreamer said:

    Same here. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for books about lacunae!

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