The Power of Language is Between Our Hands!

How often do you feel this unbearable frustration of not finding the right words to describe your thoughts or emotions, of feeling trapped in your own language? Well, there’s actually an adjective that describes this situation perfectly: hem-jawed.

Hem-jawed : adj. Feeling trapped inside your own language –

This is only one of more than 700 neologisms for emotions that John Koenig has introduced in his very original book, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, for which you can find a website and a YouTube channel.

So, why am I telling you this? Don’t worry, this is not an ad; Koenig doesn’t even know I exist. I actually have two reasons:

First: labeling an emotion can help you manage it

If you go through some of those neologisms, you’ll find so many of your deep emotions, which you may have thought that no one else could understand, put out there, with their own name and description. You suddenly feel less alone and relieved to know what you have been experiencing is normal, even common.

Some of my favorites are sonder, the realization that everyone has a story; anemoia, nostalgia for a time you’ve never known; and dès vu, the awareness that this will become a memory.

Second: this lexical creation makes you realize language is limitless

When asked if these words were real, Koenig said:

“We allow our words to define us, but I think the natural order of things is that we define words. We imbue them with meaning. We pour ourselves into them. That is how it should be. We’re the ones that mean something. Ultimately, all words are made up.”

John Koenig in an interview with McKinsey Global Publishing’s Raju Narisettie

As translators, we often stumble upon a word for which we just can’t seem to find a satisfying equivalent in our target language. We feel our hands tied up and end up settling for a word that, basically, fits in the context.

However, if we look at the way Koenig formed these words and how they are actually integrating into the English language (especially “sonder”, which has become an inspiration for the name of many brands), we realize that language is as limitless as our thoughts and emotions.

Koenig reminds us that we are the ones who have power over language and that it was never meant to be the other way around. We are always capable of finding a way to express ourselves and articulate whatever comes through our minds.

In fact, it is our creativity that distinguishes us from the most advanced tools based on artificial intelligence. So, fellow translators, how do you deal with the voids in the language when feeling hem-jawed?

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26 réflexions au sujet de « The Power of Language is Between Our Hands! »

  1. I think that the feeling of being hem-jawed can occur more than often with people who are bilingual than people who know a single language as being bilingual gives you an insight of how other languages have specific words for specific feelings therefore while trying to explain yourself in “x” language and come across a feeling that can be specifically expressed in ”y” language you become “hem-jawed” and try to find a word in “x” language too, all while people who only perfected or know one language although limited, they do not know they are limited and that makes them explain in detail how they feel instead of giving a one word answer, which is perfectly fine. All in all I’m not trying to say that being multilingual is a bad thing, it just has it’s ups and downs. And thank you for this new word which I will be definitely using whenever I don’t find the words I look for.

  2. I always thought that language may be in some cases a barrier between people in different countries, but those words made me realize the true power of language and how it may unite people instead.

  3. Very accurate! Finding the right words can be very tricky, challenging and without a doubt frustrating if we are unable to fill the void properly but we can always find a way!
    Very interesting article.

  4. Well written!
    I can relate. I find difficulty choosing the right words when translating into Arabic. We think we know a lot of vocabulary, but language always surprises us!

  5. Insightful! I actually learned two things I’ve been feeling my entire life without knowing how to describe them just by reading this short article! Thank you Hanine for enlightening me

  6. Yes sometimes we can’t find the right way to express ourselves, but when we experience that, sometimes we react like no others…
    Beautiful article

  7. Beautifully written Hanine!! Great blog and very interesting. How easier would life be if someone creates an exact equivalent for each term in every language, but that would be asking for the moon. I guess this is why we, translators, always keep in mind that there is always something lost in translation.
    Thank you Hanine for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading it.

  8. Truth be told, I always find a way to fill the voids. However, it never describes perfectly what I am trying to get through. It is reassuring to know that these voids can be filled with more precise words!

    1. I definitely know what you mean. Sometimes feelings can be so intense that words don’t seem to give them justice, but I’m sure that with a little practice we can learn to express ourselves better. I’m glad you found my article reassuring!

      1. We often struggle mostly when expressing a feeling to others, especially when we think others may not feel it. it is nice to know that those feelings and experiences can be put to words.

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