7 Concepts That Need Words

A few weeks ago I read this article about 7 cultural concepts we don’t have in the U.S. (My favorite is hygge, the Danish concept of coziness and comfort. I’m so good at hygge I sometimes don’t leave my house for an entire weekend). Concepts that are difficult to translate from culture to culture fascinate me. I have some concepts of my own that I think need to be given names, untranslatable or otherwise.

1. The disappointment you feel when you hear a song you used to love and realize it’s not like you remember it. It’s slower and tinnier. That line that you remembered as the most awesome part of the refrain isn’t part of the refrain at all. And the actual refrain isn’t as catchy as you thought it was. This song isn’t the rousing anthem that you remember. It’s actually pretty mid-tempo and boring.

2. Speaking of songs, we all have songs that we’ve been listening to all our lives that have lyrics we can’t quite understand. We assume certain words are being said because it sounds like the singer is saying a particular phrase, but we know it’s not right because it doesn’t make sense. Then, one day you’re driving in your car and you hear it clearly for the first time: SO THAT’S WHAT HE’S BEEN SAYING ALL THESE YEARS! IT MAKES SENSE NOW! It’s such an amazing epiphany.

That lyric in Any Way You Want Me is not “and I don’t think that you’re gay,” which I always knew was wrong but couldn’t be bothered to look up. It’s “and I don’t think that’s your game.” Duh. There needs to be a word for that epiphany and subsequent feeling of triumph and reassurance. Yes, Im smart and my ears work just fine.

3. And since we’re talking about lifelong beliefs and hearing and language, how about hearing a word spoken aloud for the first time when you’ve always pronounced it differently inside your head? That moment is not a triumphant epiphany. It’s more like a bombshell of shame, causing you pull your proverbial turtle head back into your shell, desperately hoping that nobody ever finds out your dirty little secret: you always thought the word dingy (meaning shabby) was ding-gee (dinghy), not din-jee.

Or worse, when you innocently say the word in front of a group of people and are shamed and mocked: “Hahaha, what did you call it? A kuh-rab-in-er? Hahahahahahahaha! You mean a kar-uh-bee-ner? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!”

Why don’t you take your carabiner and fuck yourself right in the ear, smartass.

4. Sometimes you know the name of a thing but can’t think of what that name is. Some psychologists refer to this as Tip of the Tongue Phenomenon, where one memory blocks another. What about when the memory blocking the word you’re looking for is a derogatory slang word? For example, it may be common practice to refer to your ex as Dipshit, but it’s embarrassing when you’re trying to explain your credit history to a mortgage officer: “That went to collection because”–Dipshit, Dipshit, Dipshiiiit!–“…my…ex…didn’t pay it.”

5. There’s a certain kind of person who, no matter what you talk to them about, cannot simply have a discussion without treating you like you’re stupid. No matter what subject you mention to them, they’re incapable of responding to what you’ve actually said, and instead they must define whatever you’re trying to talk about as though you’ve never heard of it before, even though you’ve previously established that you both have sufficient knowledge of the subject in question.

Andy Warhol came up in a recent conversation with my dad. I don’t remember how we got onto the subject of Warhol, but it was a sophisticated enough discussion that we could each presume the other knew who Warhol is and why his name is well-known. But at some point my dad could not stop himself pompously asserting the following: “Andy Warhol made what was called ‘Pop Art.’ It was really popular in the 1960s. I don’t know if you remember this, but when we lived in Fort Collins, there was a big can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup up on north College Avenue. That was based on a famous painting by Andy Warhol…”

I don’t think people are aware they do this. But if we had a word for it, the rest of us could say, “I know about Andy Warhol. There’s no need to be a ______ about it.” Maybe a shortened version of “cluelessly condescending windbag.”

6. Speaking of parents, my parents both switched from Androids to iPhones this Christmas. As an existing iPhone owner, I am now their round-the-clock, on-call IT person. This dubious honor deserves a name of its own. Also deserving of its own name is the very special combination of exasperation and hostility one feels when advising an older family member to google the technical problems they’re having with their iDevices, even though you know it’s wasted breath because they will never google anything when they have offspring they can annoy incessantly instead. But you daren’t snap at them to “JUST GOOGLE IT!” because the subsequent guilt trip isn’t worth it.

7. Guilt is an exquisite and nuanced thing.  The guilt that obliges us to assist our technologically-challenged parents is one of many. What about the confusing guilt you feel when your expectations aren’t met? Like when you really want to like something but just can’t?

For instance, you purchase something locally made and organic–possibly an adorably-packaged condiment that you found at a farmer’s market–and it’s been lovingly crafted by sweet people who genuinely seem to care. But when you get it home, away from the wholesome sunshine of the farmer’s market, you realize you don’t actually like it that much. It tastes…odd. Bland yet too sweet and too salty; earthy yet metallic. It’s stimulating tastebuds you never knew you had and these tastebuds are not nice. You try another bite, telling your tastebuds that this stuff was made by Sweet People Who Care, dammit.

Maybe I’m just having an off day, you tell yourself. Try it again in a few days. But a few days later it still doesn’t taste right. The flavor is even weirder now. It’s hard to picture those sweet people without imagining them tenderly wringing eels into an organic vat of local condiments.

But you still eat every last drop of that off-tasting salsa, hummus, or jam. Because you love to taste guilt and shame while you think of those sweet, caring, eel-wringing locavores.

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