The fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages

by Lauren

Courtesy of our beloved former intern Bridget, I bring you this list of “awesomely untranslatable words from around the world.”  Some I’ve heard of (litost, from the Czech, meaning roughly “a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery”), one I’ve used (schadenfreude, naturally), and others I never knew I needed but definitely do (tartle, “the act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name,” which comes courtesy of the Scots, a linguistically ingenious people who also bring us “to haver,” from that one line in The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” that no one understands).

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think ultimately I have to go with torschlusspanik, the word that roughly means the title of this blog post.  The words people use say a great deal about them in a broad sense–about what a culture values enough to discuss or does not–but surely it isn’t merely the Germans who experience torschlusspanik.  I find myself lamenting of late that even if I woke up tomorrow as an extraordinary visionary genius, I’m no longer young enough to be a wunderkind (there’s those Germans again).  As a teenager, I was sad to discover that I could never be a prodigy at anything, because my parents hadn’t set me on a path to remarkability while I was still in diapers. Torschlusspanik is a sentiment close to my heart.

Which sentiments do you find you could really use a word for that doesn’t seem to exist?  Is there a word for being thoroughly disappointed in a thing despite conscious awareness that it’s not in the least worth being upset about?  I feel like that would come in handy. 

10 Responses to The fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages

  1. Don says:

    Interesting coincidence: I just read the Litost section of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting last night.

  2. Kristin Laughtin says:

    The Germans have a lot of great words along those lines since their language makes use of closed compounds (compound words with no spaces). Schadenfreude seems to be the most famous example, though.

    Off that list, toska seems to fill that void of needing a word for me. At least, I think it does, since I don't know Russian and the word isn't perfectly translatable into English. 😉 I think most of the concepts I need terms for have to do with various kinds of longing, especially for abstract concepts.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I love the last word – saudade – that's because I'm a brasilian, living for more than 10 years in Portugal. So, I know the meaning of the word, and I also can feel it. Sometimes I believe we portuguese are born with "saudade" inside.
    But there are some other very funny words, like the one "Tingo". I know a lot of people with this "tingo" thing… lol.
    About the one you ask – well, I know none. But it certainly exists. Language is a wonderful thing. Nice post! Thanks!


  4. Anonymous says:

    Here in the Middle East we need a word to describe the devastation of realising you've just finished the last bottle of wine, and your husband is on a business trip, and wives aren't eligible for alcohol permits, and you can't buy another bottle for 10 days.
    Then a word for the embarrassment of having to scrounge an interim bottle from a friend. Again.
    Alcoholism is an essential part of expat life.


  5. DGLM says:

    Natalie, that definitely sounds like it needs its own term. And like dépaysement from that list might just come in handy for you!


  6. Paul Äertker says:

    I think the term Natalie needs is: HELP!
    Send us your address and we'll send you a bottle. Or two!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Natalie, here in Portugal wine is good and cheap… I could easily send you a pack of 6!


  8. M. M. Justus says:

    Thank you for linking to the 500 Miles video. I hadn't seen it, and I haven't seen Benny and Joon in ages, and I grinned all the way through.

  9. DGLM says:

    Kristin, I meant to say but the day kept getting a way from me: I know that the Germans have a leg up on excellent words because of their structure, but isn't there also a fine sense of metaphor at play here? Schadenfreude and wunderkind appear to my non-linguistically-trained eye to be pretty straightforward compounds, but then torschlusspanik seems pretty special. Literally it's something like gate-shutting panic, which is a gorgeous metaphor for lost opportunity. I wouldn't give them a whole lot of credit for shoving together fearofdiminishingopportunity or for using torschlusspanik to describe literal fear of closing gates. You seem to know your stuff, though, and you've made me wonder: is torschlusspanik a lovely exception or are such metaphorical compounds common in German? Any idea?


  10. M.A.Leslie says:

    As much as I have always wanted to see my work in print, more than ever I have always wanted to see it translated and printed in a different language. I know that you really don't profit from foreign rights but it would just be cool. I would even go as far to say it would be extra neato.

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