Love. Contrary to older notions, it’s not what makes us human. But it is one thing we all share, wherever in the world we are. The course of romantic love is one of our richest experiences, full of overwhelmingly wonderful — and sometimes painfully gut-wrenching — emotion. To listen in on names other cultures have given its moments is to experience them all over again. While Big Think has written about some of these untranslatable words before, this sweet video from the CBC is a poignant reminder of an experience we share.
Romantic love comes and often goes, and each phase is as emotionally electric as the rest.
We crave those moments when the initial spark of meeting — or tiam in Farsi — leads to mamihlapinatapei, from Tierra del Fuego’s Yaghan people. It’s that moment when you both have the same idea about each other, and you think you both know it, but neither person is quite brave enough to act. There’s nothing else so simultaneously exciting and terrifying. (The Guiness Book of World Records considers “mamihlapinatapei” the most succinct word in the world.)
Ubuntu is a South-African Ndebele word with a sound that evokes the calm devotion of settled love, and it means, “I find my worth in you, and you find your worth in me.”
Sometimes, of course, love ends, and in Russian, that’s razliubit. It’s like a death has occurred, and we grieve — no tub of ice cream is safe. In Germany, they have a great word for the weight gained getting over lost love: kummerspeck. It means literally “grief bacon.”
There are so many days when it seems like we’re all so different, but we’re not. Each of these words reminds us of that because it describes something we know, no matter where we live. That all of us all over the world feel love as we do is a beautiful, powerful thing. It’s a reason for hope.