There are over 7,000 languages in the world (according to SIL International) and over 1,000,000 words in the English language (according to the Global Language Monitor). Translating English into another lan-guage or another language into English is still quite an art even with over a million words because words often don’t have an equal sign between them. Translations can be exact for many words but many are also an approximation and of course there are words that have no direct English equivalent. So for exam-ple:
(Yamatji) is the word for a bad feeling in the gut – the feeling when you see a person and known something isn’t right.
(Persian) is the chattering of teeth from the cold or from rage.
(Ulwa) describes the phantom sensation of some-thing crawling on your skin when walking in the woods at night. Slampadato (Italian) – addicted to the UV glow of tanning salons? This word describes you.
(Yiddish) – literally ‘air person’ – an impracti-cal dreamer with no business sense. Literally, air person.
(Inuit) – that feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone to show up at your house and you keep going outside to see if they’re there yet.
(Hawaiian) means to scratch your head in order to help you remember something you’ve forgotten.
(Turkish) means moonlight shining on water.
(Indonesian) – the old trick where you tap someone lightly on the opposite shoulder from be-hind to fool them.
(Welsh) – a smile that is insincere or mocking; literally, a blue smile.
Dépaysement (French) – the unsettling sensation that comes from not being in one’s home country.
(Most of these words are from Adam Jacot de Boinod’s book ‘The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World’.)
In our use of words, we most closely resemble God. God creates through the Word; the Word made flesh. We use words to create literary worlds and can do what we like with the world and its inhabitants. In this world, we don’t create but procreate, make, manufacture, invent, produce, reproduce, construct, assemble, build, craft, compose as we shape the world around us, in our own image. Dreaming of utopia, we make inequality and injustice instead. Our use of words can both clarify and confuse and we can do both deliberately and accidentally!
Yet no matter who we are – when we live – where we live – or our first language (often the one we’re most familiar and comfortable with – our mother tongue), God steps onto this planet to rescue us from ourselves – to give us life – and his messages to us revolve around two themes: sin and grace both of which lead us to a cross. Each generation of disciples is called to transmit the message – faithfully – not create it. It doesn’t help when these disciples use the same words but with different meanings! Neverthe-less, we can be creative in our communication so that we can speak truthfully about Jesus and each generation in the world realises that we all live before God who has made himself known in the person of Jesus. And so with times of dépaysment, we wait for our eternal home, recognising wirla in ourselves and this world, but wanting more and more people of every language to trust, believe in, and have faith that Jesus is both the Son of God and the Lamb of God. May the words of this story never cease! — GS