I read a beautiful article by the environmentalist George Monbiot last week, in which the longtime critic of environmental injustice admitted he might have been using the wrong tactics in his writing for the last 30 years. According to Monbiot, more and more studies show people don’t respond as well to being warned of what is wrong, as to being reminded of ‘the love and wonder and enchantment nature inspires’. He refers to a wonderful project called Landreader, in which photographer Dominick Tyler is recording English words – often little used – that capture the richness of our connection to the natural world, words such as Epilimnion – the warmer top layer of a lake.
These two got me thinking about all of us working to encourage people to travel better – the bloggers, campaigners, guides, tour providers, certifiers, ecohoteliers and more – and how much time we spend a la Monbiot highlighting the negatives, and how little weaving spells that conjure what we love about what we do. Too often when we look at our language it is to do little more than ponder whether the word ‘ecotourism’ has been debased, or ask which of ‘sustainable’, ‘responsible’, ‘ethical’ or ‘fair’ is currently in vogue.
So for the rest of today’s blog – and in aestive honour of our wonderful weather – I am taking some time off to wander aimlessly through the languages of the world, in search of nothing more or less than words that remind me why I ever leave home.
It all starts with a nagging desire to be somewhere else, that paradoxical feeling of homesickness for being abroad that the Germans describe as Fernweh. I long for travel to once again make familiar sensations seem strange. What Russians call Ostranenie.
For certain Japanese this can cause Yoko meshi, a form of stress resulting from having to be understood in a foreign language. (It literally means a meal eaten sideways, on account of Japanese being written top to bottom, whereas most languages are written side to side). But for others, such novelty brings a simple thrill in the polyglottal music of unknown tongues, even if it involves making up a few words along the way. So when the French sing along to English songs without being sure of the meaning, they call it Yaorter (literally – to yoghurt).
Lost in new phrases and places we open ourselves up to rare and neglected sensations. Perhaps we start our day with a Gökotta – Swedish for waking up early to hear the first birds sing. Or we head down to the coast, take off our shoes, and perform the timeless rite of Hanyauku – which is how the Kwangali of Namibia describe that unique tip-toey prance across hot sand.
If the scorch of the sun becomes too much, it’s time to seek shade. I might take to the woods to experience Waldeinsamkeit – German for the feeling of being alone in the woods, or partake in a spot of Shinrin-yoku, a lovely Japanese expression that literally translates as ‘forest bathing’.
Cool now, I imagine myself a Linti – Persian for one who idles his day away lying under a tree. I close my eyes, happy to have found Sabsung – Thai for that which makes me glad to be alive. Given time, and a little Japanese, I may be lucky enough to experience a moment of Yugen – an awareness of the universe that triggers feelings too deep for words.
There’s only one thing missing to make such an exquisite moment an Utepils. An essential Norwegian word, it describes the act of sitting outside on a sunny day, enjoying a beer.
This is what my holidays are all about – spending my hours drifting along aimlessly. It gives me time to think gladly of home and how travelling lets me treasure it afresh with a wanderer’s eye.
For where else but English can I not only wander aimlessly, but also saunter, mooch, potter, amble, loll, pootle, bimble, mosey, or stroll?