The sound of heavy laughter filled the carriage; it was coming from a woman. There was something peculiar about the way that she laughed. It was profound. With every moment, the laughter traversed through her, emanating sorrow as if her only way to heal. She was laughing through melancholy, through pain; this laughter was surfacing from the abyss of her skin. I pondered but realised that I could not locate the words to depict the sound that I was hearing.
My mind travelled to the derivation of the English language and the way in which we hold concrete, oversimplified and generic labels for our emotions. English is in fact one of the least expressive languages. Her laughter had been distinctive and yet any name that I attempted to give it was inconsiderate towards her anguish. However, the more that I thought about it, the more I realised just how inconsiderate and suppressive our language is.
What do you call the hurt that one experiences upon having their trust broken? Betrayal? Disappointment? Neither of these words do this feeling justice, nor do they truly articulate this sentiment. Everything is an oversimplification and through this, we become insensitive towards victims. These words minimise their pain; they simplify it. We search for the closest words and attempt to brand feelings but how can one truly understand how another is feeling when we are unable to accurately explicate our feelings?
What do you call somebody that has just had their heart broken? We say that they are ‘heartbroken’ but even this is an oversimplification. It does not encompass the aching or sorrow that embraces their each moment. It does not entail their feelings of loneliness and regret.
What do you call the feeling that you experience during the first few weeks of having a crush? We say that a person gives us ‘butterflies’ but what does this really mean?
We rely on experiences to reverberate feelings but we become displeased upon the other person being unable to understand. Therefore, we are more likely to relate to characters within books that have experienced something similar to us because we can still feel the echoes of our own pain embedded within our souls. The spaces between the words are the most powerful for us; they speak to us only through occurrence. Other people only understand when there is something within them that can be evoked.
What about when we read about something that we have not experienced? Our hearts are rarely moved by them unless the writer is able to procure such a character that we can find ourselves within. Again this is about being able to relate. If there is no connection, we remain isolated. The English language makes it almost alien for us to relate to a feeling that we have not experienced and through this, we remain estranged from each other and the rest of society. We are not able to efficiently communicate because we do not have the correct means to do so and any attempt is almost an oversimplification of our pain. Miscommunication breaks up relationships and the source of this is the restriction of our language that prevents us from truly verbalising our own sentiment.
If you begin to examine other languages, they have words that express concepts that we experience and overlook each day because there are no words to depict them. One of my favourites is the word ‘toska’ in Russian. Vladamir Nabokov (author of Lolita) explains this as:
'No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.'
Do we in the English language even have a simple word to identify this feeling?
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