A Necklace of Words

1. Sfumatura (Italian): a shade, a nuance, but I love the sound of the word fumo (smoke) that forms it. A graduation in colour that’s as subtle as smoke; its very sound evokes a swirl of gossamer.  Close your eyes and try saying it, slowly… sfumatura.   

2. Arricriarisi (Sicilian): to enjoy.  My young friend I. taught me this one and I loved it as soon as I heard her utter it, enjoying the rolling “r”s, savouring them the way you savour soul-comforting food, with gratitude, joy and abandonment.   

3. Xirimiri (Basque, pronounced “shirimiri”): Drizzle, only not the drizzle we know in England – much finer, almost an invisible, weightless caress that makes the skin on your face soft and your hair curl. Memories of strolling in Donostia/San Sebastián on an late August morning, with the choppy, moody Atlantic Ocean on my right and the proud, green mountains on my left.    

4. Magick (English): Magic is pedestrian, insipid, insignificant.  Magick is for real witches.  The extra k adds a wealth of possibilities: colourful kaleidoscopes, brave knights and know-how.

5. Goûter (French): There’s something about a French goûter that English afternoon tea doesn’t quite convey.  Tea always feels formal to me.  Cake stands with miniature cakes, plates of cucumber sandwiches, a silver teapot, a string quartet in the background.  Goûter is heartier, less sophisticated.  A goûter can be white toast dripping with a generous layer of butter, accompanied by a large mug of hot chocolate made by melting chunks of Spanish chocolate in hot, full-fat milk.  It can be a sandwich with mayonnaise, Edam cheese, thinly-sliced onion and tomato, with a cup of lemon verbena tea.  Or it can be Proustian, with madeleines dipped in a china cup of Orange Pekoe.

6. Dolce (Italian): Sweet.  Dolce: the very word sounds sweet, like a person whose smile melts your heart, like the sound of a tenor recorder; in Italian, a recorder is flauto dolceDolce, like a gentle caress, a kind word, after a difficult day.  

7. Huáng (Mandarin pinyin): When I first went to teach in Taiwan, I noticed that all the Taiwanese teachers called themselves with English first names: Brenda, Tim, Clara, John.  I said it would only be fair for me to be given a Chinese name.  They asked me about my life, where I came from, what I had done up till then.  They thought.  We’ll call you Huáng, they said.  Phoenix.

8. Друг (Russian, pronounced “Droog”): Friend.  Not the “friend” you introduce after meeting them five minutes earlier, or the one you invite to make up the numbers, or the one you don’t work to keep.  Друг is your family of choice, the person you know will always watch your back, and never shy away from getting involved in your business if it means trying to help you.  A true friend in a friendship that is a wholehearted commitment.   

9. Bramasole: I read this word in Frances Mayes’ book Under the Tuscan Sun.  Someone or something that yearns for sunlight.  That’s me, after thirty-seven years in England.

10. Splendour (English): I love everything this word stands for, as well as its sound.  Splendour, like a table brimming with food, the Grand Place in Brussels, a harvest moon mirrored in the Canal Grande, or the opening bars of Monteverdi’s Vespers.  Splendour, like abundance, like plenty, like the domed ceiling of the Galleries Lafayette in Paris.

11. Effleurer (French) and Sfiorare (Italian): I always feel a sense of frustration when I have to translate these two words into English.  The best I can find is “touch lighty” or “brush”, but the texture of touch is too solid, and brushing evokes strokes.  Neither have the word fleur or fiore in them.  Flower.  A touch as light as the caress of a soft petals.

12. Dinky (English): A word I use often.  When in a traditional English tearoom, or an English cottage, or anywhere that’s small, cosy.  A front room with a bay window, low ceilings, a fireplace, furniture close together, carpets and cushions cluttering the sofa.  A place that makes a pretty picture – and where I wouldn’t last five minutes.

13. Apprivoiser (French): There is no exact equivalent in English.  In English, you tame, you domesticate.  Both suggest a kind of mastering of another creature.  Apprivoiser involves patience and love.  It results in this creature coming to you willingly, trusting you, knowing you will treat it like a friend. 

Scribe Doll

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15 Responses to A Necklace of Words

  1. Though “word salad” has a negative connotation in psychological circles, to just use it as an aesthetic term, I love the delicious word salad you’ve delivered up this week, and would like to “eat,” no, “delicately devour,” more of it! Thanks.

  2. A necklace of linguistic gems. Wonderful!

  3. klh048 says:

    Katia, I love your posts. You have a wonderful sense of words and language. I live in a community that is largely Spanish speaking so I hear words that I sometimes have to look up. Recently it was “sobremesa”, meaning the time spent in pleasant conversation after finishing a meal. Lingering over the table in friendly conversation. Here, in the Puritan-plagued America of 2021, the notion of lingering in pleasant and friendly conversation after a meal is often quite foreign and wasteful. Not so much here in New Mexico. These are the the little details of life that make a community and a culture. There is no real common sense in the US of lingering— the Puritans would not approve.


  4. Anna says:

    It’s awesome! I read the whole thing out loud to feel the taste of the words you were describing. Marvellous! Very glad that the Russian word was in the list)) I’m going to send a link to my daughter who lives in Italy with her Italian boyfriend for them to read and enjoy as I did. Thank you Katya for this wonderful article.

  5. sammee44 says:

    I love words–especially words that are from another language and rolls off the tongue. I know “dinky” and “splendour” and “magick” but the others are a fun education 🙂 Thank you for an enlightening language lesson. As a translator, you must have your “challenging” moments of interpretation!

  6. bdralyuk says:

    What a glorious garland! I wonder whether a suite of dinky rooms can be, in aggregate, splendorous? I’m thinking of the Sands Film Studio in London, where I was gave a presentation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sands_Films

    • Scribe Doll says:

      I’ve never been there! Rotherithe is a part of London taxis used to refuse to go to after dark. Now it’s all yuppified, of course. Speaking for myself, even a string of dinky rooms couldn’t be defined as “splendorous”. In my book, “splendid” and its variants go with something grand, large, that give a sense of lavishness and abundance. But, на вкус, на цвет, товарища нет (please excuse atrocious spelling) :–)

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