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 dolce. Dolce, 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.