What’s your word?

I love learning new words, especially ones from other languages that have no equivalent in English. For all the brilliant specificity of the English language, there is still so much it fails to capture and convey. Here are a few of my current favourites:

Schnorrer: a Yiddish word for someone who’s a sponger or freeloader. Sometimes it’s used as a backhanded compliment for a person whose chutzpah and cleverness enables them to obtain things for free.

Kummerspeck: this German word literally means ‘grief bacon’ and refers to the weight gained from emotional over-eating, say from indulging in too much choc chip ice-cream after a bad break-up.

Torschlusspanik: another German gem which refers to the fear of diminishing opportunities as one gets older, literally ‘gate-closing panic’. Fortieth birthdays are often a trigger.

Toska: Vladimir Nabokov described it best: “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.”

Bakku-shan: a Japanese term for the experience of seeing a woman who appears attractive from behind but not from the front, like Tori Spelling.

Desenrascanco: a Portuguese word for pulling a MacGyver, getting yourself out of a sticky situation at the last minute. The story of Aron Ralston, the mountain climber who was trapped by a boulder in Utah and cut off his own arm to escape, springs to mind.

Esprit d’escalier: French for when you think of the perfect verbal comeback… far too late. Literally ‘the wit of the staircase’, meaning you couldn’t think of anything clever until walking down the stairs after the event.

I am looking for a word that describes the unbearable (although not physically painful) sensation one experiences when hearing fingernails scratching on a blackboard. Touching certain synthetic fabrics, such as car seat upholstery and imitation silk, gives me that same unbearably freakish feeling. I once knew a girl who got the same response from squeaking icing sugar between her fingers. Are there other things that make people feel that way? Does anyone have a word for it? Fill me in.



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