It’s On The Tip Of My Tongue

According to some strenuous research (I sat down and googled the whole topic and then browsed around for a bit), your vocabulary is directly correlated with the amount of time you spend reading.

That is, the more time you spend reading on a daily basis, the larger your vocabulary. And that’s a good thing. Other studies have shown that if you have a larger vocabulary, you’re more likely to succeed. For various meanings of succeed.

By the time they reach adulthood, people who make a habit of reading have a vocabulary that is about four times the size of those who rarely or never read.  This disparity starts early and grows throughout life.

According to Beck and McKeown (1991), 5 to 6 year olds have a working vocabulary of 2,500 to 5,000 words.  Whether a child is near the bottom or the top of that range depends upon their literacy skills coming into the first grade (Graves,1986; White, Graves & Slater, 1990).  In other words, by the first grade, the vocabulary of the disadvantaged student is half that of the advantaged student, and over time, that gap widens.

All of which has very little to do with what I’m about to talk about, other than as a generalized plea for all you parents out there to read to your little dudes and little dudettes as often as you can. Get them started loving reading and their lives will be enriched immeasurably.

No, I’m here to talk about words that aren’t. . . can’t be in your English vocabulary. These are words that don’t have an equivalent in the English language. And they’re wonderful.

You know that feeling when you’ve sat down to a tremendous meal and you keep eating, even though you can feel your belt about to split into shrieking pieces? Yeah, if you spoke Georgian, you’d have a word for that. It’s shemomedjamo, and it means “I accidentally ate the whole thing.” Beautiful!

And then there’s one of my favorites. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that horrible sinking feeling just after greeting someone when I realize I have absolutely no idea what his name is, but he sure knows me and, even worse, I’m expected to introduce him to someone else. If only I were Scots, then I’d know that feeling is tartle. Yeah, really.

Ever see Zombieland? In it, Columbus, the protagonist, dreams about finding a girl — a real girl — and lovingly running his fingers through her hair and brushing it back over her ear. If only he spoke Portuguese in Brazil, he’d know that he was longing for cafune. Horrible, isn’t it, the way I can drag zombies into just about anything.

Anyway, why not head over to The Week’s fascinating article on the subject. You might learn a new word, maybe for a woman yelling and cursing at her kids from the doorway or in line at the supermarket or at a restaurant. That act right there? The Danes call it kaelling.

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