I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that in some languages humans developed a way to convey certain ideas, and in other languages there’s no equivalent. About a decade ago I learned Chinese and lived in Taiwan for a couple years and came to recognize a few of the deficiencies in English, since Chinese had an answer for them (and had some of its own gaping holes as well).
Kind of makes you wish you knew every language and could convey subtle emotions you didn’t even know existed through the use of their words.
Anyways, here are a few of the words that I wish we had.
1. A word to say “good morning” when it isn’t morning.
Anytime Holly or one of my kids wakes up from a mid-day nap I have no idea how to greet them, so sometimes it’s something like, “look who’s awake!” or “well, hello!” or “welcome back to the world” or “how did you sleep?” All very awkward. Most of the time I mumble an awkward “good morning” even though it’s 3pm and nowhere near morning.
We need a single word of short phrase that says, “I acknowledge that you were asleep and now you are awake, I hope it was a pleasant experience, and I’m happy to see you.” Is that too much to ask?
2. A word to say “I’m sorry” when you’re trying to comfort someone.
One of the most unfortunate exchanges in the English language involves our ability to express empathy for someone else. Something bad happens to them, we don’t know what else to say besides “I’m sorry”, and then they respond with “it’s not your fault.” And then the person saying I’m sorry thinks to themself, “Yeah, obviously, but that’s not what I was saying or implying but I have no other simple way to say it!”
We need a single word or short phrase that says, “I empathize with you. I’m sad with you. I hope you feel better soon” without so many words.
3. A word to express that someone is putting in effort.
Ok, this will be a little harder to convey, since we really have no equivalent for this. When I lived in Taiwan one word that they would often use is “xinku”. It essentially means, “you’re a hard worker / you’ve been working hard / your effort is impressive”. It was SO nice to have this in my back pocket whenever I interacted with a stranger. Most of the time I’d meet someone at their job or on the way to their job or working on a house project or putting in effort in some way. And “xinku” broke the ice while at the same time paying a subtle compliment (you’re working hard / you’re putting in effort / you’re impressive). As far as I can tell, English doesn’t have that. We could literally say a lot of those things, but they come off as awkward and forward. Telling a stranger or an acquaintance “you’re impressive” or “you’re working hard” or “you are putting in effort” would probably just make them walk a little quicker in the opposite direction.
The list of “English holes” is long, as it is in other languages. Luckily language continues to evolve, and perhaps my great great grandkids will know just what to say when they want to express sympathy for an overworked friend who just woke up from a midday nap.