The Joy of Words

Francis Bacon once wrote ‘It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives.’ Why this is an ‘error’ is a question for advanced Baconians, which I am not. We kind of like writing  about or hearing the good stuff about ourselves, as well as about the rest of the world, and most people think that it’s good for us to hear and pass on positive thoughts, comfortingly reinforcing our sense of bien-être, or well-being. But, more foreign phrases anon. Meanwhile, confirmation bias, for those who don’t know, refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s worldview, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts it. We get uncomfortable when confronted with cognitively dissonant ideas. As a regular commenter on the pages of the Times of London, this is a self-evident truth which one sees every day. Political leaders have their online detractors and those who cannot argue a point successfully usually write a stream of vituperative bile, often about people who own golf courses or wear beards, or more recently, have wives old enough to be their mothers without much reference to any factual content.
On a parallel, not altogether unconnected thread, Messrs Macron and Trump recently met in what some are calling the ‘dandruff diplomacy summit’ which turned out to be quite the touchy-feely lovefest. I rather wonder if they were overcome by a distinct frisson of ‘hygge’ – the last word in joy.
 Speaking of which, as my tongue descends into the nether regions of my cheek, hygge is really quite passé, apparently, all its little books notwithstanding. The Danish term, which means “a feeling of great smugness that you are not in fact Swedish”, was all the rage for a while. Not any more. It has been superseded by the Norwegian ‘peiskos’ which refers, apparently, to that rather cosy feeling one gets when sitting by a roaring fire, or the Dalmatian ‘fjaka’, which means ‘the sweetness of doing nothing’.  My other half will simply look bewildered at this point since such a state is entirely beyond her comprehension. The Croatians believe it can actually cure diseases. I can say this with perfect certainty since I know nobody who is capable of correcting my Croatian, but since I read it in Croatia Week, it must be right. Excellent. Here are a few other words from different countries, shamelessly plagiarised from the Sunday Times. These words have no English equivalent, but they are all suggestive of bien-être.
From France, we have ‘etranger-plaisir: the feeling of contentment occasioned by pretending not to understand when a foreigner is asking you for directions. Since Paris is full of impatient Chinese and grumpy Parisians, the contentment level on the Champs-Elysées shifts up a notch when a busload of Oriental tourists disgorges near the Arc de Triomphe.
 Germany has lots of words which are just joined up fragments of others, such as ‘sudetenmarschierenfreude’ meaning the warm feeling of national wellbeing occasioned by annexing the Sudetenland. Variants might be polenmarschierenfreude, frankreichmarschierenfreude and so on, dependent on one’s degree of wishful thinking.
 Spain has ‘ladoza’ which is the pleasure gained by going back to bed at eleven in the morning and not resurfacing until dinnertime.
 The Scots have an accent as thick as treacle and even those who actually speak the same language are often quite uncomprehending when asking for directions on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. The phrase ‘seeyousestitchthatjimmie’ is a feeling of intense satisfaction when you have just stoated someone between the eyes on licensed premises in the east end of the city.
 Greece has the ubiquitous ‘gamoforous’: the delight experienced in not paying your taxes and in Italy the rather unlikely ‘bambinificio’ is the adolescent pleasure experienced by fully grown men in eating ice creams while wearing sunglasses and riding around on mopeds.
 Japan’s rather formal ‘ken-shi-yorokobi’ is apparently a bewildering sense of euphoria that occurs just before you ceremonially disembowel yourself. Not altogether tempting. There must be less painful ways to get high.
 Russia has few words to express satisfaction of any flavour, except the grim kind which revels in the capture of one’s next door neighbour for selling secrets to the Americans. There is, however ‘yadernoy-radost’, literally ‘nuclear joy’, which is a warm feeling of satisfaction that occurs when you have made an enemy of the state light up like a Roman candle through the covert application of plutonium. OK, I made that one up but ‘radost’ is Czech for ‘glee’ so, hey, close enough.

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