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Chris DeMuth Jr.
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"It's not given to human beings to have such talent that they can just know everything about everything all the time. But it is given to human beings who work hard at it - who look and sift the world for a misplaced bet - that they can occasionally find one." - Charlie Munger I look... More
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  • Untranslatable Words 25 comments
    Jul 16, 2014 11:52 AM

    Thanks to the Kiwi artist Anjana Iyer for the illustration and collection of words. Find these and others here.

    I love untranslatable words. I try muddling through this and that in foreign languages for both work and pleasure and enjoy the phenomenon of stumbling upon words without a precise English equivalent. Such terms offer insight into local customs and culture where there is something worth defining that is not worth defining elsewhere:

    • Backpfeifengesicht (German) a face badly in need of a fist
    • Bakku-shan (Japanese) a beautiful girl… as long as she's being viewed from behind
    • Fernweh (German): feeling homesick for a place you have never been to
    • Gattara (Italian) an old and lonely woman who devotes herself to stray cats
    • Iksuarpok (Inuit) frustration of waiting for someone to turn up
    • Pochemuchka (Russian) a person who asks too many questions
    • Prozvonit (Czech) to call a mobile phone only once to have it ring back allowing the caller not to spend money on minutes
    • Shlimazl (Yiddish) a chronically unlucky person
    • Tingo (Pascuense) to gradually steal all the possessions out of a neighbor's house by borrowing and not returning
    • Tsundoku (Japanese) the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books.
    • Utepils (Norwegian) to sit outside on a sunny day enjoying beer

    What are you favorites? My number one favorite is sisu, a Finnish word dating back hundreds of years. When your spell checker rejects it, add it to your dictionary. It is a combination of determined, resilient bravery and equanimity in the face of adversity. It is both grim and peaceful. The closest that we get in English is "hardiness", "guts", and "grit" but none of these fully encapsulates "sisu" for sisu requires one to go beyond one's perceived mental and physical capacity to tap previously unknown psychological strength. If there is a biological component, it is probably related to adrenaline surge.

    I hope that my imperfect understanding is at least workable. In the US, it is in common usage only in the upper peninsula of Michigan where there are many Finnish-Americans (and probably a fair share of sisu itself; my sense is that cold climes encourage sisu). If there are any Finnish readers out there, please comment below if this is an idea that you would be willing to expand upon. I love everything about this concept and admire the Finns all the more for it. Just to check if I am on the right track, might my hero Simo Häyhä be sisukas?

    For further reading, an American advocate of this trait worth reading is Angela Lee Duckworth. Who else has sisu? I would be interested in your thoughts. Moshe Dayan? Orde Wingate? Joe De Sena? We in the Anglosphere may lack the perfect word for it, but however you try to translate it, sisu is what I hope for in my sons and daughter.

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Comments (25)
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  • steppppo
    , contributor
    Comments (221) | Send Message
     
    Classic definition of shlimazl (and his cousin the schlemiel):

     

    "A shlemiel is somebody who always spills his drink at the party; a shlimazl is the person the drink always lands on."
    16 Jul 2014, 12:01 PM Reply Like
  • jaginger
    , contributor
    Comments (590) | Send Message
     
    "Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!"
    16 Jul 2014, 12:24 PM Reply Like
  • drew111
    , contributor
    Comments (462) | Send Message
     
    jaginger, I almost missed the reference. Fricken hilarious!

     

    A favorite word would be the Japanese "Mushin". Roughly translates as "no mind." Not stupidity, more like the ability to act without a cluttered mind, the ability to perform a focused purposeful act without thinking about it. Sort of a muscle memory thing, but more than that.
    16 Jul 2014, 08:15 PM Reply Like
  • Squeeky Wheel
    , contributor
    Comments (330) | Send Message
     
    Kiasu - literally "afraid to die", referring to cutting in lines, trying to be first in line for everything, studying 24 hours a day, blocking seats on buses, etc.
    16 Jul 2014, 12:13 PM Reply Like
  • Eric Compton
    , contributor
    Comments (15) | Send Message
     
    Lagom, a Swedish word
    http://bit.ly/1qfKaBe
    definitely brings insight to the Swedish ethos
    16 Jul 2014, 12:32 PM Reply Like
  • jawats
    , contributor
    Comments (6) | Send Message
     
    Tsundoku - that's by far my favorite. I have such books in various places in my house. I wonder if it also applies to library borrowings.
    16 Jul 2014, 02:51 PM Reply Like
  • Don MacShane
    , contributor
    Comments (17) | Send Message
     
    Chris
    I could have sworn that you were in the investment business, but now you are competing with Ann Landers . Get back to work !!!
    16 Jul 2014, 03:38 PM Reply Like
  • Profit Fan
    , contributor
    Comments (285) | Send Message
     
    Thanks for sharing!
    16 Jul 2014, 04:01 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (4451) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » You are welcome
    16 Jul 2014, 04:03 PM Reply Like
  • Profit Fan
    , contributor
    Comments (285) | Send Message
     
    My vote is also for De Sena, good interviews at Barbellshrugged.com and also on the Tim Ferris Podcast, can't wait to find time to read his book.
    16 Jul 2014, 04:02 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (4451) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » He is a friend... but makes me feel like a lazy, low energy wimp in comparison.
    16 Jul 2014, 04:03 PM Reply Like
  • Profit Fan
    , contributor
    Comments (285) | Send Message
     
    I think "De Sena" roughly translates into something like that...not sure what exact language it comes from, but I would assume most cultures would recognize it.
    16 Jul 2014, 04:16 PM Reply Like
  • kadison
    , contributor
    Comments (181) | Send Message
     
    I can think of "karoshi" http://bit.ly/1qj0pxwKarōshi

     

    Nice to see the Czech term "prozvonit" :)
    17 Jul 2014, 06:45 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (4451) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » My family came over from Karlov in today's Czech Republic so I'm biased.
    17 Jul 2014, 06:48 PM Reply Like
  • kadison
    , contributor
    Comments (181) | Send Message
     
    Now I understand why you are such a nice guy! :) By the way, there are a number of different villages called Karlov, would you know which one it was?
    18 Jul 2014, 02:18 AM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (4451) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » In Moravia if that narrows it down much.
    18 Jul 2014, 05:33 AM Reply Like
  • kadison
    , contributor
    Comments (181) | Send Message
     
    Most likely here (as this is in a poor area where lots of people had economic reasons to emigrate to the New World): http://bit.ly/1y3pCQ5
    14 Sep 2014, 05:24 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (4451) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Interesting; thanks! My sense is that my people were penniless and also were part of a pacifist sect that was hassled from time to time.
    14 Sep 2014, 05:33 PM Reply Like
  • TimeOnTarget
    , contributor
    Comments (2902) | Send Message
     
    @Chris --

     

    Hmmm. And have you done anything to address those issues?
    14 Sep 2014, 06:32 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (4451) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Yes, actively working upon distancing myself from being penniless (especially with >$0.01 of copper/penny). Also, somewhat selective in my pacifism.
    14 Sep 2014, 06:33 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (4451) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Sitzfleisch (Yiddish): the importance of continuing to work, regardless of the obstacles
    14 Sep 2014, 08:06 AM Reply Like
  • tuliptown
    , contributor
    Comments (963) | Send Message
     
    http://bit.ly/1qzKc6B.

     

    link is to the Kanji symbol for patience. I like their subtle view of this trait. That it is an action verb not a non-action verb. As an Asian said (when he saw this symbol tattooed on someone at work). It does mean patience, but the patience of a tiger about to pounce. Now that is a visual.

     

    greatest Sisukas ever = Ernest Shackleton.
    still the most compelling story of survival (and sisu) ever.
    14 Sep 2014, 08:59 AM Reply Like
  • TimeOnTarget
    , contributor
    Comments (2902) | Send Message
     
    Others with ample sisu --

     

    Marcus Luttrell, Beck Weathers
    14 Sep 2014, 06:27 PM Reply Like
  • jaginger
    , contributor
    Comments (590) | Send Message
     
    some good ones:
    http://bit.ly/1E2y3LU
    1 Oct 2014, 11:18 PM Reply Like
  • willr314
    , contributor
    Comments (15) | Send Message
     
    haha, Chris. Moravia! That's awesome. Albeit from this page I sense you might have more Yiddish.

     

    My father's side is also from Moravia, albeit the German side. History is so sad. My grandfather and great-grandfather died fighting for the silly German fatherland. Such a heritage makes it easier to see the patriotism in our great American country without the rose-colored glasses (don't be get me wrong, I very much admire the official principles we embrace).

     

    My father was a missionary overseas (which explains how I'm half-Asian), but I think we have some of that near-pacificist sentiment as a result of Germany's history.

     

    World War 2 era was awful. I'm sorry. ...It makes me only feel slightly better that the Hebrews sure left a poor moral example massacring the inhabitants of the land their holy leaders said was supposed to be "theirs".

     

    Being psychologically forced into the contradictory torrents of history, culture, and religion does make it easier to never take an opinion for granted. One thing I love about equity analysis and Seeking Alpha is that one gets to read thousands of articles from competing points of view. I hope it grows exponentially; it is truly an amazing thing: a wonderful marketplace of ideas.

     

    Anyway, best regards. And my apologies for history. May all Moravian expats live in peace henceforth. :)
    6 Oct 2014, 03:52 AM Reply Like
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