From mangata to murr-ma, a culture's vocabulary speaks volumes about what matters to the people who use the words.
I love words. I love nature and I love different cultures around the world. So is it any wonder that I adore words about nature from other places? They say so much, in their unpronounceable way, about the places where they’re used and the people whose mouths they spring from. Kind of like the way there are supposedly 50 (or 100 or more) Inuit words for snow, language develops around needs and the things that matter. Even if the things that matter are simple, like the color of a leaf as it wanes before dying.
Feuillemort (French, adjective): Having the color of a faded, dying leaf.
I write a lot about language and the natural world, so I was delighted to recently stumble across a book called “Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World” by Ella Francis Sanders. Although she doesn't exclusively focus on words about nature – there are a number categories covered – I’ve borrowed some pertinent words from her sweet book, and added some others I’ve collected along the way. Maybe if we all start using any of these words that resonate, a few will catch on and take on an American accent! The more words we have about the natural world, in my opinion, the better.
Mangata (Swedish, noun): The road-like reflection of the moon in the water.
Ammil (English, Devon, noun): The thin film of ice that lacquers the outdoors when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.
Komorebi (Japanese, noun): The sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees.
Gurfa (Arabic, noun): The amount of water that can be held in one hand.
Poronkusema (Finnish, noun): The distance a reindeer can comfortably travel before taking a break.
Eit (Gaelic, noun): The practice of placing shiny stones in streams so that they sparkle in moonlight and attract salmon in the late summer and autumn.
Murr-ma (Wagiman, verb): The act of searching for something in the water with only your feet.
Kalpa (Sanskrit, noun): The passing of time on a grand cosmological scale.
Waldeinsamkeit (German, noun): The feeling of being alone in the woods, an easy solitude and a connectedness to nature.
Do you have any to add to the list? All contributions welcome! And with that, I'm off to revel in some komorebi.