In the 2016 film Arrival Amy Adams’ character, linguistics professor Louise Banks is asked to come to a secured location in Montana for a special translation project. The project? Help decipher the language of extraterrestrial invaders who have just landed in twelve locations on the planet. The suspense in this film however, drives not from the typical sci-fi thrills of alien vs man, but how language defines our perception of history and each other.
While we’re not contending with extraterrestrial beasts when we travel, we are confronted with languages that may tingle our ears with their unfamiliar inflections. But your native language may limit how you want to express yourself and how you understand others (Read about the Sapir-Whorf theory). The type of feeling you want to describe is often restricted by the words available in your language.
Inspired by Migrating Miss Sonja’s great list of 24 Unusual Travel Words You Should Know, I wanted to share some words related to travel and identity.
Schwellenangst. Schwellen in German means a threshold – a liminal moment in time. So, schwellenangst is the fear to of embracing these liminal moments. Travel is an opportunity to embrace the courage to forge through these daunting passageways.
Mono no aware (Japanese 物の哀れ): This is sad way to speak to the melancholic passing of time. It’s a way to address the beauty in the beginnings and endings. This term is fairly young; it was coined in the 18th century as a literary critique the Tale of Genji, of its sadness that brought its readers together. It is often translated into the “ahh-ness” of things.
Do you ever feel frustrated, anxious, and angry that you can only experience the world through the one body you’re given? You’ll never really know the experiences of those living across the world; their cultures, daily life, textures of the landscape. No matter how much you travel, you can never fully grasp the bigness of this world. Now you have a word to describe these feeling; onism, a Danish portmanteu to describe the awareness of all the things you’ll never quite touch. Monism is the philiopsophy that things can be explained in terms of a single reality, so onism is a kind of monism, because your life is limited to the single reality of what you see, people you meet, and experiences you encounter in your brief existence on this wondrous planet.
Now get out there and have a great time traveling, even if you’re stuck with a bit of onism from time to time. Learn some languages, meet new people, and embrace this big beautiful world.
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