Do We Need a Word for Everything?

Imagine walking through a forest near dusk. It is peaceful and quiet; the setting sun paints streaks of light through tree trunks and across your path. The scene is familiar to anyone who’s ever taken a walk in the woods.

Using one word, how would you describe the experience?

You might defer to a string of adjectives: serenity, beauty, peace, fulfillment — words that dance around the feeling without ever precisely pinning it down. But that’s not the case in Japanese. In that language, a specific term encapsulates the feeling evoked by sunlight dancing through the trees: komorebi.

It’s a tidy way of packaging calm, wonder and harmony into one word.

Komorebi has no direct translation in English; it stands on its own, as do many words from other languages that lasso constellations of meaning and emotion in different ways. These words seem to hint that, due to the confines of language, there are ways to perceive the world that remain locked.

How and why we put words to things is a hotly debated topic at the heart of linguistics. They allow us to communicate, of course, but to what extent do they help us think?

Read more: Discover Magazine

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