Finding the Perfect Word

Words are under valued. They’re thrown around casually with little appreciation for the awesome tasks they accomplish. Shakespeare argued “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” To which I say “nay!” The name rose possesses meaning. A name is simply the word something is called. When I write rose everyone who reads it conjures an image of that flower and not, for example, a lily. A rose scented candle and a lily scented candle don’t smell equally sweet. Without words life would be a constant combination of pictionary and charades.

Even with words, it’s sometimes a struggle to accurately convey thoughts. I think these thoughts that are perfect. Thoughts that form music and art in my head but I can’t express them with my limited language. I can differentiate between angry, mad, and hurt. I have those words. But there isn’t a perfect single word for the feeling when I’m hurt that I’m angry because it’s mad to be mad yet I’m inevitably enflamed with emotion. In picture form that’d be someone getting burned while simultaneously kindling and smothering a fire. I just don’t know a word that conveys that emotion. I hate it. I can’t draw or paint or sing. Words are my best avenue of expression. So I learn as many as possible.

I love meeting new words. That beautiful feeling when I discover a term that conveys my exact sentiments. Usually I found new words in books and television shows. However I’ve recently come to the point in my Chinese language education where I’m learning terms that don’t necessarily exist in English. It’s like magic. This happened to me in Chinese class the other day with the term 知音 (written zhiyin in pinyin).

Finding someone who is 知音 means finding someone who understands the music of your soul. It’s sometimes compared to the english concept of a soul mate but it doesn’t have the romantic undertones often associated with a soulmate. It’s not another half of the same soul, but a complementary sole. According to folklore the word was inspired by a skilled Chinese musician. He played music every day and many people praised him for his skill, but only one person could listen to his songs and identify exactly what he was thinking. The man would play a song and the other man understood exactly what he was thinking. When the second man died the musician cut his strings and never play again because it wouldn’t be worth it if no one understood.

Needing to be understood is a universal feeling. That need can be explained in English. It means your person. That person who gets it. The person you’d call to hide a body. The one who knows when “I’m fine” is a lie. Chinese just says it succinctly and with poetry.

Sometimes another language does a perfect job of conveying a concept. For example the often used phrase Carpe Diem. Lately it appears the English equivalent of this is YOLO (You only live once). I prefer Carpe Diem. Let’s steal more perfect foreign phrases. Has anyone else ever experience that discovery of the perfect word (in either English or a foreign language)? I’d love to hear about it.

Best of luck,

Caitlin

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