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Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Nabokov

The art of failure*…


From Matador Networks, “20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World,” from…

1. Toska
Russian – Vladimir Nabokov describes it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”


20. Saudade
Portuguese – One of the most beautiful of all words, translatable or not, this word “refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.”  Fado music, a type of mournful singing, relates to saudade. (Altalang.com)

* “Translation is the art of failure.” – Umberto Eco

As we console ourselves that, as Robert Frost observed, “poetry is what gets lost in translation,” we might recall that Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky, author of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamozov, and a master– perhaps the master– of “toska,” was born on this date in 1821 (in the “old style” calendar, adjusted to January 1 on the Julian calendar; his birth date is November 11 on the unadjusted Russian version of the Gregorian calendar.)

Dostoyevsky (source)

Definitely definitive…

.. a veritable treasury of similarly helpfully defined words at My First Dictionary.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the first Earth Day (1970), we might scribble a birthday greeting to a master wordsmith, the “daddy” of Lolita,  Vladimir Nabokov, accomplished lepidopterist, creator of chess problems, and novelist extraordinaire..

Nabokov was born on April 10, 1899 according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at that time. The Gregorian equivalent is April 22– found by adding 12 days to the Julian date…  one shouldn’t be taken in by sources that incorrectly calculate a date of 23 April, using the 13-day difference in the calendars that applied only after 28 February 1900. Indeed, in Speak, Memory Nabokov himself affirms today’s date as the big day, and unpacks the too-common error.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov

Written by LW

April 22, 2009 at 1:01 am

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