It’s an unspeakably beautiful spring day and having given the next chapter in my new book to my writing group, I’m puttering in the yard with a relatively clear conscience. Now Italian has many marvelous words, and speaks eloquently of many concepts that English, with all her 600,000 to 1 million words can not easily express, but I modestly offer these additions to the language of Dante.
1. puttering: How can a language manage without this charmingly onomatopoetic term for the quiet pleasure of doing little useful things in the house or, today, among perennials? Italian has “lavoretti” (lit. little jobs), but the put-put-put of happy busyness isn’t there — the lighter side of Anglo-Saxon pleasure-in-work.
2. cozy: Once on a winter evening in Naples, we were having dinner with our Neapolitan friend Giorgio De La Morte (yes, Giorgio of Death, cousin [no kidding] to Angelo De La Morte). Anyway, we’re with Giorgio and Maria, his Swedish girlfriend. “What is Italian for ‘cozy’?” Maria asked. Giorgio didn’t know, nor did Maurizio. Maria and I elaborated eagerly: it’s cold and blistery outside and you’re inside with a fire, with friends, all toasty. Blank stare from Giorgio, who was perhaps too much of a gentleman to ask just why a human culture would situate itself in such a place. The end of a long linguistic discussion, energized by wine: There’s no “cozy” in Italian, nor in the Neapolitan dialect which, like Yiddish, has hundreds of minutely descriptive terms for personality types, but if you want “cozy,” go to a cold place.
3. snug: See above. And doesn’t just the saying of “snug” conjure comfort, feet pajamas, soft blankets, hot chocolate, and being held?
4. privacy:: Nope, or rather, yes, there’s a borrowed word, “privacy,” for that strange quality some cultures value.
I came upon this unhappy thought for a bright spring day: “Half of the existing 6,700 languages in the world will die away in a century and another 2,000 languages will be endangered if no efforts are made to save them.” Every one must hold, like a treasure box, precious values and sensations like cozy and snug.