English is so limited sometimes. There are so many kickass words in other languages, that describe concepts that we just don't have one word for in English. And that's a shame, because sometimes we find ourselves in situations that English just can't describe.
Science fiction and fantasy are full of those sorts of quirky situations and concepts, in fact. Here are 10 words that have no English equivalent, and the science fiction and fantasy classics that you'd want to use them to describe.
10. Aware (Japanese)
The Meaning: Aware is a word, quite well-known, for the bittersweetness of a brief and fading moment of transcendent beauty. It's that "last burst of summer" feel, or the transience of early spring.
The Work: The Lord of the Rings is the work that most needs this word to describe it. Sure, it's an adventure and linguistics tale, but backing the battles is an ever-present tone. The whole point of this fantasy trilogy is a chronicling of the end of an era. The days of magic, both terribly evil and extraordinarily beautiful, are coming to an end. With destruction of the ring — the ultimate evil in the world — all the good of the dwarves and hobbits and elves retreat from the world as well, and the age of myth gives way to the more prosaic age of humans.
9. Maya (Sanskrit)
The Meaning: This word is one that could be applied to a lot of protest movements and many political speeches. It refers to belief — the often unfortunate belief — that the symbol of a thing is the same as the thing itself. It's the, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," of the literary world.
The Work: V for Vendetta is a work that plays with symbolism and how symbolism becomes real in the eyes of the populace. The eponymous V is armed with a mountain of symbols, from the letter and roman numeral of his name to a particular kind of rose to London buildings to the Guy Fawkes mask that he always wears. Whether this mistaken belief — that a guy playing around with cops and bombs can free a whole country — would actually lead to the kind of sweeping social change depicted in the book is up to you to decide.
8. Wei-wu-wei (Chinese)
The Meaning: Wei-wu-wei is conscious nonaction. It's a deliberate, and principled, decision to do nothing whatsoever, and to do it for a particular reason.
The Work: Zone One, by Colson Whitehead is the non-action zombie novel. Leaving aside stupid comparisons in reviews that shall remain linkless, it is an understandably frustrating book. The narrative meanders through the current clean-up job, past wanderings, and extended social commentary of a man in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland. It's light on action and heavy on description and sustained metaphor. Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing, you know it's a deliberate thing. Our own Charlie Jane Anders review of the book states, "you get the sense, after a while, that Whitehead is deliberately trying to deny the reader any feeling of narrative satisfaction, through denseness and obfuscation." It's a definite wei-wu-wei novel.