I enjoy reading about words and phrases that exist in other languages, but don’t have perfect English equivalents. It’s a fascinating insight into what shapes the experiences of people in other cultures, and also sometimes helps me to think about things in ways I haven’t done before.
I read an interesting article a few months ago called Let the Soul Dangle, a translation of the German phrase die Seele baumeln lassen. It’s supposed to signify that an idle mind – one that wanders and engages in reverie – is ultimately a more creative and productive mind. I’ve returned to this piece several times since I read it, as it talks about art being a catalyst for emotional experiences within safe spaces that help us process our real-life experiences. I have a professional interest in how people experience art, so this article has been added to my collection of research materials. But what makes it stand out is that small German phrase, and how the authors connected it to a universal concept.
Sadly, some concepts can’t easily flow from one language and culture into another. We can approximate, using words at our disposal, but there are intangible things which may not cross over. That itself is somewhat poetic – the idea that some things can’t be fully shared, that the best we can do is approximate using our own lingual and cultural experiences, knowing that there may be nuances that render differently, or not at all.
Language is not about simply learning the definition, pronunciation, and proper use of a word – it’s also about understanding nuance, context, and even emotional concepts that go along with those words. Sometimes those concepts are hard to articulate verbally; they’re something more intuitive, something that those native to a culture or language intrinsically understand.
Language can be practical, artful, or even become weaponized. It’s a living, organic entity that grows and evolves along with its cultural group. Much philosophy has been produced about the nature of language; it’s something we all understand, and yet it something that is so much bigger than us, something that sits on top of our collective experiences, both uniting and dividing us. It is, in itself, a journey.
Sometimes, these little snippets of other languages, and the concepts they represent, can crack open feelings and thoughts that I might now have otherwise accessed. Let the soul dangle is something I immediately connected to, because I like the idea of dangling in and of itself – hanging, being loose, idling and waiting. There’s a bit of a connotation with enticement in there (at least, there is in English), as if we’re using our idle soul to tempt our emotions or creativity to emerge, which also brings out a sense of risk – I imagine bait dangling on a hook. A soul, quietly dangling, inviting whatever emotional experience needs to happen.
As someone who writes and researches, I think perhaps I need to interweave some soul-dangling into my constant reading and studying. Try to quiet my overactive mind and see what emerges. To approach art and literature and music from a quiet place – as a dangler – rather than from an analytical one.