Awesome Foreign Word of the Day: Mono No Aware

Mono no aware 物の哀れ  (Japanese): literally meaning ‘the pathos of things’, mono no aware is a term used to describe the awareness of the impermanence of all things and the gentles sadness one feels at their passing.  
Prononciation: moh-no no ah-wah-ray 

Imagine if ‘mono-no-aware’ and Ya’aburnee had a linguistic love child. Imagine it. It would be the most beautiful word this world has ever seen; this word would be so powerful and full of tiger blood the masses would have coronaries at the mere whisper of the word.

It’s impending marriage to ya’aburnee aside, this word expresses that wistful feeling one experiences as ‘all good things come to an end.’ It describes that intense awareness one experiences as moment as it slips by. One example is Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s ending a film  with a character saying ‘ii tenki desu ne’, meaning, ‘fine weather, isn’t it?’ during the paradigm shift or climax.

Unfortunately, my own life is nowhere near as epic as a Yasujiro Ozu film or a Haruki Murakami novel. I have to settle for moments that look something like this:

You: It’s too bad your flying privileges were revoked after that whole ‘free-pretzels-and-headphones’ rebellion you tried to start …
Me: *looks wistfully up at the sky, giving a heavy sigh* I’m a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar.
The End. 

*Corrected pronunciation - i might have been crazy when I wrote this.

Language, Making You Cast Blame

You graciously decide to have me and my friend, let’s call her Margaret, over as dinner guests, which is ill advised, but you were feeling adventurous. While you slave away in the kitchen you hear a crash followed by the most colorful string of swears you have ever heard and when you come into the living room to investigate, you see that your favorite fabergé egg, the one you got at Epcot all those years ago, lay shattered on the floor. Margaret’s looking a bit guilty but I point a finger at the poor pup sleeping on the floor and oh! how the blame flies. Rufus gets locked up in his cage with no post-dinner belly rubs and it’s all because of linguistics.

You see, English speakers are more likely to ensure that the someone takes responsibility for a wrong doing and fabergé eggs are brought to justice. If I wasn’t an English speaker and was, say, a speaker of Japanese, I wouldn’t be saying “he broke it”; I’d be saying something more akin to “it broke’, or maybe, “it broke itself.”  

A Stanford study was performed to explore this interesting event and they did this by having speakers of various languages watch videos in which people broke various things, some on purpose, some by accidents and were then asked to explain the events.

When asked about a video in which something was broken by accident or the circumstances surrounding its broken state were vague, Spanish and Japanese speakers were more likely to say ‘the balloon popped’ or, ‘the glass broke.’

And the English speakers? Oh, we are unforgiving bastards, we speakers of English. Somebody had to be blamed and every English speaker replied with answers such as, “He popped the balloon,” or,  ”The girl broke the glass.”

But this could be a result of cultural difference, you say. The brainy Stanford scientists thought about this too, so they showed the participants the video of Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfuntion’ and were given a report on what happened.

The first article said, “the clothing ripped”, and the other article said, “Justin ripped the clothing.” Justin, you cheeky monkey.

When asked to come up with a punishment for the act those who read the first article were more lenient (regardless of language) than the those who read the second half.

It seems we English speakers are addicted to the art of casting blame - next time, try to think like a Spanish speaker or a Japanese speaker. We could all do with less blame because I await the day where I can ask, “did you fart?” and the answer can be, “a fart happened.”

Oh glory be that day.