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Consider this: You’re flying an international airline, full of foreigners. There are only two Tamilians on the plane. You and another guy seated in business class. As you try and catch a wink, you hear a kerfuffle. The other Tamilian is trying to take lurid pictures of the airhostess and she’s creating a ruckus about it.
Although you’re in no way related to him, being a Tam, it is but natural to feel utterly embarrassed by his actions, right? There’s a German word for this vicarious sense of shame. It’s called ‘fremdschamen’.
There are many lovely words like this that have somehow remained cloaked by our collective ignorance. It’s time we sought them out like a heat-seeking missile.
‘Sillage’ is one such beauty. It’s the trail of fragrance that lingers in the air after someone has passed you by. Haven’t you felt the sillage or at least spotted it in ads? Another potent term is the ‘Baader-Meinhoff Phenomenon’. It’s the uncanny ability of something new that you’ve learnt, to pop up everywhere, all of a sudden.
I’ve experienced this when I first learnt about the ‘27 Club’ — the belief that some of the most talented musicians die at 27. The death of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison & Kurt Cobain fuelled the urban legend. The year, I learnt about the club, singer Amy Winehouse eerily died of alcohol poisoning at the unripe age of 27!
‘Pareidolia’ is another phenomenon you’ll fall in love with. It’s the tendency to see faces in the unlikeliest of places and objects. People who see Ganesha in a tree, Jesus on a toast, Buddha in a cloud, and Chandamama on the moon are the type who’ll relate to it.
Then there is ‘Nominative Determinism’ which is a complicated way of stating the hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards professions that fit their surnames. Usain Bolt, William Wordsworth and Tiger Woods are famous examples.
My personal favourite though is ‘Mondegreen’. It’s the propensity to misinterpret lyrics due to mishearing. Mondegreen, simply put, is singing Aap jaisa koi mere zidagi me aaye toh baat ban jaye as baap ban jaye. Curiously, author Sylvia Wright coined it when she misheard a line in a Scottish ballad. ‘Laid him on the green’ felt like ‘Lady Mondegreen’ to her ears!
I’ll sign off with one new word. What do you call the infinity
symbol? ‘Lemniscate’. That’s the good word!