Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I did a post on Froogville last weekend about the unlikely-sounding word mamihlapinatapai. This I had stumbled across as a result of this post by my old blog-friend JES, which referred to the word razblliuto. This, according to many an online source and the book cited by JES, They Have A Word For It by Howard Rheingold (which offered up mamihlapinatapai as its next example), is supposedly a Russian noun for "the feeling you have for someone you once loved, but do not any more".

Alas, the word appears to be unknown to Russian speakers (although an intriguing theory has been floated that it is a corruption of razlyubeno, a verb meaning to fall out of love, and supposedly originates from an episode of the '60s TV spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. [American scriptwriters naturally being likely to mangle any attempt at using Russian!]).

My scepticism was immediately aroused by the fact that it doesn't seem to be a very plausible word, since it does not define any distinct concept.

I can't see any value in having a word that means "whatever feeling you have for a former lover". If it meant simply "not in love any more" (as would seem to have been intended, if that "scriptwriter's goof" theory is true), that would make sense - but it wouldn't be an especially resonant word/concept. If it meant - as anguished romantics naturally assume it does - a sense of wistful longing for a lost love, then it would be more resonant; but surely there are plenty of other words or phrases for that?

According to the definition usually given for this word, it is seemingly intended to denote a particular emotion that exists between former lovers. And I don't believe there is any single emotion one finds in that situation. It depends on so many factors - the circumstances of the breakup, how long ago it was, whether the people concerned are now involved with someone else, and so on.

I tend to have a lingering wistful fondness for all of my exes (at least, the ones with whom I was in love) - though not a raging, obsessive passion, nor any urge to try to revisit and revive the relationship. But the range of other emotions we find in this situation is almost limitless: everything from fanatical hatred through bitterness and resentment to complete indifference or strictly Platonic friendship, and out on the other side to a flirtatious frisson of continuing attraction or easily rekindled lust, and, at the furthest extreme, undying adulation.

And though I would have doubted it when I was a young man, I now realise it is entirely possible after a lapse of many years to (almost?) completely forget that you were once sexually intimate with someone.

Furthermore, I think it's quite rare that one finds identical feeling on both sides of the relationship (before or after breakup!).

The (probably mythical) word razbliuto, then, appears to me to lack any definite or useful meaning.

However... sometimes words command our thoughts, and our thoughts may direct our feelings. If a language did have such a word, and it was understood to mean one particular emotion - a useful, healing emotion: a small ember of past love that was capable of engendering forgiveness of supposed wrongs and allowing a continuance of friendship... the existence of this word might work a gentle magic in the realm of romantic relationships; it might condition us to expect, to know that this is how we will feel after a breakup, and preclude the possibility of our experiencing any more powerful and potentially damaging emotions. I think the existence of such a word might be a blessing. Perhaps we should invent one.

By the way, I notice that the Wikipedia entry on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that I hotlinked to above begins with the note "THRUSH redirects here." Oh dear. That might cause some confusion for people seeking medical advice.

No comments: