Other Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely From Around the World
by Yee-Lum Mak, illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley



Chronicle Books, 2016. ISBN 978-1-452-12534-3.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 11/16/2016

Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Creative Life

Other Wordly is a book of fascinating words that ideally suit particular situations. I had heard of the word "soigné" before. It's a French adjective, often used in English, meaning: "possessing an aura of sophistication in dress, manner, or design; presented or prepared with an elegance attained through care for the fine details." A perfect word for one's vocabulary I think.

Another couple of words I had already been introduced to as Ellen Bass used them in one of her poems, "The Small Country." "Tartle" is a Scottish verb meaning "to hesitate while introducing or meeting someone because you have forgotten their name."

The other unusual word Bass used in her poem was "cafuné" which is a Brazilian Portuguese noun meaning "running your fingers through the hair of someone you love."

There are charming drawings by Kelsey Garrity-Riley illustrating the pages of delightful words. On the page with "cafuné" is a drawing of a young couple embracing, with the young woman's hand in the blonde hair of her beloved. They're in front of a table where some potting has been taking place and there are sorts of potted plants, flowers and cacti.

The author, Yee-Lum Mak, says the book started when she stumbled across the Portuguese word "saudade: the love that remains." She said "it is a longing for someone or something that you had loved and then lost." Mak hadn't seen anything like it before and thought it "seemed other-worldly: bigger, stranger and fuller than the words we used every day." In the case of "saudade" and other words in the book, descriptions are for feelings we may have felt but could never name. That was the case for Mak, who says: "If there were more words like that, I wanted to find them."

She found lots of odd and wonderful words in many languages and surprisingly, many of the words are English. "Brumous" is an English adjective that I could use about the place I live: "of gray skies and winter days; filled with heavy clouds or fog; relating to winter or cold, sunless weather."

Related words are on two-page spreads with illustrations that suit them. A travel agency with posters for various places in the world including Hawaii and Bermuda has the word "resfeber" (a Swedish noun) and "fernweh" (a German noun). "Resfeber" is "the restless race of the traveler's heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together; a 'travel fever' that can manifest as an illness." "Fernweh" is "an ache for distant places; the craving for travel."

There are words from Bantu, Dutch, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, South African English, Spanish, Turkish, Welsh and Yaghan. As the back cover of the book describes, this is a book for lovers of words as well as those who are at a loss for words.


Yee-Lum Mak loved long words best as a kid but she's since learned that lovely words come in many shapes. She lives in Los Angeles, California. Visit her website.

Kelsey Garrity-Riley grew up in Belgium and Gemany before moving to the United States to study illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She and her husband, also an illustrator, live in Brooklyn, New York. Visit her website.

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