Wednesday, March 03, 2004


I bought a Sanskrit-English dictionary online from When I got it this week, I realized it's going to be almost useless to me. It's only Sanskrit-English, with no English-to-Sanskrit section, and all the Indic words are in the Devanagari script, which I do not read. By the typeface it looks to be an older book, possibly 19th century, originally published in India and reprinted in the 1990s in England.

Still, it's fascinating, and I find myself sitting up at night, thumbing through it, scanning the columns of strange script and familiar definitions. A dictionary half in an unknown language is a fountain of inspiration. Delightful connections are expressed there, along with conceptions that convince me that, in ancient India, the world had a civilization that has hardly been matched in subtlety and sophistication.

  • A man who does not cook for himself; a bad cook [a term of abuse].
  • A mouse; a miser.
  • Licked; surrounded.
  • m. A bee; a scorpion. f. A woman's female friend.
  • A whirlpool, a crowded place.
  • Inaccessible; unfit for sexual intercourse; difficult to understand.

There are whole sermons and life lessons in a single word:

  • Repentance, intense enmity, close attachment.
  • Fire; appetite; gold.
  • A great danger; a desperate act.
  • Supported; haughty; near; obstructed.
  • Touched; violated; judged; endured.
  • Relaxation; independence.

There are mysteries fit to be taken whole as a poem by Wallace Stevens or William Carlos Williams, or to inspire a Borges ficcione:

  • A benediction; a serpent's fang.
  • Homeless, imperishable.
  • Ungovernable; necessary.
  • Painting figures on the body; feathering an arrow.

I meet words I wish I had; that is, words for which there is no single word in English that covers the same territory:

  • Pleasure arising from sympathy.
  • One who has suppressed his tears.
  • An illustration of a thing by its reverse.
  • A practice not usually proper to the caste but allowable in time of distress.
  • A figure of speech dependent on sense and not on sound.