For many that have studied the Russian language, one word, in particular, stands out as having a special, elusive, significance. It has been described as, at worst, "a sensation of great spiritual anguish" and, simultaneously, as "a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for." This was Vladimir Nabokov's attempt at translating the untranslatable and even after years of trying, many students remain fascinated and intrigued by this linguistic thorn. The word in question? Тоска (toska).

The reason for this enduring interest—which goes way beyond the brow-crunching confusion of Russian having a word that English does not—is that it is so typical of the country itself and yet it resonates at a universal level as well. The feeling when it is first described to you is akin to empathising with a brilliant writer as they seek to convey a particular human emotion. In a way, 'toska' is a one-word poem.





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