Untranslatable Words – Desenrascanço

Desenrascanço. Portuguese / n. / ˌdɨ.zɐ̃j.̃ʁɐʃ.ˈkɐ̃.sʊ / deh-zen-hass-can-so. – Artful disentanglement (e.g., from trouble); an improvised solution; the ability to solve a problem without having the knowledge or the adequate tools to do so, by use of imaginative resources or by applying knowledge to new situations.

I love this word for it signifies the often unacknowledged skill of managing a problem you have never encountered before, or have not even expected, without planning for it beforehand. Indeed, whilst planning things in advance is often seen as something positive which shows someone is organised, planning in excess can actually make your thoughts more rigid and uncompromising.

In fact, Portuguese people are aware of the benefits of Desenrascanço, and the skill has been informally taught in Portuguese universities since around the 14th century, where freshmen are asked to solve difficult challenges and quests they will never have encountered before. On a side note, I even found out recently that for example fishing different fish requires different skill sets – even if a fisherman has caught, say, salmon, all his life, this does not mean he would be equally good at catching trout. Animals adapt to living in cities too – the hunting patterns of birds and foxes for example are disrupted by urbanisation, but yet they manage to find a way to make it work, to survive and thrive in a new environment with different problems and challenges.  So one can encounter Desenrascanço even when one is established in a certain field of work or expertise – there is always something left to learn.

I think this is a very useful practice, as it prevents docile conformity and encourages people to think outside the box, so to speak, because things in life very rarely go according to plan. Desenrascanço is certainly an art I hope to master.

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