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Untranslatable words…

Lost words

I have always been interested in languages, so I was very pleased to see that in the February issue of Wired UK, the “Data we love” section was based on foreign terms with no English equivalent.

  1. Kyoukou-mama: Japanese; it described a moeht obsessed with her child’s academic achievements.

  2. Saudade: Portuguese; this word refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.

  3. Tartle: Scottish; the act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name (Very handy too know!)

  4. Wabi-Sabi: Japanese – it describes a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.

5. Hyggelig: Danish; this word has connotations of a warm, friendly, cozy demeanor, but it’s unlikely that these words truly capture the essence of a hyggelig; it’s likely something that must be experienced to be known. Described as the feeling to have beers with friends…

6. Dépaysement: French; the feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country.

Other examples (not in the magazine):

  1. Toska: Russian – it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning.
  2. Mamihlapinatapei: Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) –  it described the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.

  3. Jayus: Indonesian; A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.

  4. Iktsuarpok: Inuit; To go outside to check if anyone is coming.

  5. Litost: Czech – It describes a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.

  6. Ilunga: Tshiluba (Southwest Congo);  used to describe the stature of a person who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.

  7. Prozvonit: Czech – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money.

  8. Cafuné: Brazilian Portuguese – The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.

  9. Schadenfreude: German; this refers to the feeling of pleasure derived by seeing another’s misfortune.

  10. Torschlusspanik: German – this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.”

  11. Tingo: Pascuense (Easter Island); the act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.

  12. L’appel du vide: French; literally “the call of the void”, it is used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.

  13. Ya’aburnee: Arabic; it means “you bury me,” a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

Do you know any other ones? I would be pleased to hear from you!


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