13 words not found in the English language

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

t13

These words do not have direct equivalents in English. Some of them would definitely be useful for us English-speakers, what do you think?

1. Waldeinsamkeit (German): the feeling of being alone in the woods

2. Ilunga (Tshiluba, Congo): a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time

3. Taarradhin (Arabic): a way of resolving a problem without anyone losing face (not the same as our concept of a compromise – everyone wins)

4. Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery

5. Esprit de l’escalier (French): a witty remark that occurs to you too late, literally on the way down the stairs…

6. Meraki (Greek): doing something with soul, creativity, or love

7. Yoko meshi (Japanese): literally ‘a meal eaten sideways’, referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language:

8. Duende (Spanish): a climactic show of spirit in a performance or work of art, which might be fulfilled in flamenco dancing, or bull-fighting, etc.

9. Guanxi (Mandarin): in traditional Chinese society, you would build up good guanxi by giving gifts to people, taking them to dinner, or doing them a favour, but you can also use up your gianxi by asking for a favour to be repaid.

10. Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions

11. Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island): to borrow objects one by one from a neighbour�s house until there is nothing left

12. Radioukacz (Polish): a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain

13. Selathirupavar (Tamil): a word used to define a certain type of absence without official leave in face of duty

Of course, I’m just relying on the accuracy of online resources for this information, if you speak any of these languages please let me know if there are any errors or inaccuracies above.

Update: Sources were Times Online and NPR

125 Responses to “13 words not found in the English language”

  1. 1
    Journeywoman:

    GREAT list.

    I didn’t know there was a word for the funny remark that hits you later.

  2. 2
    WFM:

    Well this was certainly entertaining since I knew NONE of them. I just have to work Litost into a conversation someday soon! :)

  3. 3
    damozel:

    That is an EXCELLENT t-13. I submitted it to Stumble Upon. Also love your Halloween greetings (evil cackle)

  4. 4
    damozel:

    I don’t know if my previous comment “took,” but I submitted this excellent list to StumbleUpon. Love the evil halloween cackles too….

  5. 5
    MommyBa:

    We have a word in Filipino : duwende, and that means a dwarf – a mythical being of the underworld which may be white or black in color.

    Cool stuff you have here! I like it! Thanks for the info :)

    Happy Thursday!

  6. 6
    colleen:

    Number 11 could also be “Kramer.”

    I found this very interesting and love your blog city.

  7. 7
    Raggedy:

    I really liked your list!
    Terrific Thursday Thirteen!
    My TT is posted.
    Have a wonderful day!
    Happy TT’ing!
    *^_^
    (=’:'=)
    (“)_ (“)Š
    Raggedy

  8. 8
    Anuahs:

    For ten, “inquisitive” seems close enough.

  9. 9
    On a Limb with Claudia:

    Great list, as usual! What have you heard the most? Sorry, I’m a bit of a Pochemuchka! ;)

    Happy TT!

  10. 10
    Nicholas:

    Great list, PJ. Some of those are definitley worth importing into English.

  11. 11
    SJ Reidhead:

    Excellent!

  12. 12
    Capt Phat:

    “Kabakabu” Yiddish for the sound of milk or other thick liquid pouring in a cup. I love that this is a eord It is also possible my mother was just pulling my leg.

  13. 13
    Gattina:

    Besides Waldeinsamkeit and Esprit de l’escalier I am unable to check anything, lol ! But why should these words be part of the English language ??

  14. 14
    Tilly Greene:

    Hmmm, Ilunga…what an interesting concept.

    Great list – thank you for sharing!

  15. 15
    marcia v:

    words are my play thins so this was fun

  16. 16
    PJ:

    Hi all, thanks for commenting.

    Damozel: thanks for the stumble.

    MommyBa: duwendes sound very cute

    Colleen: yep, Kramer is quite the borrower!

    Anuahs: sure, but we don’t have a noun to describe that person.

    Gattina: it’s not the words themselves, but the fact that the English language doesn’t have equivalent words for the same concepts which is interesting to me.

  17. 17
    Susan Helene Gottfried:

    Cool! Wouldn’t it be cool if we all adopted these words/phrases into our daily language? We’d be multilingual before too long. What a cool idea!

  18. 18
    china blue:

    Great list! I was also thinking that some words can be shoehorned into our language – after all, some English words are used in other languages when a suitable equivalent can’t be found. ‘Le weekend’, anyone?

  19. 19
    eviastarroy:

    I enjoyed this list! But why number 12? The other things are perhaps frequent occurrences, but I’m not really certain that one would have much relevant usage in the English language today!

  20. 20
    PJ:

    It’s more about concepts which are particular to a certain culture, like the adage about Eskimos having a hundred words for snow.

  21. 21
    sQueeky:

    Someone once told me about ‘yoko meshi’ in Canada, but for the 3 years I have lived in Japan, I have never come across anyone who knows that expression. It might be from a certain city though, since there is a lot of local linguistic variation.

    Two interesting ones from Japan, however:

    ‘tattemae’, the face you show in public
    ‘honne’, your true being, which you show in private

    Great post!

  22. 22
    philosp:

    The Filipino ‘duwende’ sounds like a Goblin to me…
    There is a delicious Brazilian indigenous word to which I never found an equivalent in any other language: Cafuné, the act of striking one’s hair affectionately. The sort of thing you would do to a cat to make it purr…

  23. 23
    Cj:

    well guanxi is a relationship. A word in mandarin i would say does not translate is Yi, which is like. Brotherhood. Or like. Chivalry. But not really towards woman but just like..well it doens’t really translate. Online translators says it’s justice but that’s just a part of it. Have fun figuring it out :mrgreen:

  24. 24
    Bill Vincent:

    The German one doesn’t really count IMO…Waldeinsamkeit is, literally, “forest aloneness”. A compound, largely made-up word. Another example of this would be “frischluftfanatiker”, meaning a person who enjoys fresh air a great deal. You could stick any handful of German words together, making a compound word that few Germans would use, most would scoff at as child’s play, but you could accurately say there is no English equivalent. Think about Fahrvergnugen! lit: “travel happiness”. Few Germans would have used that word before the VW ad blitz. It just sounds silly.

    For the record, yes, I speak German:)

    Despite my critique, I enjoyed the post. :mrgreen:

  25. 25
    Bill Vincent:

    philosp: “Petting”???

  26. 26
    John Rouse:

    Great list – Swedes have a very good one “lagom” which is “not too much, not too little” and works out as a philosophy of life: how’s work? “lagom” and so on… very golden mean, and does a lot to explain Swedish society.

  27. 27
    Seth:

    Number 5 isn’t so much a word as it is a phrase- the spirit of the staircase- but I still think it’s neat that there’s a specific phrase for referring to that feeling.

    And actually, no, the Eskimo don’t really have a hundred words for snow. Most Eskimo languages are like the German example- you can smush other words together into infinite compound words- and English has more words for snow than most people realize. I think the concept of language shaping culture (and vice versa) is still valid, but the Eskimo-words-for-snow example is vastly exaggerated.

  28. 28
    John Smith:

    I’ve seen similar to this before somewhere else. What is so special about it?

  29. 29
    richg:

    Who would have known the we don’t have a word for “a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain”

    It seems like that one would be so useful.

  30. 30
    PJ:

    Thanks for all your comments, I’m not sure how you all found this old post of mine from 2007. I made this list based on various sources, and without knowing those languages personally it would be difficult for me to really know how accurate they are. Thanks to everyone who gave explanations, critiques or additional words/concepts which aren’t found in Western culture.

    John Smith: I don’t know really, I posted this last year, and I guess that someone came across it and stumbled it? It’s just a fun list, that’s all.

    Seth: you’ll notice that I mentioned the “adage” of Eskimos having lots of words to describe snow. I’m not a linguistic expert so I wasn’t making a definite statement there.

  31. 31
    PJ:

    And if anyone’s interested in this kind of stuff, I took several of the words from this article, and you can find more information on other words here and here.

  32. 32
    neednewbed.com:

    of course they are not found in the english language, they are foreign!

    If we are to include foreign words that are not in the english language the list is a whole lot more that 13! this artlcle is a load of Scheisse

  33. 33
    Songman:

    There actually is a word for Litost. It is also a psychological concept known as cognitive dissonance.

  34. 34
    PJ:

    Needsnewbed: Looks like you didn’t read the first sentence about the words not having direct equivalent translations in English.

  35. 35
    kaaaate:

    number five we have a shorter word for than the french. it’s called “stairway humor”

  36. 36
    litost:

    SInce I`m polish and we have almost the same word in polish (lito??) for czech “litost”, i can state that there are two english eqivalents – mercy and pity. :idea:
    good fun, though.

  37. 37
    Volatile:

    litost: since “mercy” and “pity” aren’t equivalent, they cannot really both be equivalent to a third word, now can they… :)
    Similar, yes, but not equivalent.

  38. 38
    MaC:

    Hey. I’m from Germany
    Though the word “Waldeinsamkeit” makes kind of a sense to me, I have never ever heard it. Do you really use it in the English language?

    edit: ok, i’ve recognized some German mentioned it already. Its just two words put together and its not a real word. besides: who needs a word to describe loneliness in a forest?^^

  39. 39
    Lincoln:

    Eskimos? :sad:
    Inuit… but not Eskimos…

  40. 40
    PeterO:

    While the Japanese certainly do feel perhaps more stress when speaking a foreign language than other cultures, I’ve never heard of #7 meaning what you have here. “Yoko meshi” does mean “horizontal food”, but it refers to a western meal as opposed to “tate meshi”, or “vertical food”, which would be Japanese meal. The phrase comes from the order that characters are written on the menu — So left-to-right for western languages and top-to-bottom for traditional Japanese.

    If you want to try a Japanese word that is not in English but which deserves to be, I’d recommend “natsukashii”. “Natsukashii” will show up in the dictionary as “something desired or missed,” but it also contains a strong component of nostaligia. For example, you might say that you really miss your Mom’s cookies. That would usually mean that they tasted great and you wanted to eat them again. If you wanted to go on and explain that you often helped your Mom make them, and this has fond memories for you, you could certainlyu do so, but it isn’t clear in the original sentence. If you said that your Mom’s cookies were “natsukashii”, listeners would immediately know that there was something more than just the taste that was important and that the cookies had some strong emotional or personal meaning for you.

    A Stumbler

  41. 41
    Douglas:

    Ironically, the closest thing I could think of to “taaradhin” is a word that means disagreement or “to be inconsistent.” But the definition of your word fits more in line with my experiences in Arab societies. While one can admire the sentiment of allowing everyone to save face it often frustrates more effectual agreements. My favorite double entendre word in Arabic was always “ghazal” meaning the sound of a doe and expressions of love (and a type of poetry devoted to unattainable love).

  42. 42
    K:

    Hi, I just wanted to explain #9, “guanxi,” a little better.

    “Guanxi” actually has multiple meanings depending on how you use it. The most commonly used meaning is that of “relations” or “connections.” For example, talking about the connections that you have with people, “shehui guanxi” a.k.a. “social connections,” or if you’re asking a question like “What does A have to do with B?” You would also use “guanxi” in such a case. In this manner, “guanxi” is really not hard to translate into English at all!

    The other meaning, which is probably the reason why it landed on the “hard to translate” list is that of “credentials.” I would even go so far as to say that “guanxi” could be loosely translated as “karma” in some cases. It’s basically built on the philosophy to do right by your fellow man, etc. The more good you do, the better you look in the eyes of other people, and the more willing they will be to return the favor to you.

    But that’s what building relationships is all about anyway, right? You do good things in the hope that others will be kind enough to return the favor when you need help. So you can see, the two definitions are related … they have “guanxi,” haha.

  43. 43
    B0B:

    Theres a small book called ‘Tingo’ with loads of crazy words from many languages,whom ever enjoyed this should check it out..

  44. 44
    dandy dan:

    For #13, there’s an acronym that covers it: AWOL- Absent WithOut Leave.

  45. 45
    Uuu:

    Actually, the Philipino word ‘duwende’ comes from the Spanish ‘duende’, which apart from ‘a climactic show of spirit in a performance or work of art’ can also mean ‘goblin’, ‘imp’, ‘spirit’, etc. Hence, ‘tener duende’ could be roughly translated as “to show the [artistic] spirit”.

  46. 46
    wisp:

    Wabi-sabi (japanese): Rustic simplicity. The beauty of the imperfect, impermanent… Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, and suggest a natural process.

  47. 47
    hondasprocket:

    luv this posting stumbled-upon…
    here’s my contribution to the list – malu tetek (malay)
    vocab literally means “shame breast/nipple” but a phrase used to express super-embarrassment…

  48. 48
    Xspirit:

    :cool: Great list !! I like that Word “Pochemuchka” I’m Gonna use it A lot :razz:

  49. 49
    Graziela:

    How about the German word “shaudenfreude”? It means to take pleasure over another person’s misery. That word that doesn’t exist in any other language.

  50. 50
    Hok:

    It’s “Schadenfreude”, not shaudenfreude.

    OMG. You’re such a fool. HAHAHAHA! LMAO

    No. Only kidding. I just wanted to express my Schadenfreude.

    BTW: My dictionary translates it as “gloating”.

  51. 51
    Dreamer:

    There’s an equivalent to “Schadenfreude” in Norwegian, and it’s called “skadefryd”. One should never state that a word doesn’t exist in any other language at all, especially when you compare German to the languages related to it, like the Scandinavian ones.

  52. 52
    Mark:

    Surely the last one could be translated as AWOL…or Absent Without Leave, if you’re not familiar with the term.

    The other ones were very entertaining, thank you for a great post!

  53. 53
    Bas:

    Maybe you should check out the Dutch word ‘gezellig’. “Its meaning includes everything from cozy to friendly, from comfortable to relaxing, and from enjoyable to gregarious.” http://www.dutchamsterdam.nl/155-gezellig

    It’s also on Wikipedia: “The Dutch gezelligheid however is always attached to a social situation (a gezellige person is somebody who likes to be among people and socializes well), whereas the German Gemütlichkeit can also be enjoyed alone.”

  54. 54
    PJ:

    Dreamer: Think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick – these words were only being compared with English, not any other languages. Thanks for your visit anyway.

    To the guys who were talking about being AWOL, without knowing the culture I can’t be totally sure whether that is specific enough since the word apparently also refers to some kind of truancy.

    There’s an interesting discussion related to this topic here.

  55. 55
    shiesty1020:

    there is another word from czech it is the word “kitsch.” it is used in certain circles in media studies and such and used as a word to describe junk art. but this is not the actual meaning of the word. it is described as the absolute denial of shit, in both literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence. it arose as a word to describe a religios arguement about man being created in the image of god. if man is in the image of god than god must have intestines. if god does not have intestines then man is not made in his image. kitsch is believing that man is created in god’s image and ignoring the implications that god must have intestines and therefore god must shit.

  56. 56
    Maarten:

    Another word that does not have an immediate translation in the english dictionary:
    Gezelligheid (Dutch): it’s a dutch word for having a good time with people, but all the words that can describe a good time in english don’t come close to an exact translation of the word gezelligheid.

    the dutch language holds a couple of words without translation to other languages (exept german). One of the most famous (or better yet, Infamous) words is: Apartheid… it’s one of the most terrible words we have in our language. You have discrimination, but apartheid goes beyond that meaning. go look it up

  57. 57
    MadMen:

    Saudade (Portuguese) : Is used to describe feeling of lost, nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is lost, It often carries a fatalist tone and a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might really never return.

  58. 58
    michael:

    I find that curse words and the more jocular insults, often don’t translate exactly from language to language. Maybe it’s just in English though, maybe because ( speaking of words such as dork, geek, etc) we’ve strayed away from their literal meanings. These words have equivalents but, they can mean different things. For example i worked in an italian restaurant once where roughly a third of the employees spoke italian, the other third spanish, the other third english. most of us at least understood one other language but not all of us so things got kinda blurred in meaning. one italian phrase i thought funny was porco dio!? i originally thought the saying was porque dio (spanish: why god!?) but eventually found out it was italian for pig god (used in place for goddamnit or what the fuck?! and sometimes followed with putana madonna, look it up)

    cursing aside, we had an other phrase that i think was just created by one of the chefs
    dot com. we would say it after something as an absurd conclusion or as a response like oh yeah?
    ex:
    man im real tired.
    dot com?
    yeah tired dot com.

    or

    my checks fucking late aagin.
    late checks dot com

    also i have a question to any native italian speakers

    the owner claimed to speak all three languages but no one really ever understood what the hell he was saying, and he would use the word “otherwise” about once a sentence, rarely correctly.
    ex: every time i come in here youre always eating, otherwise.
    or
    you, work today, its slow otherwise, you work hard.

    im pretty sure he was just crazy but maybe theres some catch all word in italian that doesnt come over to english as well and he just used otherwise instead.

    anyway im rambling, nice list.

  59. 59
    karl:

    found this on stumble upon. another great word, is the Swedish “lagom”, which pretty much means just enough, not too much, not too little. It can be used to in many different situations like, how much do you want to drink? lagom. it is a really good word to have.

  60. 60
    Rodrigo:

    Hi!
    There is a Portuguese word that people say only exists in this language… SAUDADE… it is the feeling of missing something or someone very bad…and it’s used as a noun… someone would say that he has SAUDADE of something…

  61. 61
    PJ:

    Hi Rodrigo, MadMen mentioned Saudade earlier. Thanks though.

  62. 62
    martin keats:

    As far as I know meraki is a borrowed word in Greek. The word “merak” is arabic.

  63. 63
    Lundy:

    Good list. I’m pretty sure we have #10 in English, but not certain. Also, “l’esprit de l’escalier” is literally “the spirit of the stairs”, not “on the way down the stairs”. It comes from the fact that you are leaving the social gathering where the witty remark was necessary and it comes to you on your way up/down the stairs.

  64. 64
    Czech:

    dont think the definition of Czech “litost” is correct. It rather means “a state of torment” – it doesn’t matter how it was caused. So it does have a corresponding word in English – “sorrow” works fine, for example. I guess you have the definition of “litost” from Kundera – or at least that’s how he describes the meaning. But he pretty much forgot Czech.

  65. 65
    john:

    Here is another:

    Fulerstov (Polish) – The last one to laugh at a joke

  66. 66
    poda:

    selathirupavar….no such word in tamil…. :roll:

  67. 67
    razy:

    I think this is crazy because there are trillion more word that where not found in the english language! And I agree with poda.
    :neutral: :???: :roll:

  68. 68
    libby:

    I agree with Razy. :cool:

  69. 69
    lib:

    I think who ever wrote this website is just dum… :smile:

  70. 70
    Kelly:

    I agree with the four above this comment. :neutral:

  71. 71
    PJ:

    Razy/Libby/Lib/Kelly: this post was originally written for a meme where you list 13 things of your choice, so it wasn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list. You all seem to be using the same computer so I’m not sure if you’re actually just one person playing at being a troll.

  72. 72
    PJ:

    Poda: I’m a bit alarmed that you said that the word Selathirupavar ெசல்லாதிருப்பவர் doesn’t exist in Tamil. Is it that the transliterated word doesn’t match the Tamil pronunciation?

  73. 73
    mariaah:

    hello there.
    **correction: a “duende” is a sort of goblin/elf/poltergeist, most commonly thought of as a little green man with all the works of elven character ya know.

    :)

  74. 74
    AtzeOnAcid:

    I’m German and have never heard the expression “Waldeinsamkeit” in my life…there are so many words that don’t have a direct English expression. Plus, the words above seem to me like rooted in the customs of those different cultures they have their origin in.

  75. 75
    korna:

    I got another one for you. “Gezellig” it is Dutch perhaps a German equalivant is “Gemütlichkeit”. Searching for a translation into English I found this wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gezellig
    It is really problematic when you have to explain someone in English what gezellig means!

    Gemütlichkeit is a German abstract noun that has been adopted into English[1]. Its closest equivalent is the word “cosiness”; however, rather than merely describing a place that is compact, well-heated and nicely furnished (a cosy room, a cosy flat), Gemütlichkeit connotes the notion of belonging, social acceptance, cheerfulness, the absence of anything hectic and the opportunity to spend quality time. A similar word, gezelligheid, exists in Dutch. The Dutch gezelligheid however is always attached to a social situation (a gezellige person is somebody who likes to be among people and socializes well), whereas Gemütlichkeit can also be enjoyed alone.

  76. 76
    korna:

    Oops, just noticed to be the third person to mention “gezelligheid” lol. Sorry!

  77. 77
    Nicole:

    I think the most useful German word not found in th english language is “Mitzieheffekt”, literally with-pull-effect, and is used for cars at traffic lights where one lane can go whilst the other has still to wait but they sometimes think they can go and start revving until they notice that their light is still red.

    Reading my explanation shows how useful that word really is!

  78. 78
    Ana:

    those are pretty cool, but i speak portuguese and this language as a word that no other language has
    the word is “saudade”
    is something that u have and feel when someone is gone for a really fong time. its simillar to missing somebody but its not a verb and it means that u have a feeling that is kind of sad because someone is gone. Not like in english; missing could be just not having it at the moment, feel the absence of it but not exacly have “saudade” of something or someone
    i hope i could explain it well. this is my favorite word and is very pretty, belive me

  79. 79
    hondasprocket:

    think i stumbled into THE source of this list…

    check out http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4457805

  80. 80
    Thamizh:

    Came here via Stumbleupon

    ெசல்லாதிருப்பவர் in tamil literally means “a person who doesn’t go”. I saw truant being mentioned somewhere as a synonym. It’s not. It’s not AWOL either. It’s not that specific. The “not going” part could mean any place, not just work.

    It is a compound word. Sellaadhu (ெசல்லாது) + Iruppavar (இருப்பவர்). A lot of words in tamil (anglicized moniker of thamizh) can be combined to form a single word that is an adjective+noun or adverb+noun. Ex. வளர் (grow) + பிறை (phase) = வளர்பிறை (waxing of the moon). It might not be the best example. There are tons of thamizh words that can make this list, but I’m sure it’s the case with other languages into English and English into other languages.

    PS – The thamizh characters will not be in order if you don’t use IE. There’s an encoding issue with Firefox and other browsers.

  81. 81
    lama010101:

    Great list. I like the idea very much.
    I am just sorry to say that I am French and never ever heard the expression ‘Esprit de l’escalier’ that is listed.

  82. 82
    Volatile:

    Thamizh: Your characters register just fine in Opera, Konqueror, epiphany and Firefox for me. (Or, well, I see tamil characters. Can’t really say if they’re correct or not…)
    The only browser I can get them to not show is links2, and that is because it seems to be utf-8 ignorant.
    I think it is more an issue of having the correct fonts installed and/or having a unicode-compatible system as a whole. Oh, and of course to set your browser to use the correct character encoding!

  83. 83
    Deilsawa:

    :lol:

    A’m surprised there nae mention o the follaein Scots language wirds:-

    kenspeckle – very well known
    gallus – a cheeky kind of confidence
    scunnert – sickened
    flittin – moving house
    dreich – wet and miserable (weather)

  84. 84
    tim maguire:

    Stumbled in. Great list! I was familiar with the Spirit of the Stairwell (which I think we really need in every language, but especially English), but not the others.

    #12 seems an unnecessary choice, schadenfreude would make a great replacement.

  85. 85
    alex:

    russian confirmed ;) literally – someone who asks a lot of WHY questions (pochemu=why)

  86. 86
    paul:

    also, “nakama” in japanese refers to a friend who one considers family.

  87. 87
    Pelagian:

    Elias Canetti, in his book ‘Crowds and Power’, said that the German national image is a wood, or a forest of marching men. This dates back to Herman and the battle of the Tueterberg Wold.
    Also, I suspect that the phrase ‘User friendly’ is a mistranslation from a German word.
    I am English, so my national image is a captain of a ship.
    I hope this helps.

  88. 88
    Monika:

    I’m Polish and I’ve never heard “radioukacz” (see http://www.indopedia.org/Radioukacz.html)

    I’ve never heard “fulerstov” either.

  89. 89
    lmotelet:

    :roll: Espirit de l’escalier is known as the “wayhomer”

  90. 90
    lmotelet:

    - you get it on the way home – Ha! :idea:

  91. 91
    dave from bochum:

    Well, if you already liked these 13 examples then watch out for this one:

    “Mamihlapinatapai” (sometimes spelled mamihlapinatapei) is a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the “most succinct word”, and is considered one of the hardest words to translate. It describes a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start. This could perhaps be translated more succinctly as “eye-contact implying ‘after you…’”. A more literal approximation is “ending up mutually at a loss as to what to do about each other”.
    (source: Guiness Book of Records (1993))

    Cheers

  92. 92
    Hatty:

    6 would be passionately in english…duh?
    and 8 could easily be translated to flourish

  93. 93
    PJ:

    Hatty: Trust me, duende does not translate as “flourish”. I’m not HIspanic but I studied some of the influences on Flamenco dance and I know that this concept is tied to a particular culture and doesn’t exist in the English language.

    As for Meraki, I’d need to check with a Greek person, but as this word was noted by Greek-English translators as a word which can’t be directly translated into English I doubt it would be that simple.

  94. 94
    gregZ:

    Duende unfortunately doesn’t really exist in English. It’s usually when the “spirit” of the moment or activity reaches its zenith. Upon further reflection, that makes it (duende) sound more than it is. One thing I do know, it’s what I felt at a “bullfight” that makes the occasion neither sport nor art nor cruel to animals or people. I’ve had the hardest time explaining it. For one, I wasn’t expecting to feel “it” or “duende”.

  95. 95
    Smuzies:

    Could Meraki be translated as ardour, doing something with intense eagerness, devotion, enthusiasm , or zeal?

  96. 96
    tabitha:

    i don’t think it would be enough to translate “meraki” as “ardour”. it’s more specific than that, rather hard to translate but if you get very caught up in any activity that you like very much, that might be the best translation (nonverbal it may be).

    this list is very interesting! i would imagine japanese has a great deal of these untranslatable words. it’s a language quite expressive of subtleties and concept.

  97. 97
    Mike:

    Here are 2 from my native language: Dutch. (the language of the Netherlands :wink: )

    File: a row of cars in a traffic jam. The news will specify: ’7 kilometers file (pronounced ‘feeluh’) on the A10.’

    Gezellig: Describes the ambience of a gathering of more than one where the general mood is very positive. ‘It was really gezellig at your house yesterday’

  98. 98
    Kyng Jym:

    Yoko meshi is interesting to me since I now have to learn both Japanese and Spanish,
    and being from the caribbean I am experiencing BIG Yoko meshi.

    Excellent post, keep it up

  99. 99
    antiques:

    I could see a few of those being useful.

  100. 100
    pixiemagic:

    Duende actually also means “pixie” in Spanish….
    In other words….the little magical creatures living in the forest
    Just like the Philipine equivalent…. (now i learned somethin new)
    And when the pixie enters you with his magic… you have DUENDE!! (“spirit” as described in the list)

  101. 101
    pilllophyte:

    How about kwitcherbichen – it’s cyberspeak for “Geez, let it go already!”

  102. 102
    leguaraz:

    Well, as a Spanish speaker, I can tell you that duende is not a very commonly used word, at least not in that sense. It mostly is used to refer to a kind of gnome, that is a small person from fictional fantasy. However, here is another good Spanish word that does not exist in English: ESTRENAR: it means to wear or use something for the first time after you either bought it or it was given to you. So if my mother gives me a sweater for my birthday, and I use it the next day, I am ESTRENANDO my sweater because its the first time I wear it. It is a really useful word, and I have often found myself at a loss because it doesn’t exist in English! Great post!

  103. 103
    Jamie:

    Great article. Although there are English equivalents used in similar situations, there’s no real direct English word for the Japanese Ganbatte. Its kind of a combination of “do your best” along with “good luck” and “go for it”.

  104. 104
    Allison:

    I’m not sure why we would have this word in the English language: ” Radioukacz (Polish): a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain” but I do find the other words interesting, as they address experiences that are universal to human experience. Even the “lost in the woods” and “leave of absence” are similar to many cultural experiences around the globe

  105. 105
    Dave:

    As a word nerd, I spent a semester with a group of Koreans being tormented by the Korean Phrase “shee bol nom” (phonetic spelling). It’s supposedly insanely vulgar, and it came up it a conversation about how to start a fight quickly with the any Korean man. Interestingly, our common language was Spanish, not English, so I never received an explanation of the literal translation which was…get ready to be blown away…EIGHTEEN BOYS! (insert whaaa whaaa sound effect here). What the hell! Three years later, it still baffles me, and still have no answers. I never got even a semi-rational explanation of this phase during six months of close contact with no less than 50 Korean students. Interestingly, the phrase “eighteen girls” is equally offensive when spoken to a woman. WHAT!? This is perhaps the only forum I’ve ever had to voice this question. Please baby Jesus can someone shed some light on this?

  106. 106
    erin:

    Anyone here read “the meaning of tingo” ? it’s a book all about untranslatable words, the Albanians and their words for facial hair are amongst the more interesting facts and features.

  107. 107
    tim:

    I’ve used ‘Esprit d’escalier’ all my life. I’m 55 and English and most educated people would know it. It’s a wonderul expression, The spirit of the staircase. That witty or wounding retort that you should have responded with, but didn’t, then finally came to you as you were going upstairs to bed. That’s the one you use when you’re telling the story the next day.

  108. 108
    bekho:

    dave- the korean word ship ppal (십빨)is approximately translated to motherf*cker/ing, whereas ship pal (ì‹­ë°œ)means 18. there’s a *slight* difference in pronunciation, which you probably wouldn’t pick up unless you study korean.

  109. 109
    gotospaceordie:

    Not sure anyone has mentioned this one: Enpalagar (Empalagado, Empalagada). It’s a Spanish word, one I often wish we had in English. It describes very succinctly that moment when, after finishing the box of chocolates instead of just having had one like you intended, you feel totally sick to your stomach and ill at the though of any more sweets….

    Basically the moment you have ‘over’ sweetened yourself…

    Cheers! :mrgreen:

  110. 110
    Dave:

    bekho, thanks for replying! I understand how it’s used, but the question is WHY is 18 boys offensive? Does it have some historical significance? Some cultural significance that goes unspoken? Any response is welcome…even a good guess. I am completely at a loss on this.

  111. 111
    Charles:

    Qualyism- I just made it up. Words misppelled. are qualyisms.

  112. 112
    Ganeshan Ramachandran:

    This is really interesting. It not only gives us new words by which we can express our thoughts better, what if the word is not English, but also gives us an insight into the collective mind of that particular language user group. Keep posting such words.

  113. 113
    Ganeshan Ramachandran:

    There is a word in sanskrit called ‘mahanubava’. It means ‘ a great person’. Anubava in Sanskrit means ‘experience’. Maha means ‘great’ or ‘mega’. Most of us are ordinary folks, experiencing the quotidian things of life. However, a person who has ‘seen’ THE TRUTH has had a great experience. Such people who have seen ‘God’ or ‘The Truth’ are called Mahanubavas.

  114. 114
    Chiron613:

    I can vouch for pocuemuchka – in Russian, “pochemu” means “why?” So a pochemuchka would be a person asking “why?” all the time.

  115. 115
    Aegean:

    Hi everyone,

    I’ve just run into this great page thanks to a link sent to me by a fellow Stumbler. Congratulations to Nubiana for this delightful compilation.

    As a native speaker of Greek, I can confirm there’s no English translation for ‘meraki’. The word may be quite close to ‘ardour’, but it’s exclusively used when referring to one’s own creation. For example, when making a piece of furniture or cooking a dish, and you really love what you do, and put in all your creativity, you do it with ‘meraki’.

  116. 116
    Hannes J.:

    I’m German and it’s true that you can put all kind of words together in German like “Frischluftfanatiker” and “Fahrvergnügen”, but people actually use those words. That’s not the case with “Waldeinsamkeit”, I’ve never come across that word. It also sounds bumpy, I think people would rather say “die Einsamkeit im Walde” (the loneliness in the woods). Nevertheless, this is an interesting posting… thumbs up!

  117. 117
    busybe:

    Duende in Portuguese means a goblin, small elf, leprechaun or a gnome.

    A Portuguese word I think doesn’t exist in English is “Saudade”, which is an emotion, a feeling of nostalgia, of missing someone or something very much. Perhaps it’s similar to the Japanese “Natsukashii”.

  118. 118
    JJ:

    Re: John Rouse and Karl’s posts-
    a more detailed explanation of the Swedish word “lagom” is that it’s a compound of two words. lag-meaning team and om-meaning around. the word literally means enough to go around for the whole team. so to say lagom means enough for each so that everyone gets some. in everyday use however, it means just enough (which of course can mean anything and is like a little joke).

  119. 119
    matt:

    i agree with the probable definition of Pochemuchka but ive never heard it used as such.
    But Russians do have a way of taking a verb or an adjective and using it as a nickname.
    i.e. HAHAtunchik – someone who laughs a lot.

  120. 120
    Jen:

    Another good word that doesn’t have a good English equivalent: schadenfreude (German) – getting enjoyment from the pain of others.

  121. 121
    PJ:

    Here are some comments that were emailed to me:

    Rike: Hey there,
    I have a new word for your list, it’s “Schadenfreude” (german)…means when
    you laugh about a misfortune of somebody… bye bye says rike

    Robin: I stumbled on your site re the 13 words and although I’m not really a
    POCHEMUCHKA, my ESPRIT DE L’ESCALIERs have been too numerous to mention.
    And who hasn’t wanted to be a little SELATHIRUPAVAR now and then? Pardon my
    misusage. And misspelling.

    David Walmsley: Number ten could be querulous blabbermouth, n’est-ce pas?

    Francois Lacherez: It’s “Esprit d’escalier”, not “Esprit de l’escalier”. Very good find though!

    Trish: I was interested to see that You had not included the Welsh word “hiraeth”,
    which means among many things a longing for home or someone or something
    that is lost to you. Check it out with any Welsh speaking people you know.
    Oh I almost forgot -Welsh is not included in many language lists, including
    the 97 version of Encarta, which included many obscure languages.Welsh is
    one of the oldest languages in Europe and still spoken widely.
    I would be interested to receive your comments.

  122. 122
    wes:

    My Japanese speaking girlfriend taught me my new favorite word: mendokusai. It means something is too much of a hassle, a pain in the butt, etc. The Brits have the phrase ‘I can’t be bothered’ which sums it up nicely. She regrets this because:

    Her: We need to do some housework around here.
    Me: Mendokusai…


    Stumblers: keeping old posts alive since 200X

  123. 123
    Nick:

    Great words… pity nobody can pronounce them, and if you use one nobody knows what it means.
    Isn’t the English equivalent of most of them simply, ‘Whatever’.

  124. 124
    PJ:

    Two final comments which have been emailed to me:

    Frank Yee:

    Guanxi literally means relationship. Having guanxi, then, suggests that you
    are connected or have “pull.” If you don’t have guanxi, how can you lose it
    by asking a favor?

    Chris:

    Great entry.

    Actually, the discussion on words not found in English could go on forever
    - it’s a fascinating subject. I pass on to you my own list, gathered from
    various sources over the years in the translation industry.

    Concise Words
    from They Have a Word for It
    attaccabottoni (Italian): A doleful bore who buttonholes people and tells
    sad, pointless tales.
    aware (Japanese): the feelings engendered by ephemeral beauty.
    baraka (Arabic): a git of spiritual energy hat can be used for mundane
    purposes
    birilulo (Kiriwina, New Guinea): Comparing yams to settle disputes.
    bonga (Santali): spirit of a place that must be dealt with
    conmoción (Spanish): emotion held in common by a group or gathering
    Drachenfutter (German): Peace offerings for wives from guilty husbands.
    farpotshket (Yiddish): Something that is all fouled up, especially as the
    result of an attempt to fix it.
    fisselig (German): Flustered to the point of incompetence – a temporary
    state of inexactitude and sloppiness that is elicited by another person’s
    nagging.
    fucha (FOO-hah; Polish; verb): to use company time and resources for
    personal ends.
    hart ducha (Polish): self-mastery in the face of internal and external
    forces
    hózh’q (Navajo): the beauty of life, as seen and created by a person
    istiqâra (Arabic): a request for spiritual or practical assistance in the
    form of a dream
    kolleh (Yiddish): a beautiful bride
    Korinthenkacker [lit: someone who craps currants] (German): a person overly
    concerned with trivial details
    koro (Chinese): The hysterical belief that one’s penis is shrinking.
    kula (Trobriand Islands): sacred, endless process of gift giving
    kyooikumama (Japanese): Mother who pushes her children into academic
    achievement.
    land nám (Icelandic): the sanctification of new land by mythologizing it
    mamihlapinatapai (Tierra del Fuegan): two people looking at each other in
    the expectation that one of them will do something equally desired by both
    but which neither is willing to do. (Listed in the Guinness Book of World
    Records).
    masa bodoa (MAH-sah boh-DOE-ah; Javanese; adjective): sociopolitically
    passive and unaware.

    maya (Sanskrit): the mistaken belief that a symbol is the same as the
    reality that it represents
    mbuki-mvuki (em-BOO-kee-em-VOO-kee; Bantu; verb): to shuck off one’s
    clothes in order to dance.
    Mokita (moe-KEE-tah; New Guinean; noun): truth everybody knows but nobody
    speaks.
    nadi (Balinese): to temporarily inhabit another dimension
    nakhes (Yiddish): A mixture of pleasure and pride, particularly the kind
    that a parent receives from a child.
    nemawashi (Japanese): informal feeling-out and consensus gathering
    Ondinnonk (ON-din-onk; Iroquoian; noun): the soul’s innermost benevolent
    desires.
    ostranenie (Russian): art as defamiliarization; making familiar perceptions
    seem strange
    plunderbund (Dutch): group of alliance of financial or poltical interests
    that exploits the public
    potlach (Haida): the ceremonial act of gaining social respect by giving
    away wealth
    Radfahrer (German): one who flatters superiors and browbeats subordinates
    rasa (Sanskrit): the mood or sentiment that is evoked be a work of art
    Razbliuto (ros-blee-OO-toe; Russian; noun): the feeling a person retains
    for someone he or she once loved.
    sabi (Japanese): beautiful patina
    sabsung (Thai): to slake an emotional or spiritual thirst to be
    revitalized
    Schadenfreude (German): joy that one feels as a result of some one ele’s
    misfortune
    shibui (Japanese): beauty of aging
    shih (Chinese): an insightful, elegant kind of knowledge
    sitike (Apache): In laws who are formally committed to help during crises.
    ta (Chinese): to understand things and thus take them lightly
    Talkin (TALL-keen; Indonesian; verb): to whisper instructions to the
    dying.
    Tartle (TAR-tul; Scottish; verb): to hesitate in recognizing a person or
    thing.
    Wabi (wah-BI; Japanese; noun): a flawed detail that creates an elegant
    whole.
    waq’f (Arabic): property given to God
    Weltschmerz (German): a gloomy, romanticized, world-weary sadness,
    experienced most often by privileged youth
    won (Korean): unwillingness to let go of an illusion
    ygen (Japanese): an awareness of the universe that trigers feelings too
    deep and mysterious for words
    Yoin (yoh-EEN; Japanese; noun): experiential reverberation that continues
    to move one long after the initial external stimulus has ceased.
    zalatwic [accent on c] (Polish): Using acquaintances to accomplish things
    unofficially.
    zanshin (Japanese): A state of relaxed mental alertness in the face of
    danger

  125. 125
    PJ:

    Thanks for all your visits. I’ve closed the comments now as I think everything that could possibly be said about this post has been said.

    Before emailing me please check whether your comment has already been covered by someone else, chances are that it has. :smile: