216 "untranslatable" emotional words from non-English languages

University of East London pysch professor Tim Lomas has assembled a list of words referring to emotional states from the world's languages that have no correlate in English.

In Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography: Enriching our emotional landscape through 216 ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being, published this year The Journal of Positive Psychology, he sets out the hypothesis that familiarizing yourself with these words could "enrich [our] experiences of well-being."

Whether or not that turns out to be true, the list is fascinating. Some favorites below, a surprising number of which are the names of well-known products, projects, or titles:

* S'apprivoiser (French) (v.): lit, 'to tame', but a mutual process - both sides slowly learning to trust the other and eventually accepting each other.

* Aware (哀れ) (Japanese): the bittersweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty.

* Borrel (Dutch): informal party or revelry.

* Brav (German): children who are pleasant, earnest, and well-behaved.

* Cafune (Portuguese): tenderly running one’s fingers through a loved one’s hair.

* Coup de foudre (French): lit, a 'lightening bolt', sudden and powerful love at first sight.

* Dadirri (Australian Aboriginal): a deep, spiritual act of reflective and respectful listening.

* Desenrascanço (Portuguese): to artfully disentangle oneself from a troublesome situation.

* Engelengeduld (Dutch): the patience of an angel.

* Estrenar (Spanish): to use or wear something for the first time.

* Feierabend (German): festive mood at the end of a working day.

* Fernweh (German): the ‘call of faraway places,’ homesickness for the unknown.

* Fingerspitzengefühl (German): ‘fingertip feeling,’ the ability to act with tact and sensitivity.

* Gemütlich (German): cosiness, homeliness.

* Gjensynsglede (Norwegian): (noun) The joy of meeting someone you haven't seen in a long time.

* Guān xì (關係) (Chinese): building up good social karma.

* Janteloven (Norwegian/Danish): a set of rules which discourages individualism in communities.

* Jugaad (जुगाड) (Hindi): the ability to 'make do' or 'get by'.

* Kintsugi (金継ぎ) (Japanese): literally, 'golden joinery' (the art of repairing broken pottery using gold), metaphorically meaning to render our flaws and fault-lines beautiful and strong.

* Koi no yokan (恋の予感) (Japanese): the feeling on meeting someone that falling in love will be inevitable.

* Koselig (Norwegian): cosy, warm, intimate, enjoyable.

* Kvell (Yiddish): to feel pride and joy in someone else's accomplishment.

* Mbuki-mvuki (Bantu): to shed clothes to dance uninhibited.

* Mono no aware (物の哀れ) (Japanese): pathos of understanding the transiency of the world and its beauty.

* On (恩) (Japanese): a feeling of moral indebtedness, relating to a favour or blessing given by others.

* Peiskos (Norwegian): sitting in front of a crackling fireplace enjoying the warmth.

* Pihentagyú (Hungarian): ‘with a relaxed brain,’ being quick-witted and sharp.

* Sabi (侘寂) (Japanese): aged beauty.

* Shemomechama (შემომეჭამა) (Georgian): eating past the point of satiety due to sheer enjoyment.

* Sisu (Finnish): extraordinary determination in the face of adversity.

* Tîeow (เที่ยว) (Thai): to roam around in a carefree way.

* Tyvsmake (Norwegian) (verb): to taste or eat small pieces of the food when you think nobody is watching, especially when cooking.

* Ubuntu (Nguni Bantu): being kind to others on account of one’s common humanity.

* Yutta-hey (Cherokee): ‘it is a good day to die,’ leaving life at its zenith, departing in glory.

Research: The positive lexicography project [Tim Lomas]

(via Christian Science Monitor)

(Image: 2002 kenrokuen hanami 0123, Chris Spackman, CC-BY-SA)

Notable Replies

  1. Yeah, that certainly doesn't have an American English equivalent. :smile:

  2. Vert says:

    It’s fun to try to translate them, at least...

    • the bittersweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty : denouement?

    • to use or wear something for the first time : inaugurate?

    • ‘fingertip feeling,’ the ability to act with tact and sensitivity : tact?

    • children who are pleasant, earnest, and well-behaved : goody-goodies?

    • the ‘call of faraway places,’ homesickness for the unknown : wanderlust?

    • ‘with a relaxed brain,’ being quick-witted and sharp : Swiftian?

    • to roam around in a carefree way : gambol?

    • to shed clothes to dance uninhibited : strip?

  3. synonym, "marriage"

  4. * Coup de foudre (French): lit, a 'lightening bolt', sudden and powerful love at first sight.

    That was me and my Mrs. right from the start. What a gal!

  5. renke says:

    every language should have such a word. it's so useful

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