Have you ever been in a situation so perfect that you wish you had a word to describe it? It was such a great moment that no word in the English language can really capture it so you are left speechless? Well, that doesn’t happen in every language. That is the beauty of languages. Each one is unique and therefore, that moment you may not be able to capture in words in one language, you can in another. Here are 20 words from around the world, from different cullers, and languages that you just can’t translate into English with just one word. They describe feelings, moments, and parts of life that only a story can capture in English. Enjoy.
German – [DRACH-ern-FOOT-er] While this word literally means “dragon fodder,” it refers to a type of gift German husbands bestow on their wives “when they’ve stayed out late or they have otherwise engaged in some kind of inappropriate behavior” – gifts like chocolates or flowers or a nice bottle of perfume.
Russian – Vladmir Nabokov describes it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, 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. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
Indonesian – “A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh”
Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start”
Inuit – “To go outside to check if anyone is coming.”
Czech – Milan Kundera, author ofThe Unbearable Lightness of Being, remarked that “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” The closest definition is a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.
Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.
Persian – [ta-AH-rof] This noun means accepting someone’s hospitality, particularly food and drink, but it also refers to showing the proper level of social respect in different situations.
Early English – [SNORK-er] According to an 1808 English dictionary, snorker is an insult that means “one who smells at objects like a dog” and implies getting into other people’s business
Korean – [yung] – “A special feeling…that is stronger than mere ‘love’ and can only often be proved by having survived a huge argument with someone”
Japanese – [wa-bi] – “A flawed detail that creates an elegant whole”
Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as 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.”
Brazilian Portuguese – “The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.”
German – Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.”
Danish – Its “literal” translation into English gives 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.
16. L’appel du vide
French – “The call of the void” is this French expression’s literal translation, but more significantly it’s used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.
Arabic – Both morbid and beautiful at once, this incantatory word 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.
Spanish – While originally used to describe a mythical, spritelike entity that possesses humans and creates the feeling of awe of one’s surroundings in nature, its meaning has transitioned into referring to “the mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person.”
Portuguese – One of the most beautiful of all words, translatable or not, this word “refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.” Fado music, a type of mournful singing, relates to saudade.
German – Quite famous for its meaning that somehow other languages neglected to recognize, this refers to the feeling of pleasure derived by seeing another’s misfortune.
Each word has a beautiful meaning of its own which creates beautiful imagery surrounding the word.