Sunday, May 6, 2012

28 Words That Don’t Exist in the English Language

I've run across this list in various forms on several sites, unattributed, but as far as I can tell, without dedicating more time to further research than I care to, its author is David Voth of Sex, Cigars & Booze Lifestyle Magazine. (When I first made this post, I linked to the magazine's site and experienced no problems there, myself.  Since then, the site of the original list has evidently been infected with malware.  I've deactivated the link and suggest visiting that site only at your own risk.) The list was created because, as he wrote, " I love to take the time to choose the ideal words when I’m writing something, but sometimes the perfect word to describe something doesn’t exist in the English language." 

I certainly laud him for that.

He goes on to say, "The following 28 words do not have direct equivalents in English. Some of them would definitely be useful if they existed in English."

I can't say I completely agree with him there, even though, overall, it's an interesting amusement, but it sure shouldn't be taken as linguistic fact.  I'll add that there are, of course, many languages and cultures that don't have words that represent, exactly, quite common concepts and situations expressed in English, especially American English.  However, I think he overreached in his attempt to make his point with these 28 words.  I can accept that as a case of stretching things a bit for some fun, and in that spirit I've noted (in bold text) comparable English words I think Mr. Voth overlooked.  I also took the liberty of adding a few grains of salt.


1. Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut:

I can't relate; no haircut seems to help.

2. Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude:
This one involves principles, social conventions and manners more peculiar to and emphasized in Japanese culture, so of course native English-speaking cultures are much less inclined to need a word for it.  In America, though, the situation described often culminates in the use of three wordsSue the bastard!

3. Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist:
Well, especially in America, we do have a multipurpose word that covers it quite well—*asshole.

4. Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind:
I've often heard this type of woman referred to as a butter face. (But her face... !)

5. Desenrascanco (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it):
There may not be an English word, exactly, for the act itself, but a couple of words come to mind that represent how the situation is handled—practically a matter of policy for governments and corporations—lie, deny... 

6. 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.:
I'll keep my flamenco-dancing bull out of this fight.

7. Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love:
Horny?

8. Gigil (pronounced Gheegle; Filipino):  The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute:
I like this one and I'm going to start using it in reference to the behavior of an elderly aunt of mine.

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 favor, but you can also use up your gianxi by asking for a favor to be repaid:
Politics?

10. 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:
I'd have to say the English word for that kind of person is mature.

11. L’esprit de l’escalier (French): usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it:
L’esprit de l’escalier isn't a word, it's a phrase.  I like it anyway and I can't tell you the number of times I've experienced it, but I usually just mutter to myself, I shoulda said... 

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

13. Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan):  A look between two people that suggests an unspoken, shared desire:  Sounds like lust to me.

14. Manja (Malay): “to pamper”, it describes gooey, childlike and coquettish behavior by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men. “His girlfriend is a damn manja. Hearing her speak can cause diabetes.”:
I thought female covered this one... ?

15. Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee; Greek): Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing:
Oh?  How about passion?

16. Nunchi (Korean): the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood. In Western culture, nunchi could be described as the concept of emotional intelligence. Knowing what to say or do, or what not to say or do, in a given situation. A socially clumsy person can be described as ‘nunchi eoptta’, meaning “absent of nunchi”:
Perhaps graceful suffices.

17. Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation:
Excellent!  Especially useful, too, with the popularity of TV shows like American Idol.

18. Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions: 
Depending on the circumstances, let's try intelligent or annoying.  Cop, Homeland Security Agent and IRS Agent also come to mind (see also, *asshole).

19. Schadenfreude (German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain:
Too easy—Sadism.

20. Sgiomlaireachd (Scottish Gaelic): When people interrupt you at mealtime:
(see also...*)

21. Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky:
Again, I can't relate.  The only thing that overcomes my lips when sipping whisky is a smile.

22. Shlimazl (Yiddish): Somebody who has nothing but bad luck:
Okay, good one, but shlimazl is practically a household English word, especially if you were a fan of the 70s-80s show, Laverne & Shirley.   

23. Stam (Hebrew): An agreement out of amusement and frustration that something doesn’t have a satisfactory answer among those talking:
I'm still mulling this one over.  Anyone, any thoughts?

24. Taarradhin (Arabic): implies a happy solution for everyone, or “I win. You win.” It’s a way of reconciling without anyone losing face. Arabic has no word for “compromise,” in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement:
Oh, come, now!  Short phrases evidently being acceptable, we hear, win-win, all the time.

25. Tatemae and Honne (Japanese): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively:
Hypocrisy. 

26. Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island): to borrow objects one by one from a neighbor’s house until there is nothing left:
Herschel, my next-door neighbor.

27. Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods:
Peaceful works for me.

28. Yoko meshi (Japanese): literally ‘a meal eaten sideways,’ referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language:
I'll defer to my fiancĂ©e for this one.  She's an English speaker working in Thailand.

3 comments:

bigmouth said...

Absolutely fascinating! As a philosophy student, I was always fascinated by the phenomenon of connotation and the difficulties that creates for translation across languages.

K.R.J. said...

Yes, fascinating and a topic for endless discussion.

I appreciate your visits and comments.

Anonymous said...

The translation of #23 makes me think of the saying: "agree to disagree."