32 Words for Positive Phenomena That Don’t Have an English Equivalent

iStock
iStock

English isn’t always the most expressive language in the world. For instance, we don’t have a one-word term for the weight you gain from emotional eating, as German does. Nor do we have a word to describe that super awkward moment when you go to introduce someone whose name you don’t actually remember, as the Scots language does. While English speakers may be most familiar with those super expressive German terms for cynical feelings like schadenfreude, English is missing out on plenty of words to describe the wonderful aspects of life, too.

In the Journal of Positive Psychology, University of East London psychologist Tim Lomas catalogues untranslatable terms to describe feelings or states of well-being. Lomas undertook the project in order to correct for the often Western-centric nature of positive psychology research by providing terms from all over the world for positive emotions. He searched through blogs on untranslatable words, Googled for concepts of well-being specific to different languages, and crowd-sourced from his friends and colleagues to come up with an extensive (if non-comprehensive) set of terms from all over the world.

Lomas has an ongoing list of these words on his website, which you can view by alphabetical order, by theme, or by language of origin. We sifted through four of Lomas' theme-based categories for the words that make us most jealous of foreign language speakers. Here are 32 of the fascinating, useful terms he’s collected, with his definitions of their approximate meaning in English.

WORDS FOR PARTYING

1. Desbundar (Portuguese): "shedding one’s inhibitions in having fun."

2. Feestvarken (Dutch): "party pig, i.e., someone in whose honor a party is thrown."

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

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

5. Ramé (Balinese): "something at once chaotic and joyful."

6. Sobremesa (Spanish): "when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing."

7. Sólarfrí (Icelandic) (noun): "sun holiday, i.e., when workers are granted unexpected time off to enjoy a particularly sunny/warm day."

8. Utepils (Norwegian): "drinking beer outside on a hot day."

WORDS TO DESCRIBE COZY FEELINGS

9. Cwtch (Welsh): "to hug, a safe welcoming place."

10. Geborgenheit (German): "feeling protected and safe from harm."

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

WORDS OF APPRECIATION

12. Fjellvant (Norwegian) (adj.): "being accustomed to walk in the mountains."

13. Gökotta (Swedish): "waking up early to hear the first birds sing."

14. Gula (Spanish): "the desire to eat simply for the taste."

15. Habseligkeiten (German): "blessed, precious belongings (as in one's most treasured possessions)."

16. Lehizdangef (להזדנגף) (Hebrew): "to stroll/promenade along Tel Aviv's Dizengoff (street), i.e., to have carefree fun."

17. Lekker (Dutch/Norwegian): "tasty (food), relaxed, comfortable, pleasurable, sexy."

18. Otsukaresama (お疲れ様) (Japanese): "gratitude or appreciation for others' hard work."

19. Sabsung (Thai): "being revitalized through something that livens up one’s life."

20. Shemomedjamo (Georgian): "eating past the point of satiety due to sheer enjoyment."

21. Shinrin-yoku (森林浴) (Japanese): "'bathing' in the forest (literally and/or metaphorically)."

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

23. Uitwaaien (Dutch): "walking in the wind for fun or exercise."

24. Ullassa (उल्लास) (Sanskrit): "feelings of pleasantness associated with natural beauty."

WORDS OF AFFECTION

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

26. Colo (Portuguese): "area of body formed by chest and arms, referring to embracing/comforting someone."

27. Famn (Swedish): "the area/space within two embracing arms."

28. Gigil (Tagalog): "the irresistible urge to pinch someone because they are loved or cherished."

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

30. Kanyininpa (Pintupi): "intimate and active relationship between carer and caree."

31. Queesting (Dutch): "to allow a lover access to one’s bed for chitchat."

32. Retrouvailles (French): "the joy people feel after meeting loved ones again after a long time apart."

See the rest of the list here

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

Why 'Run' Is The Most Complex Word in the English Language

iStock.com/VectorStory
iStock.com/VectorStory

English can be hard for other language speakers to learn. To use just one example, there are at least eight different ways of expressing events in the future, and conditional tenses are another matter entirely. For evidence of the many nuances and inconsistencies of the English tongue, look no further than this tricky poem penned in 1920. (For a sample: “Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to give up!”)

As author Simon Winchester wrote for The New York Times, there’s one English word in particular that’s deceptively simple: run. As a verb, it boasts a record-setting 645 definitions. Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, spent nine months sussing out its many shades of meaning.

“You might think this word simply means ‘to go with quick steps on alternate feet, never having both or (in the case of many animals) all feet on the ground at the same time,’” Winchester writes. “But no such luck: that is merely sense I.1a, and there are miles to go before the reader of this particular entry may sleep.”

This wasn’t always the case, though. When the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928, the word with the most definitions was set. However, the word put later outpaced it, and run eventually overtook them both as the English language's most complex word. Winchester thinks this evolution is partly due to advancements in technology (for instance, “a train runs on tracks” and “an iPad runs apps”).

He believes the widespread use of run—and its intricate web of meanings—is also a reflection of our times. “It is a feature of our more sort of energetic and frantic times that set and put seem, in a peculiar way, sort of rather stodgy, rather conservative,” Gilliver told NPR in an interview.

So the next time you tell your boss you "want to run an idea" by them, know that you’re unconsciously expressing your enthusiasm—as well as all the other subtleties wrapped up in run that previous words like set failed to capture.

[h/t The New York Times]

11 Little-Known Words for Specific Family Members

iStock.com/kali9
iStock.com/kali9

The words we use for family members in English are specific about some things, and vague about others. Our vocabulary marks a distinction between our mother and her sisters (some languages use one word for mother and maternal aunts), but doesn't say whether siblings are older or younger (some languages have different words for brother and sister depending on their age relative to you). We lack words that pick out particular family members (we have cousin, but what about child-of-my-father's-brother?) as well as certain general terms (we have siblings for brothers-and-sisters, but what about nieces-and-nephews?)

If you look hard enough, you can find some words to help fill in the gaps. Here are 11 unusual English kinship words for family members.

1. Patruel

This one means "child of your paternal uncle." Also, a child of your own brother. It hasn't gotten a lot of use in the past few centuries, but it was once convenient to have a term for this relationship because it factored into royal succession considerations. The first citation for it in the OED, from 1538, reads, "Efter his patruell deid withoutin contradictioun he wes king."

2. Avuncle

Your mother's brother. Latin distinguished between patruus, father's brother, and avunculus, mother's brother. (There was also amita, father's sister, and matertera, mother's sister.) It's the root of the word avuncular, meaning "having to do with uncles" or "uncle-like" (i.e., kind and friendly, like an uncle). You won't find the word avuncle in the dictionary, but it has been used in anthropology texts and in papers concerning royal matters.

3. Niblings

Your nieces and nephews. You won't find this in the dictionary either, but use of this term seems to be growing among favorite aunts and uncles who want an easy way to refer to their little bundles of sibling-provided joy in a collective or gender-neutral way.

4. Fadu

Your father's sister. Latin amita covers this relationship, but we don't have to reach that far back to find an English equivalent. Old English made a distinction between aunts and uncles depending on whether they were maternal or paternal. We lost all that when we borrowed the more general aunt and uncle from French.

5. Modrige

"Your mother's sister," from Old English.

6. Fœdra

"Your father's brother," from Old English.

7. Eam

Your mother's brother. It survived in some dialects as eme, with a more general meaning of uncle or friend, into the 19th century.

8. Brother-uterine

Your half-brother from the same mother. This is a term used in old legal documents or other discussions of inheritance and succession. Half-siblings of the same mother are uterine and of the same father are consanguine.

9. Brother-german

Full brother, sharing both parents. Nothing to do with Germany. The german here is related to germane, which originally meant "of the same parents" and later came to mean just related or relevant.

10. Double cousin

Full first cousin, sharing all four grandparents. This comes about when a pair of sisters marries a pair of brothers, among other circumstances.

11. Machetonim

The parents of your child's spouse. Your child's in-laws. Ok, this is a Yiddish word, but one that, like a lot of Yiddish words, has poked its way into English because it fills a gap. When it comes to marriage, this can be a very important relationship, so it’s good to have a word for it. If your parents get along with their machetonim, the family—the whole mishpocheh—will be happier.

This story was republished in 2019.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER