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]

Where Did the Phrase 'Red Herring' Come From?

iStock.com/Mathias Darmell
iStock.com/Mathias Darmell

You may have seen a red herring in a recent book or movie, but you probably only realized it after the fact. These misleading clues are designed to trick you into drawing an incorrect conclusion, and they're a popular ploy among storytellers of all stripes.

If you've seen or read the Harry Potter series—and really, who hasn’t?—then you may recall some of the many instances where J.K. Rowling employed this literary device. That endearing plot twist about the nature of Snape's character, for example, is likely one of the longest-running red herrings ever written.

Sometimes they aren't even subtle. Agatha Christie's murder mystery And Then There Were None directly mentions red herring in reference to a character's death, and a statue of a red herring appears in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Perhaps most blatantly, a character in the cartoon A Pup Named Scooby-Doo who was constantly being blamed for myriad crimes was named—you guessed it—Red Herring.

But where does this literary device come from, and why is it named after a fish? For a bit of background: herring are naturally a silvery hue, but they turn reddish-brown when they're smoked. Long before refrigerators were invented, this was done to preserve the fish for months at a time. They can also be pretty smelly. As Gizmodo's io9 blog points out, it was believed that red herring were dragged against the ground to help train hounds to sniff out prey in the 17th century. Another theory was that escaped prisoners used the fish to cover their tracks and confuse the dogs that tailed them.

However, io9 notes that red herring were actually used to train horses rather than dogs, and only if the preferred choice—a dead cat—wasn't available. The idea was that the horses would get used to following the scent trail, which in turn would make them less likely to get spooked while "following the hounds amid the noise and bustle of a fox hunt," notes British etymologist and writer Michael Quinion, who researched the origin of the phrase red herring.

The actual origin of the figurative sense of the phrase can be traced back to the early 1800s. Around this time, English journalist William Cobbett wrote a presumably fictional story about how he had used red herring as a boy to throw hounds off the scent of a hare. He elaborated on this anecdote and used it to criticize some of his fellow journalists. "He used the story as a metaphor to decry the press, which had allowed itself to be misled by false information about a supposed defeat of Napoleon," Quinion writes in a blog. "This caused them to take their attention off important domestic matters."

According to Quinion, an extended version of this story was printed in 1833, and the idiom spread from there. Although many people are more familiar with red herrings in pop culture, they also crop up in political spheres and debates of all kinds. Robert J. Gula, the author of Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language, defines a red herring as "a detail or remark inserted into a discussion, either intentionally or unintentionally, that sidetracks the discussion."

The goal is to distract the listener or opponent from the original topic, and it's considered a type of flawed reasoning—or, more fancifully, a logical fallacy. This application of red herring seems to be more in line with its original usage, but as Quinion notes: "This does nothing to change the sense of red herring, of course: it's been for too long a fixed part of our vocabulary for it to change. But at least we now know its origin. Another obscure etymology has been nailed down."

Game of Thrones Fans Have Been Mispronouncing Khaleesi

HBO
HBO

While Game of Thrones fans are busy poring over every still image and official trailer released for the show's final season in the hope of noticing some tiny detail that might hint at what's to come, David Peterson—the linguist who creates the series' fictional languages—dropped a huge piece of information: we've all been mispronouncing  Khaleesi.

While being interviewed for The Allusionist podcast, Peterson described the rampant mispronunciation as "a real thorn in my side." So just how should we be saying the Dothraki word?

"I wanted to make sure if something was spelled differently, it was pronounced differently," Peterson explained of his process of transforming the handful of Dothraki words George R.R. Martin had created into a full language. "That worked pretty well for everything except the word Khaleesi ... There's no way it should be pronounced 'ka-LEE-see' based on the spelling. So I had to decide, 'Am I going to respell this thing because I know how people are going to pronounce this, or am I going to honor that spelling and pronounce it differently?' I made the latter decision and I think it was the wrong decision."

(That said, in his book Living Language Dothraki, Peterson writes that "many Dothraki words have multiple pronunciation variants, often depending on whether the speaker is native or non-native. Khaleesi, for example, has three separate pronunciations: khal-eh-si, khal-ee-si, and kal-ee-si," which at a later point in the book spelled is "ka-lee-si.")

Given that Daenerys Targaryen has a mouthful of other titles at her disposal, we'll just call her the Mother of Dragons from now on.

Game of Thrones returns for its final season on April 14, 2019.

[h/t: Digital Spy]

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