Sometimes you’ll get a thought or feeling that you just can’t describe. You want to share it with people but you just can’t quite put your finger on what it is. But if you speak more than one language, sometimes there will be untranslatable words or phrases in another language that fit the description perfectly.
There are over 6,500 languages spoken worldwide, there are many examples of feelings or experiences just don’t have words in English. That being said, we have selected 10 of our favourite words from 10 different languages that can relate to everyday life; words that the English-speaking world is missing out on.
We’ve all had those particularly quiet or boring days where you’re stuck indoors and you just need to get out. The first thing that might spring to mind is going for a drive. Going for a long drive and exploring somewhere new is something that most people enjoy. People find it relaxing, calming and generally enjoy the experience of driving.
In Germany, they have a word which relates to this: fahrvergnügen. Fahrvergnügen means the love of driving or ‘driving-pleasure or enjoyment’. This untranslatable word is not a standard German word but was created specifically for a Volkswagen advertisement in 1990, but it’s still used today to describe the enjoyment of driving.
Koi no yokan (Japanese)
All over the world — whether it be in books, films or TV programmes — we hear of the phrase ‘love at first sight’. The word for this in Japanese is hitomebore. But in Japan, they also use the phrase Koi no Yokan. Koi no yokan is the feeling of knowing that you will soon fall in love with the person you have just met. This phrase is particularly popular in shoujo manga – comics about love which are aimed mainly at teenagers.
For most people, their day starts with a cup of coffee before anything else. But how many cups are you on by the end of the day? In Sweden, the word for a cup of coffee is tår. But they also have a word which doesn’t have a direct translation into the English language which describes the refilling of coffee: tretår. Literally, it means the second or third refilling of a cup of coffee.
An estimated 95 million cups of coffee are being drunk per day in the UK as opposed to 70 million in 2008. So, in the past 10 years, this has risen by 25 million cups. This is due to the rise in different coffees and the way people rely on coffee to start the day or keep them going. Therefore, this is a word that would be useful to the anglophone world of caffeine lovers!
There is always that one person at work or in your friendship group that asks too many questions. Maybe throughout a film in a cinema or in class at school. But how would you describe them in English other than saying that they ask too many questions? In Russia, they have one of the best untranslatable words for someone who does this: Pochemuchka.
In Russia, this word is often used to describe children who ask too many questions. Though this word does not translate directly into the English language, it would definitely be useful to either children or adults being too nosey for their own good.
Rire dans sa barbe (French)
Picture the moment: you’re sitting on the bus or train, and a hilarious moment from your past appears out of nowhere in your mind. All of a sudden your chuckling away to yourself, getting some strange looks from your fellow passengers. That moment of weirdly laughing to yourself has a specific phrase in French: rire dans sa barbe. Its literal translation is «to laugh into your beard quietly while thinking about something that happened in the past».
Given the heatwave in the UK these past few weeks, everyone flocks in true British fashion to the nearest pub or beer garden to enjoy a pint in the sun. This way, you can enjoy a drink but also catch a tan at the same time. In the English language, there is no exact word to describe this outing or social event.
In Norway, they have one of those magnificent untranslatable words which describes exactly that. Utepils means to sit outside on a sunny day enjoying a beer or can specifically be translated into ‘outdoors lager.’ In the US, there is a beer company called ‘Utepils Brewing’ which prints this message on merchandise such as cups and t-shirts. Hopefully there’s still many more days of Utepils left this summer!
For most, a relaxing walk in the countryside is a perfect way to unwind. Taking in the fresh air and the peace and quiet on a Sunday morning is enough to float away your cares and concerns. We all need that sometimes. In the Netherlands, it happens so frequently that they have a specific word to explain it: uitwaaien.
It literally means «to go out for a walk or to the countryside to clear one’s mind». This word is one of those untranslatable words that loads of English speakers can relate to.
Britain is known for having its fair share of atrocious weather. On average, living in Britain we will experience rain or snow for 133 days of the year. One minute you can be walking through the high street enjoying the fine weather, the next, you’re taking shelter under a shop entrance or an umbrella. Slovenia has a word which describes just this. Vedriti means to shelter from the rain. A word for this could be particularly valuable in any language, but especially to us Brits.
There is not a more unfortunate time to use public transport than at rush hour. Everybody has finished work and is rushing onto the tube or bus to get home, squashed together like sardines in a tin. While it’s a feeling of frustration that us English speakers feel, we don’t quite have a word that directly describes this feeling. Lithuanian does though. Kaapshljmurslis is the feeling of being cramped while riding public transport, especially at rush hour. Whether you’ve had an arm digging into your side or a rucksack in your face, we have all felt kaapshljmurslis.
Nothing is more frustrating than friends who are always late. Arranging to meet at a time and place, and then having them show up late, leaving you peeping your head out of the window looking for them every two minutes. This has probably happened to all of us. But that action of checking every two minutes for your latecomer doesn’t have an exact word.
The Inuit language does though. Iktsuarpok means the feeling of anticipation upon waiting for someone that leads you to keep looking outside to see if anyone is coming. Originating in the Inuit culture of the Eskimo-Aleut, this word originated from Eskimo’s exiting their igloos to look to see if anyone was coming, and then returning back inside and repeating this over and over.
Try these phrases out in conversation with friends or family and see just how useful they really are. Not only will it make you look intelligent using these foreign words, but may also inspire others to learn words from new languages.
– Written by Lucia Arpino