10 Untranslatable Words That Perfectly Describe How You're Feeling in 2020

Use these words for feelings you can't express in your own language.
Use these words for feelings you can't express in your own language. / Image by Prawny from Pixabay

The intense emotions we’re all experiencing right now—the yearning to see family and friends in person and without our faces partially obscured by a mask; the grief of losing loved ones, jobs, a sense of security; the restlessness with being stuck in one place—can often feel inexpressible, beyond words. But words in another language than your own just might be the key to giving voice to those emotions. To find such words, look no further than Eunoia, an online database created by Steph Smith in 2018 as part of a startup challenge. The database's name is itself an example of what it’s about: Eunoia is a Greek word meaning “well mind” or “beautiful thinking” that isn’t directly translatable in another language.

Here are five words with no direct equivalent in another language that express what so many of us are feeling these days, and five that remind us of the everyday pleasures still available.

1. Viraag // Hindi

Quarantine and social distancing are causing a lot of viraag, or the inner turmoil and pain we experience when we’re separated—not just metaphorically but also literally—from the ones we love.

2. Cwtch // Welsh

With physical contact severely restricted, most of us will connect immediately with this Welsh word that means to embrace another person to give them a sense of safety. Basically, what everyone could use right about now.

3. Sielvartas // Lithuanian

The literal translation of this Lithuanian word is “soul tumbling,” which itself is actually a pretty poetic, and accurate, way to describe the seemingly endless emotional tumult that is grief.

4. Fernweh // German

When your circuit is the same almost every day—workplace or home office, supermarket, drugstore, bed—fernweh, the hunger to travel to faraway destinations, can be overwhelmingly strong.

5. Goesting // Dutch

Yes, Can’t Hardly Wait is the title of a generic ’90s teen rom-com, but it’s also perhaps the closest translation in English for this Dutch word that sums up how we’re all feeling about the end of the pandemic.

6. Friluftsliv // Norwegian

The literal translation of this Norwegian word, often attributed to playwright Henrik Ibsen, is “free air life,” or the appreciation of the restorative power of being outdoors and engaged with nature. The pandemic has curtailed most outdoor activities that involve close proximity with others, but solo or socially distanced pursuits—hiking, biking, walking, or just sitting quietly—offer the relaxation and reinvigoration most of us need.

7. Volta // Greek

The Greek concept of volta—an early-evening communal stroll around town—is not only an excellent post-meal digestion aid but also an opportunity to get out of the house and get your body moving, in a leisurely, no-need-to-sweat manner.

8. Boketto (ぼけっと)// Japanese

Working from home, eating at home, trying to relax at home—home is where a lot of us have been spending our waking, and sleeping, hours for the past seven months. That time has provided ample occasion to perfect the Japanese art of boketto, or staring blankly into space.

9. Tingá // Tagalog

Intimate candlelit dinners for two are more or less nonexistent right now, so there’s little need to worry about tingá, the word in Tagalog for those embarrassing bits and pieces of food that can get stuck between the teeth and dampen a romantic mood.

10. Donaldkacsázás // Hungarian

When you’re confined to the house, what’s the point of dressing up … or even getting fully dressed, for that matter? Maybe it’s time to follow Donald Duck’s lead and Donaldkacsázás—slang for “Donald ducking,” a.k.a. meandering around your home wearing a shirt but no pants. Just don’t forget to remain seated during that Zoom conference call.