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