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

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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]

What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

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iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to HuffPost, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

What’s the Difference Between Forests, Woods, and Jungles?

Jui-Chi Chan/iStock via Getty Images
Jui-Chi Chan/iStock via Getty Images

If you're an English speaker, there’s a good chance you often use the words woods, forest, and jungle correctly without even thinking about it. Even if a patch of trees takes up a significant portion of your backyard, you probably wouldn’t consider it a forest; and you wouldn’t talk about the beautiful fall foliage in New England’s jungles. Based on those examples, it seems like woods are smaller than forests, and jungles aren’t found in colder climates. This isn’t wrong—but there's more to it than that.

According to Merriam-Webster, a forest is “a dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract,” while woods are “a dense growth of trees usually greater in extent than a grove and smaller than a forest.” The reason we consider forests to be larger than woods dates back to the Norman rule of Great Britain in 1066, when a forest was a plot of land owned by the Crown that was large enough to accommodate game for royal hunting parties. Whether that land contained trees or not was essentially irrelevant.

These days, scientists and land managers definitely consider the presence of trees necessary for land to be classified as a forest. To set it apart from woods, or woodland, it usually has to meet certain density qualifications, which are different depending on whom you ask.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), a forest must cover about 1.24 acres of land, and its canopy cover—the amount of land covered by the treetops—must exceed 10 percent of the acreage [PDF]. “Other wooded land” must also span about 1.24 acres, but its canopy cover is between 5 and 10 percent. In a nutshell, the FAO thinks forests and woods are the same size, but forests are more dense than woods. Australia, on the other hand, employs plant ecologist Raymond Specht’s classification system for its vegetation, in which any tree-populated land with less than 30 percent canopy cover is a woodland, and anything more dense than that is a forest.

Unlike forests, jungles don’t have specific scientific classifications, because the word jungle isn’t really used by scientists. According to Sciencing, it’s a colloquial term that usually denotes what scientists refer to as tropical forests.

Tropical forests are located around the Equator and have the highest species diversity per area in the world. Since they’re so densely populated with flora and fauna, it makes sense that both Merriam-Webster and the Encyclopedia Britannica describe jungles as “tangled” and “impenetrable.” They’re bursting with millions of plants and animals that are different from what we see in temperate and boreal forests to the north.

Because most of us aren’t in the habit of clarifying which type of forest we’re talking about in casual conversation, it’s no surprise that we often refer to the temperate forests we see in our own climate simply as forests, which we differentiate from those rich, overgrown tropical territories to the south by calling them jungles.

To summarize, forests are historically and colloquially considered to be larger than woods, and scientifically considered to be more dense. Jungles are technically forests, too, since jungle is a casual word for what scientists call a tropical forest.

And, all differences aside, it’s relaxing to spend time in any of them—here are 11 scientific reasons why that’s true.

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