Have you ever had an experience that made you feel a particular way, but when you tried to describe the emotions of the experience there didn’t seem to be any words that fit? I know I have, but apparently there is a solution to the problem — reach into the lexicons of foreign languages. It seems that by pooling the resources of many different linguistic traditions, we can find words to describe just about everything from looking worse after a haircut than before to borrowing objects one by one from a friend’s house until they have nothing left. BRILLIANT!!
Andrew Sullivan — who I’ve been reading more and more lately — first brought my attention to this fact earlier today on his blog, The Dish. Sullivan cites articles by Emily Elert and Megan Garber, both of whom touch on this very subject. Elert, in her article for POPSCI.com has even gone to the trouble of producing a wonderfully detailed graph. While Elert’s article details emotions and situations for which there are a lack of English words, Garber details many of the solutions for some of her favorites in The Atlantic. Below are a few she found…
Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut
Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude
Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist
Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love
Gigil (pronounced Gheegle; Filipino): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute
Litost (Czech): A state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery
Manja (Malay): “To pamper,” it describes gooey, childlike, and coquettish behavior by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men
Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation
Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky
Tatemae and Honne (Japanese): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively
Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island): To borrow objects one by one from a neighbor’s house until there is nothing left
Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods
Those and others can also be found on the blog So Bad So Good.
So, the next time you find yourself at a loss for words, don’t just give up and shrug your shoulders or settle for something that is, “for lack of a better word.” There’s no need for that at all. Simply reach for your laptop, iPad, iPhone, keyboard, mouse…well, you get it…simply hit the World Wide Web and do some research. Chances are, someone somewhere has thought of the perfect word!
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