The English language may be absurd and magical, but it also fails to capture the entire nuance of human experience. Other languages, however, can fill in some of those gaps. Tim Lomas, a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London, has compiled a lists of those words that English lacks. Some of the definitions are ungainly in English, but the meaning behind them is often beautiful and always useful.
You can check out the full list here, and I’ve highlighted some of my favorites below.
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Ah-un (阿吽) (Japanese, n.): unspoken communication between close friends, literally ‘the beginning and ending of something’
Aljerre (Aranda, n.): dreamtime; an ancestral period when the world was created.
S’apprivoiser (French, v.): lit, ‘to tame’, but a mutual process – both sides learning to trust/accept the other.
Curglaff (Scottish, n.): the bracing/shocking/invigorating feeling of suddenly entering (e.g., diving into) cold water.
Erschlossenheit (German, n.): world disclosure; the process by which things become intelligible and meaningfully relevant to human beings.
Gigil (Tagalog, n.): the irresistible urge to pinch/squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished.
Hiraeth (Welsh, n.): longing for one’s homeland, with nostalgia and wistfulness.
Khalas (خالص) (Arabic, n.): something (e.g., a task) that is irrevocably done/over/finished (often with an implication of liberation/deliverance as a result).
Mamihlapinatapei (Yagán, n.): a look between people that expresses unspoken but mutual desire.
Opia (English, new coinage, n.): the ambiguous intensity of eye-contact.
Pochemuchka (почемучка) (Russian, n.): someone who is always asking questions (perhaps too many!).
Samar (سمر) (Arabic, v.): to sit together in conversation at sunset/ in the evening.
Tjuvsmaka (v.): lit. thief (Tjuv) taste (Smaka); to taste or eat small pieces of food (e.g., when cooking, and/or when you think nobody is watching), cherry-picking the best morsels (rather than to improve the meal).
Xibipíío (Pirahã, n.): experiencing liminality; a phenomenon on the boundaries of perception/experience
Zanshin (残心) (Japanese, n.): a state of relaxed mental alertness (especially in the face of danger or stress).
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The full list is grand, and a word fiend could get lost in it. If you discover a new favorite word from it, feel free to share! Mine may be s’apprivoiser; I like the idea that we can tame each other.
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Tim Lomas, “Provisional Lexicography – By Alphabet”, February 2017, https://media.wix.com/ugd/ce8de8_75e98f78845e46ea9da29b26c35238c0.pdf.
Tim Lomas, “Towards a Positive Cross-Cultural Lexicography: Enriching our Emotional Landscape through 216 ‘Untranslatable’ Words Pertaining to Well-Being,” The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11.5 (2016): 546-558, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2015.1127993.