The beauty of language is that not every word has a direct translation. When you take language lessons, you’re likely to come across several terms that cannot be translated into your mother tongue. While this imposes some difficulties when one has to describe and explain the term to someone who doesn’t speak the language, it is also a reminder of the wonderful diversity and uniqueness of cultures. Different languages are a reflection of humanity’s cultures, values, attitudes, ideas, and even relationships.
It’s worthwhile to take up a new language if only to immerse yourself in a new culture and discover a new perspective on things. For starters, here are some intriguing and unique words with little to no direct equivalent in other languages to add to your vocabulary.
Komorebi – Japanese (from Japan)
Komorebi (木漏れ日) refers to the sunlight streaming through trees. It is made up of three kanjis or Japanese characters derived from Chinese characters: ko means tree, more means to leak through, and bi means sunlight.
Utepils – Norwegian (from Norway)
Utepils is made up of the words ute, meaning ‘outside’, and pils, short for Pilsner (a type of lager beer). As such, it refers to the act of sitting outside and drinking beer on a sunny day. Norwegians practice this throughout the year, but the most anticipated ritual is the first utepils of spring.
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Mamihlapinatapei – Yaghan (from Tierra Del Fuego)
Mamihlapinatapei refers to a moment shared by two people, wherein each one is hoping for the other to initiate something that they are hesitant to do themselves. The term is listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as The Most Succinct Word. It is considered to be one of the hardest words to translate.
Fernweh – German (from Germany)
The term fernweh describes the feeling of longing to be in far-off places. It is different from wanderlust (also a German word but often used in English) in that wanderlust is a desire to travel, while fernweh is feeling homesick for a far-off place.
Meraki – Greek (from Greece)
Modern Greeks use the term meraki to describe putting a piece of yourself (not literally) in your work. It is applicable to when an individual loves what they are doing so much that they leave a part of themselves in it.
Kilig – Tagalog (from the Philippines)
As of March 2016, the Tagalog word kilig has officially been included in the Oxford English Dictionary. It is defined as such:
1. Of a person: exhilarated by an exciting or romantic experience; thrilled, elated, gratified.
2. Causing or expressing a rush of excitement or exhilaration; thrilling, enthralling, captivating.
1. Exhiliration or elation caused by an exciting or romantic experience; an instance of this, a thrill.
Hygge – Danish (from Denmark)
Hygge is the concept of creating a warm atmosphere and cosily being able to enjoy the good things in life with good people. This Danish attitude is perhaps one of the reasons why Danes are reportedly the happiest people in the world, according to the United Nation’s World Happiness Report in 2013, 2014, and 2016. They came in third in the 2015 report, but that’s still a very high ranking!
Nunchi – Korean (from South Korea)
The term nunchi (눈치) refers to the ability to gauge the mood of another person and the atmosphere. It is similar to the English phrase ‘reading the room’.
Ubuntu – Nguni (from Southern Africa)
The word ubuntu is loosely translated as human kindness. On a deeper level, it refers to ‘the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity’. It is manifested through various acts of humanity, and is embodied in the African proverb “Ubuntu ngumtu ngabanya abantu”, meaning “A person is a person through other people.”
There are several methods used by translators to transcribe untranstranslatable words into other languages. This includes adaptation, loan translation, and compensation – you can either wait for our upcoming article on this, or experience it yourself while learning a new language with a friendly and proficient language teacher through Classes A2Z!
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