Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Expanding our emotional lexicon: the heartwarming foreign words that have no direct English translation

woman.jpg

If you often find yourself racking your brain for a word that describes your exact emotion – but simply doesn’t exist - then you’re not alone.

How can you describe that feeling you get when a hug makes you feel protected and safe? Or when you wake up feeling like you could conquer the world after a good night’s sleep? Or loving someone so much you would rather die first than ever be without them?

Well, it turns out that us Brits are really lacking when it comes to our language – despite Old Bill having, himself, made so much of it, back in the 16th Century.

Dr Tim Lomas, a psychologist at the University of East London, has been investigating how positive emotions are expressed in other languages.

He found that the Hawaiian word ‘aloha’, commonly used incorrectly in the West to mean hello and goodbye, literally translates as ‘the breath of presence.’

If you feel ‘commuovere’ (Italian), you’ve been moved by a particular story, and if you feel ‘pirgun’ (Hebrew), you are feeling a deep pride and happiness at someone else’s success.

kiss

Ya’burnee (يقبرني) (Arabic, phrase): lit. ‘you bury me,’ i.e., one would rather die (first) than lose the other.

In Iceland, there’s even a special word – ‘sólarfrí’ – to describe an unexpected period of time-off granted to employees to enjoy a particularly sunny day.

All of the words discovered by Lomas are used only in positive circumstances, and their meanings are all immediately recognisable.

Lomas published his findings of 216 words in the Journal of Positive Psychology and divided them between three categories: feelings, relationships and characters.

He says that the paper has “two main aims. First, it aims to provide a window onto cultural differences in construction of well-being, thereby enriching our understanding of wellbeing.

“Second, a more ambitious aim is that this lexicon may help expand the emotional vocabulary of English speakers – and indeed speakers of all languages – and consequently enrich their experiences of well-being.”

Lomas stresses that the list is still a work in progress and is continually growing.

Take a look at just some of the wonderful words he's unearthed, below. 

friends

Mamihlapinatapei (Yagán, n.): a look between people that expresses unspoken but mutual desire.

Commuovere (Italian, v.): to be moved, touched or affected (e.g., by a story).

Dor (Romanian, n.): longing for a person, place, or thing that is out of reach and you love very much.

F/pirgun (פירגון) (Hebrew, n.): ungrudging and overt (expressed) pride and happiness at other's successes.

Geborgenheit (German, n.): feeling protected and safe from harm.

Mamihlapinatapei (Yagán, n.): a look between people that expresses unspoken but mutual desire.

Mерак (Serbian, n.): pleasure derived from simple joys.

Morgenfrisk (Danish, adj.): feeling rested after a good night's sleep.

Nakama (仲間)  (Japanese, n.): best friend, close buddy, one for whom one feels deep platonic love.

Nakakahinayang (Tagalog, n.): a feeling of regret for not having used something or taken advantage of a situation.

Onsra (Boro, v.): 'to love for the last time,’ the feeling that love won’t last.

Querencia (Spanish, n.): a place where one feels secure, from which one draws strength.

Retrouvailles (French, n.): lit. 'rediscovery'; a reunion (e.g., with loved ones after a long time apart).

Sprezzatura (Italian): nonchalance, art and effort are concealed beneath a studied carelessness.

Shemomechama (შემომეჭამა) (Georgian, v.): eating past the point of satiety due to sheer enjoyment.

Tyvsmake (Norwegian, v.): to taste or eat small pieces of the food when you think nobody is watching, especially when cooking.

Utepils (Norwegian, n.): a beer that is enjoyed outside (particularly on the first hot day of the year). 

Vorfreude (German, n.): intense, joyful anticipation derived from imagining future pleasures.

Ya’burnee (يقبرني) (Arabic, phrase): lit. ‘you bury me,’ i.e., one would rather die (first) than lose the other.

You can see the full list here.

Images: iStock

Related

Koi_no_yokan.png

Foreign words to describe love that can't be translated in English

rexfeatures_1252896h.jpg

Revealed: 20 of the most commonly misused phrases and words

beyonce power pose.jpg

Want to do well at work? You’d better learn to stand like a man

iStock_000072163307_Medium.jpg

50 best podcasts to make yourself wiser

ThinkstockPhotos-470848919.jpg

Can you guess what the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2015 is?

friends.jpg

Men in their 30s on the advice they wish they'd had aged 20

rexfeatures_4553667a.jpg

Why "Best" is the worst way to end your emails

support.jpg

A leg up: uplifting quotes on the power of women helping one another

opener_rt.jpg

Lindy West on why women need to be bigger

Comments

More

Bookstagrammers: the Insta tribe keeping it real on social media

They're not in it for money or exposure

by Anna Brech
26 May 2017

Blake Lively is set to star in her own version of Big Little Lies

Get ready for The Husband's Secret, everybody...

by Kayleigh Dray
26 May 2017

Watch: Anna Kendrick reveals her favourite female writers

"They have written these beautiful, funny, wonderful books.”

by Sarah Biddlecombe
25 May 2017

Why you should keep a list of every book you’ve ever read

An act of honesty in a 'fake' digital age

by Anna Brech
25 May 2017

UK publisher launches new imprint to address diversity in books

Fewer than 100 books written by non-white British authors were published last year

by Sarah Biddlecombe
16 May 2017

Emily Browning slams Twilight series as “emotionally abusive”

Aussie actor was Stephenie Meyer’s first pick to play Bella

by Joe Ellison
16 May 2017

Here’s how you can (legally) watch The Handmaid’s Tale in the UK

We finally have the answer

by Kayleigh Dray
16 May 2017

These are the books you need to read, according to female TED speakers

12 inspirational tomes to add to your reading list

by Sarah Biddlecombe
15 May 2017

Two brilliant word-of-mouth books to pop on your summer reading list

Load up your Kindle, pronto

by Anna Brech
10 May 2017

Book lovers, this is what your reading habits say about you

Good news for drama and romance fans

by Sarah Biddlecombe
09 May 2017