Posted by: Jack Henry | April 13, 2023

Editor’s Corner: Lovely Words that Don’t Translate into English

My friend, and former manager, Shawn S. sent me a video the other day. It was about a recent request from Merriam-Webster for readers to send in their favorite non-English words that cannot be easily translated into English. These words may not have an equivalent word in English, but the feelings they illicit and the ideas they present are wonderful, so I think we should absolutely consider including them in the English dictionary! Let’s see what you think.

Here are some examples from the video:

  • Waldeinsamkeit (German): the feeling of being alone in the woods
  • culaccino (Italian): the mark left on a table by a cold drink
  • iktsuarpok (Inuit): the feeling of anticipation that leads you to keep looking outside to see if anyone is coming
  • cormorebi (Japanese): sunlight leaking through trees
  • pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions

Merriam-Webster also asked people who watched the video to send in their favorite word. Here are some of the words folks sent in (the definitions come from the submitters, so if you know the word, and the definition doesn’t seem quite right to you, don’t shoot the messenger!). I’ve also added a great Korean word along with the definition, which came from Shawn:

  • soubhiyé (Arabic): the quiet time when you’re the only one awake in the house and can enjoy a cup of coffee before the day begins [dbb – I also saw this translated as “sharing a morning cup of coffee with a group of friends or neighbors.” I’m not sure which translation is most accurate, but they both sound lovely.]
  • sobremesa (Spanish): the relaxing time around the table chatting with your loved ones—usually after finishing a meal [dbb – I love this time. I’ll be using this word.]
  • tsundoku (Japanese): the act of acquiring books and letting them pile up without reading them [dbb – I understand acquiring a pile of books, but not reading them?!]
  • gigil (Tagalog): the overwhelming feeling you get when you see something so cute that you want to eat it [dbb – We need this word, I’ve heard English speakers say, “Your baby is so cute I could just eat her up!”]
  • paiting/hwaiting (Korean): an encouraging phrase that means “you’ve got this” or “you can do it” when someone is trying to accomplish something difficult [dbb: I understand that there is no letter f in the Korean language, but when pronounced, this word can often sound like “fighting,” so the English spelling of this one shows up differently in different references.]

I hope you have a wonderful Thursday!

Donna Bradley Burcher |Technical Editor, Advisory | jack henry™

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123

Pronouns she/her/hers

Symitar Documentation Services

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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