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Thirteen Fascinating and Untranslatable Words

Handy words from other languages with no English equivalent.

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Some feelings and experiences can't be summed in a single word—at least in English. Luckily, if there’s one thing the English language is good at, it’s borrowing. You’ve probably felt the guilty pleasure of schadenfreude—the German word for experiencing joy at others’ misfortune. Or curled up on the couch for some hygge—the Norwegian concept of contented coziness. But what about ikigai and mamihlapinatapai? When you sit down for a meal, are you looking forward to the sobremesa or the shemomechama?

Enrich your vocabulary with this etymological exploration of untranslatable words. Among the thousands of languages in this wide world, odds are one of them has a word for exactly what you’re feeling right now.

Image by Anastasiia Krivenok/Getty Images

A Uniquely Spanish Part of the Meal

Mike Randolph

There is no equivalent word in English, though the concept is simple: Sobremesa is the time you spend at the table after you’ve finished eating.

The Untranslatable Word For Overeating

David Farley

In Georgia, known for its epic feasts and toasts, people often experience shemomechama, an untranslatable word for when you are full but you continue eating anyway.

How Namaste Flew Away From Us

Kumari Devarajan

In the years since yoga became commercially popular in the United States, the word has taken on a life of its own.