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.
It’s a compact term from the Nguni languages of Zulu and Xhosa that carries a fairly broad English definition of “a quality that includes the essential human virtues of compassion and humanity.”
“My favorite definition of saudade is by Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo: ‘a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.’”
Lessons from the Japanese concept of ikigai.
It derives from a sixteenth-century Norwegian term, hugga, meaning “to comfort” or “to console,” which is related to the English word “hug.”
Lagom is the secret to Sweden’s high rankings on international happiness and productivity.
An untranslatable word used among the few members of the Yaghan tribe has attained an odd sort of online fame.
“This is a confession: sometimes I feel good when others feel bad.”