Amazing Foreign Words That Need English Translations

The English language has an extensive vocabulary of about 170,000 words which speakers can use to describe what we see, hear, do, feel, smell, think and want. With so many words to choose from, English speakers would think that there are words and synonyms for all that they want to concisely express. Well, this is not necessarily the case as the five words that we will explore from other languages are considered untranslatable as they do not have direct English translations. To get the meaning, the context of these words may have to be described. But with more English words being generated and accepted, who knows, these words just might get an English equivalent.   

1. Mamihlapinatapai

The word mamihlapinatapai originated from the Yaghan language of the tribe of Tierra del fuego. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this is the most succinct word. Mamihlapinatapai is untranslatable in English, as there is no word or phrase that can capture what it really means. To gain an understanding of the word, a scenario or situation must be provided. Mamihlapinatapai is what is experienced when two people share a look and each person is hoping that the other will say or do something that the other person is wishing for but then neither of them wants to be the one to start it off. Now that you have an understanding of what mamihlapinatapai means, are you able to, from your vast vocabulary, come up with an English word to mean all this?

2. Sobremesa

Sobremesa, a Spanish word, has a literal English translation “over the table.” This, however, does not provide a meaningful translation. It actually means a time after lunch or dinner where family, friends and even business associates often spend time speaking, relaxing and casually enjoying each other’s company. This begins after dessert is served. In Spain, to complement the tradition of sobremesa, the check won’t be brought to the table unless you ask for it. This means that family and friends sharing a meal won’t feel rushed and conversation won’t be shortened.

3. Mencomot

Mencomot is an Indonesian word with no direct English translation. It means the practice of stealing tiny objects or taking things one at a time. So for instance, mencomot would apply if while at your favorite stationery store, you take a sharpener and hide it in your bag. It involves stealing the item just for fun to see if you’re good enough to get away with it and not get caught, and not out of a real need for the item.

4. Iktsuarpok

The Inuit word “iktsuarpok” refers to the eagerness and anticipation as well as frustration you feel while waiting for the arrival of someone. You may go peeping in the window or go outside to see if they have arrived. It is that feeling children get while waiting to open their Christmas or birthday presents. There isn’t really an English word to capture this level of excitement.

5. Han

Han originates from the Korean Peninsula and its meaning is intricately entwined with Korean identity. It is built on the country’s history of oppression, invasion and suffering. The definition varies based on the context in which it is used but generally speaking, it alludes to an all pervasive, heart-wrenching sense of loss and agony. Felt and experienced by an individual or an entire society, it is rooted in Korean culture and is used to describe their resilience. Han can also denote a feeling of hope for the future.  

 

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