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You Can't Say That In English
January 10, 2013 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Approximately 375 million people speak English as their first language, and 470 million to over a billion people speak it as a second language (to varying degrees). Even so, there are some words that do not exist in English, even with new word entries periodically being added to the Oxford Dictionary. 25 words that do not exist in English.

Additional words that do not exist in English (warning: last link potentially NSFW - alludes to sexual violence).
posted by anya32 (134 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
25 words that do not exist in English.
There are billions of word which don't exist in English, like swplurx, gratzelling, beeweedok, draflyput...
posted by Jehan at 10:33 AM on January 10, 2013 [19 favorites]


"L’esprit de l’escalier" is not "a" word.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:34 AM on January 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


The English for Schadenfreude is "Schadenfreude", no? I am going to try the same trick with "Age-otori " now
posted by fightorflight at 10:34 AM on January 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


eh, you can, in fact, say those things in English. You want to know what you can't say in English? Kry'lths#.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:34 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


If those were words you can't say in English, we wouldn't know what they mean.
posted by desjardins at 10:36 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are billions of word which don't exist in English, like swplurx, gratzelling, beeweedok, draflyput...

I recall "beeweedok" on my GRE prep list.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:36 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are so many of these lists on-line, and they're all basically the same. I want a list of words we should be glad we don't have in English. Like, say, "mikoroshi"....
posted by mikoroshi at 10:36 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Arigata-meiwaku - someone DESPERATELY needs to get on this... I'd use that English word 5 times a day. I may need to find someone to teach me to say this...
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:36 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's all kind of arbitrary isn't it? Give me a concept that you can't describe in a sentence in English and I'll be impressed.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:37 AM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Isn't this a double? I swear this is a double.
posted by The World Famous at 10:38 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


How do they check that these words aren't in (British?) English. I mean ... do they have some kind of reverse dictionary that lets you look up words by their meaning?
posted by Sinadoxa at 10:38 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude

While at the house of my at the time future sister-in-law, I experienced this. They insisted I take home leftovers, which happened to be chili. I politely declined, but she insisted. Sitting on the metro, the tupperware leaks into the brown bag it's contained in without me noticing. The bag gets wet, and gives way, leaving me with a lap full of chili. As I wanted to marry her sister, I called the next day to thank her for the delicious leftovers.
posted by DrDreidel at 10:38 AM on January 10, 2013 [56 favorites]


Needs more gezelligheid. (But don't we all?)
posted by argonauta at 10:39 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wish these "omg english is so amazing you guys" or "you totally can't say this in english" people would take a linguistics course. Or even just read a linguistics book.
posted by DU at 10:42 AM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


I can think of single words in English for four of these meanings:

Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind

Butterface.

Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love

Limerence.

Nunchi (Korean): the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood

Empathy.

Schadenfreude (German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain

Schadenfreude.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:42 AM on January 10, 2013 [52 favorites]


> Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind

There's an English word for this.

Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love

There's a MeFi-favorite word for this!

Manja (Malay): “to pamper”, it describes gooey, childlike and coquettish behavior by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men. “His girlfriend is a damn manja. Hearing her speak can cause diabetes.”

There's a word for this too.

Taarradhin (Arabic): implies a happy solution for everyone, or “I win. You win.” It’s a way of reconciling without anyone losing face.

There's business jargon for this. In English

Most of this list seems like a failure of imagination.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:42 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


More like a failure to count hyphenated words, neologisms or turns of phrase as "words" in English, while accepting them in other languages.

What the 20-letter German word for "double standard"?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:46 AM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


At least it's not in "infographic" form.
posted by zamboni at 10:46 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Arigata-meiwaku - Yes. We need an English word for this.

Bakku-shan - Can we just adopt this one outright? It sounds so much nicer than "butterface," which is the closest equivalent I can think of.

Schadenfreude - This has pretty much become a part of the English language. If it isn't yet included in English dictionaries then someone isn't doing their job.
posted by asnider at 10:49 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


English has no word for my feelings about these types of misleading articles.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:49 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I had never heard of "butterface" so perhaps there should be a thread on "words you wish you knew existed in English but do not know."
posted by anya32 at 10:50 AM on January 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


I like "staircase wit" better than the French original.
posted by jb at 10:50 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


perhaps there should be a thread on "words you wish you knew existed in English but do not know."

Or "words in English that you feel somewhat oily and diminished upon discovering their existence."
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:53 AM on January 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


I recall reading about a list of words that used to be in English, but are no longer. One of the words listed was the wonderful frum-byrdling, which meant "a (male) youth whose bead has just come through". I think mathum was another.

I would like a list like that.
posted by Jehan at 10:54 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist

The word for this in English is Tyson or MMA

Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind

Never heard the term butterface, but my friends use the term 20 yarder or in extreme cases 50 yarder.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:54 AM on January 10, 2013


Guanxi is just "favor" or "brownie points".

Nunchi, or rather nunchi eoptta, sounds like the very useful Japanese KY, internet slang for "kuki yomenai", "can't read the mood", which I really would like to have in English.

For those new to it, "butterface" is a creepy bro-word, derived from "...but her face."
posted by darksasami at 10:56 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Never heard the term butterface, but my friends use the term 20 yarder or in extreme cases 50 yarder.

I'm reminded of the term "Monet" as used in the movie Clueless. "From far away it's ok, but up close it's a big old mess."
posted by The World Famous at 10:56 AM on January 10, 2013


5 Desenrascanço (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it)

So there's not one English word for it, but two?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:56 AM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Isn't this a double? I swear this is a double.

We have a definition for "Beeweedok," I think - "the feeling that something you've read on Metafilter was a double only just recently."

(You're right, it sort of was.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:02 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


A lot of these are crazy sexist and I'm OK with not having them. Of course, a lot of these terms we actually *do* have words for, including some of the crazy sexist ones.

Do we really need more ways to belittle women based on their perceived attractiveness, though? Really?
posted by Scientist at 11:04 AM on January 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Do we really need more ways to belittle women based on their perceived attractiveness, though? Really?

Mr. President, we must not allow a sexist terminology gap!
posted by The World Famous at 11:16 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


German has "knowledge" divided up into "Erkennung" and "Wissen", which someone who is native German should explain, but as I understand it, Erkennung is more profound.
posted by mumimor at 11:17 AM on January 10, 2013


Isn't this a double? I swear this is a double.

That's because we had this same argument in a thread like three days ago.
posted by hoyland at 11:22 AM on January 10, 2013


'Sḵwxwú7mesh' caused my brain's word-recognition center to question the state of my mental health when I first saw it.
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 11:31 AM on January 10, 2013


That must be what I was thinking of. So, perhaps not a true double? A false cognate?
posted by The World Famous at 11:31 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


We had link with most of these same words, like, a couple months ago.
posted by muddgirl at 11:32 AM on January 10, 2013


Those of us who like Portuguese are always happy to see "desenrascanço" promoted this way over the old "saudades" chestnut, even if the verb is in fact "desenrascar".
posted by chavenet at 11:32 AM on January 10, 2013


I mean, I have to conclude that this is some email chain that's going around and bloggers are just copying from it.
posted by muddgirl at 11:32 AM on January 10, 2013


German has "knowledge" divided up into "Erkennung" and "Wissen", which someone who is native German should explain, but as I understand it, Erkennung is more profound.

Pretty sure, but not certain, it's just the difference between 'wissen' and 'kennen' in noun form. See also savoir and connaître in French. Spanish has this sort of distinction too, I think, but I don't know Spanish. It's roughly the difference between knowing a fact and recognition (or that's how it's always explained).
posted by hoyland at 11:33 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


That must be what I was thinking of. So, perhaps not a true double? A false cognate?



The English word for that is doppelganger.
posted by chavenet at 11:33 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


> 24 Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods

I love a good over-the-top compound word as much as the next language bore, but I wish we could get over the idea that "Waldeinsamkeit" is somehow more special as a noun phrase than, say, "forest solitude", just because German doesn't put a space between the nouns where English does.

Andd if we are going to do that, why go for something as simple as "Waldeinsamkeit" when there are plenty of old chestnuts like "Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän" lying around, just begging to be collated into words-we-don't-have-in-English lists?
posted by pont at 11:36 AM on January 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Isn't this a double? I swear this is a double.
posted by The World Famous at 1:38 PM on January 10 [1 favorite +] [!]


Also, it's been making the social media and link bait rounds.

I tend to see this kind of thing as being like the wannabe-clever "did you know" lists and jokes and "common wisdom" compilations that office workers used to make photocopies of (and photocopies of photocopies etc) and pass around as workplace time-wasters, back in the pre-Internet days. It's scary how much of the web's content is basically a descendent of that sort of nonsense.
posted by aught at 11:37 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


This link indicates "bakku-shan" is a concatenation of the English word "back" and the German word "schoen", transliterated as バックシャン.

So, it's not really a word in Japanese either.
posted by NemesisVex at 11:37 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I never heard the word 'bro-word' before.
Is that slang from Fort Lauderdale?
posted by MtDewd at 11:38 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


asnider: Arigata-meiwaku - Yes. We need an English word for this.

I think "white elephant" is close enough to cover it; the difference between a literal gift and a favor seems trivial. But may be that's a reach.

Guanxi (Mandarin): in traditional Chinese society, you would build up good guanxi by giving gifts to people, taking them to dinner, or doing them a favor, but you can also use up your gianxi by asking for a favor to be repaid

So they're not counting "goodwill". Or the slightly more clumsy "social capital".

Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery

This seems covered under the metaphorical use of "to snap".
posted by spaltavian at 11:39 AM on January 10, 2013


Andd if we are going to do that, why go for something as simple as "Waldeinsamkeit" when there are plenty of old chestnuts like "Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän" lying around, just begging to be collated into words-we-don't-have-in-English lists?

That's Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän after the spelling reform, though the company disappeared before that.
posted by hoyland at 11:40 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bakku-shan = butterface.
posted by gertzedek at 11:40 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Taarradhin (Arabic): implies a happy solution for everyone, or “I win. You win.” It’s a way of reconciling without anyone losing face. Arabic has no word for “compromise,” in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement

We call an "I win, you win" situation a "win-win". This list isn't even trying.
posted by spaltavian at 11:40 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Desenrascanço" - I assume this is a continental Portuguese slang, because this is not a word in Brazilian Portuguese.
posted by gertzedek at 11:43 AM on January 10, 2013


Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.
posted by tempestuoso at 11:43 AM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think it would be rather interesting if somebody actually knowledgeable about language wrote a list of "meanings that English doesn't convey well". Not concentrating on the belief that English can't say something, or on words that other tongues have, but rather on distinctions in meaning that are currently cumbersome to get across in English. Maybe that would be too subtle for listlovers, but hey.
posted by Jehan at 11:46 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


German has "knowledge" divided up into "Erkennung" and "Wissen", which someone who is native German should explain, but as I understand it, Erkennung is more profound.

It's Kenntnis (and the related Erkenntnis) and Wissen. Erkennung just means recognition, in the sense of recognizing someone or something.

Pretty sure, but not certain, it's just the difference between 'wissen' and 'kennen' in noun form. ... It's roughly the difference between knowing a fact and recognition (or that's how it's always explained).

Nah, German has the verb erkennen for recognition. The difference between Wissen and Kenntnis is fuzzy, and even native speakers can disagree about it. The two are listed as synonyms in the primary German dictionary (Duden), for example. But a distinction is sometimes made on the basis that Kenntnis refers to practical knowledge and knowledge gained from experience, whereas Wissen refers more generally to knowledge of facts.
posted by jedicus at 11:47 AM on January 10, 2013


HEY BUT HOW MANY WORDS FOR SNOW DO THE ESKIMOS HAVE HUH
posted by ook at 11:47 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The beauty of english is that all words are english words just waiting to be included in the lexicon as they become useful
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:47 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Garr'dock!
posted by The World Famous at 11:49 AM on January 10, 2013


According to the OED there are 250,000 English words including 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words.

Whenever I see a list like this I am convinced that English does have a word for it, but the list author asked around the office and nobody knew what it was.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:49 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


spaltavian:
We call an "I win, you win" situation a "win-win". This list isn't even trying.
I disagree. This list is very trying.
posted by pont at 11:49 AM on January 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Do we really need more ways to belittle women based on their perceived attractiveness, though? Really?

Supply and demand, I guess.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:49 AM on January 10, 2013


Something that drives non-Spanish-speakers mad when trying to learn the language is the difference between "ser" and "estar". Both verbs are translated as "to be" in English, yet they have clearly different, non-interchangeable meanings to the native Spanish speaker: "ser" relates to a continuous state, whereas "estar" usually corresponds to a more transient state. For instance, "Soy colérico" translates as "I'm an angry person", whereas "Estoy colérico" is "I'm angry".
posted by Skeptic at 11:52 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


More like Foreign Words That Describe Things That Require A Paragraph Or More When Translated Into English.
posted by tommasz at 11:52 AM on January 10, 2013


But a distinction is sometimes made on the basis that Kenntnis refers to practical knowledge and knowledge gained from experience, whereas Wissen refers more generally to knowledge of facts.

This is what I was aiming for and tripped over the fact the default example for wissen v kennen is always something like knowing Goethe.
posted by hoyland at 11:55 AM on January 10, 2013


Something that drives non-Spanish-speakers mad when trying to learn the language is the difference between "ser" and "estar".

That's definitely not the only thing that drives non-Spanish speakers mad about Spanish, but it's up there, yeah. For me -- someone who was raised in a Spanish-speaking environment, then lost all contact with it, then regained a huge interest in the language but didn't regain the benefit of the immersion -- having once known the distinction and now not being able to parse it, at least not natively as I did then, is particularly frustrating.
posted by blucevalo at 11:55 AM on January 10, 2013


More like Foreign Words That Describe Things That Require A Paragraph Or More When Translated Into English Foreignwordsthatdescribethingsthatrequireaparagraphormorewhentranslatedintoenglish

There. I made it German for you.
posted by The World Famous at 11:56 AM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


But a distinction is sometimes made on the basis that Kenntnis refers to practical knowledge and knowledge gained from experience, whereas Wissen refers more generally to knowledge of facts.

English has a similar distinction between different kinds of knowledge: "knowledge", "ken" (which shares a root with German "kennen"), "wisdom", "sense", "wit" (which I think shares a root with "wissen"), and I'm sure there's more.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:57 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


18 - Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions

In English that would be a "whys guy".
posted by benito.strauss at 11:57 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember learning the Japanese word/phrase 'madogiwazoku' which is (more or less) "window seat tribe". My Japanese teacher brought it up - it is a select group reserved for older employees that have gone past their usefulness simply sit and look out the window all day. My teacher said that they joke that the office lady needs to go in a few times a day and their their seats so they don't get a sunburn on one side. When I heard this, I said, "oh, that's a window manager. Same thing."
posted by plinth at 11:59 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I want to make a list of words that are in English, because my british mother uses them regularly, but soon won't be because nobody else does, like hark and yon.
posted by maiamaia at 12:02 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember a long afternoon lecture when i was only 16 when a slimy old male lecturer was going on and on about how the english were sexually uptight (it felt a bit skeevy being told by an old man i was sexually repressed when i was 16 too) which was shown because the english didn't have a word for prurience so he was going to use the french word for pudescence. Except he didn't put it like that as he clearly hadn't been near a dictionary, nor did he know the true french meaning of pudescence. You see, before the internet, i used to read the dictionary....
posted by maiamaia at 12:07 PM on January 10, 2013


Garr'dock!
posted by The World Famous


I initially mis-read that as "grar'dlock", which I guessed was a description for a MeFi thread that had gotten stuck with two or three members sniping back and forth between each other.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:07 PM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Arigata-meiwaku" describes my entire relationship with my father-in-law.
posted by KathrynT at 12:09 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I say we adopt that one, benito.strauss.
posted by The World Famous at 12:09 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


We have had this identical thread with identical words and near-identical comments so many times previously that I feel as though I have become unstuck in time.
posted by elizardbits at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


We do not have a word for not having a word for.

Sometimes I wish English didn't have to talk about itself so much.
posted by jamjam at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind

We used to refer to this as "the stern being more seeworthy than the bow"
posted by pjern at 12:15 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Most of words are from that book 'the meaning of tingo'. although tingo is probably the best word in it. I also read 'the superior person's book of words 2' but didn't buy it as, although it was cute-ish, i figured the first volume would be better, whereas in fact the first volume was horrible - really snobby. some of the words don't exist in english because the thing itself doesn't. In Outliers, i read something that explained a lot to me about my far-eastern friends: in those cultures, listeners are responsible for understanding what is said and what is meant by what is said, whereas in ours, the speaker is responsible for making themselves clearly understood. Also, you speak a lot by hinting. For instance, you think you can say no, but there are a few situations where you actually just don't say yes too enthusiastically - think, if someone asks you what they look like in a fitting room and you don't think they should buy it. In some cultures, that's most situations, or asking directly is rude always, and hints are normal, whereas in ours its rarer. So the Korean 'listening' word is different. Guanxi is a mixture of a society where you do and owe favours to each other - the owe part is important, they can ask you for anything - like we used to be, where you did favours for people so you could ask for help when you needed it - and the corruption the Cultural Revolution brought in when even basic supplies became unavailable and bribery the only way to obtain things. 'Lobbying' and 'crony capitalism' and 'old boys' network' are therefore their closest english translation.
posted by maiamaia at 12:15 PM on January 10, 2013


@jimjim ineffable, inexpressible, unsayable, speechless (when it's you that doesn't have a word..)
posted by maiamaia at 12:16 PM on January 10, 2013


Yeah, it's pretty common for people to confuse "we have no single word for it" with "we can't say it"...or, in more extreme cases, "we have no concept of it."

I think a lot of people are smitten by the idea that language and culture are magical-mystical. It would be so interesting/cool/amazing if thought were really so strongly determined by language, or if we really were so amazingly different than other people. But it' just ain't so. In fact, the more one learns about this stuff, the more one recognizes that human experience and thought are universal in their general outlines, and that where they are more particular, that, too, is understandable and not really amazing. Many of these words we actually do have words for, as noted above, and the rest of them we have phrases for instead, or can at least readily understand and explain. Even the slightly odd ones, like 'Guanxi' are perfectly understandable when you imagine yourself being among people with slightly different tendencies than our own.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 12:22 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


However there really is no word for "thank you" in Dothraki.
posted by elizardbits at 12:54 PM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


4 Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind

Instead of Butterface I like to use "9-Iron". This however poses some problem as a 9-iron can be viewed from either front or back, it is the distance that matters.
posted by Gungho at 12:54 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän

Hah! When I lived in Germany (and was just learning German) in the early 90s, this very word was always trotted out by my German friends as an example of nutty German compounds. Depending on how much alcohol we'd imbibed, we'd add more ridculous words to it, to see how long we could make the word -- not just the captain of the company running steam ships on the Donau, but the thread of the button on the jacket of the uniform of the captain... etc.

The topic of words existing in German but not English came up all the time, mainly because I was always surrounded by other Germans, so I was always asking what things meant. My favorite German* words that don't exist in English:

köcheln: to boil with a very slow simmer, like a sauce.

Fernweh: the desire to be somewhere you're not. (This is different from wanderlust, which is the desire to travel. It makes sense when you break it down: fern = away + weh = pain; wander = travel [among other things] + lust = desire.)

doch: a response to "no." For example: "I painted a pony." "No you didn't!" "I did! I did!" (The "I did!" part is doch.)

*I lived in Munich, and befriended mostly Bavarians, so it's possible these words are more regional than "high" German.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 12:59 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fezzg'shisht: One's rectum prolapsing due to sneezing.
posted by Renoroc at 1:00 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


20 Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky

?? Maybe I don't drink enough whisky.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:08 PM on January 10, 2013


There's the Danish word "hygge," which I don't think has an English equivalent: cosy and social, sort of, plus around Christmas you have julehygge.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:12 PM on January 10, 2013


Approximately 375 million people speak English as their first language

Does this seem really low to anyone else given that there are ~315m Americans, ~53 million Englishmen and ~34 million Canadians?
That's 400 million right there, without counting the Antipodes.

Sure, not everyone in all of those countries will count English as a first language, but it seems a low number for all that.
posted by madajb at 1:17 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Americans, Canadians and British aren't all EFL though. And you're forgetting Canada's other official language, which is mostly concentrated in Quebec and New Brunswick.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:20 PM on January 10, 2013


I strongly suspect that l’esprit de l’escalier is more commonly used (and understood) in the English world today than in France. How do we call a loanword that is now forgotten in its native land? There must be a word for that in German.
posted by elgilito at 1:22 PM on January 10, 2013


Hasselhoff?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:24 PM on January 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


I strongly suspect that l’esprit de l’escalier is more commonly used (and understood) in the English world today than in France. How do we call a loanword that is now forgotten in its native land? There must be a word for that in German.
Homealoneloan?

Just like little Kevin, it's been all forgotten about.
posted by Jehan at 1:26 PM on January 10, 2013


I like all this novel foreign words stuff, but I detect kind of a faint racism wafting off it sometimes -- this article says there's no Arabic word for 'compromise'. Yeah, sure, maybe, but even though I'm not an Arabic speaker, I'll bet you my dog that the concept of compromise can be expressed in Arabic, fluidly and efficiently.

Cultural anthropology by language is a fun idea, but, c'mon, I didn't learn the word schadenfreude until I was 13 or so, but 9 year old me definitely whooped it up when Tommy got smoked by the see-saw.
posted by insteadofapricots at 1:36 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always want to see "zanshin" on one of these lists, just because Neal Stephenson went on at length about its untranslatability in Snow Crash. But it never shows up.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:51 PM on January 10, 2013


I see that one of the pages mentions those not-French-sounding-at-all seigneur-terraces, again.
posted by elgilito at 1:53 PM on January 10, 2013


This is the recent thread people keep thinking of. If you have an article about words that don't exist in English, you might as well use Treppenwitz instead of l’esprit de l’escalier, which is a single word that means the same thing.
posted by ersatz at 2:01 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Dutch language sorely lacks a word for Preiswert, which means 'worth its price' or good value for money. I'm not aware of a good English equivalent either.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:03 PM on January 10, 2013


Priceworthy.
posted by Jehan at 2:18 PM on January 10, 2013


The Dutch language sorely lacks a word for Preiswert, which means 'worth its price' or good value for money.

Goedkoop doesn't work for you?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:20 PM on January 10, 2013


And the English is just "good buy". I mean, if you like you can pretend like there's no space between the two words when you say it. "That's a goodbuy, eh?"
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:24 PM on January 10, 2013


Goedkoop doesn't work for you?

And what a very Dutch word it is...
posted by Skeptic at 2:30 PM on January 10, 2013


This is complete nonsense and bullshit for any number of reasons, many of which have been mentioned above. I dealt as best I could with the "weird foreign words" stuff back in 2005 (and briefly with the Tingo book), and I don't feel like rehashing it again. But people sure do love this shit.
posted by languagehat at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's the Danish word "hygge," which I don't think has an English equivalent: cosy and social, sort of, plus around Christmas you have julehygge.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:12 PM on January 10 [+] [!]


Everybody needs a hygge.
posted by chavenet at 3:15 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Being equally fluent in two languages, and understanding a smattering of a third... trying to argue whether a word has an equivalent in another language is an exercise in futility.

It's like asking whether the experience of eating a Big Mac in Singapore is the same as the experience of eating a Big Mac in the US. It's just a matter of degree, but no two words will be exactly the same, because of the historical / cultural assumptions, usage and origins of each word.

My brother and I slip between two languages all the time because one will express the same word slightly better. If you tried to cheat at school and write the same creative writing composition in two different langauges for two different class you will get a subtly different story.

Sometimes the cause is purely mechanical / grammatical, nothing mystical about "meanings that cannot be translated". The most hilarious example I think is the "DO NOT WANT" meme which originated from a Cantonese translation of Darth Vader's "NooOOooOo" at the end of the trilogy, when he realises he has killed the women he loves and his children, betrayed his mentor, and is now doomed to live in a horrible metal body since he has lost his arms and legs. In Cantonese you can't construct a "No" without a subject - you have to say, "I don't want this." or "There is no need" or "I don't know" or "It is not possible."

Hence the translation of the "NooOOoO" into "DO NOT WANT"

There are quite a few Malay words I don't think translate well into English (Jasa, for example, is translated as "service" but in my opinion it doesn't full capture the meaning of the word, and even mechanically you can't even construct sentences the same way with it at all, sort of like the No! in Cantonese above)
posted by xdvesper at 3:37 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's OK to just list some words that you like. If you really want a gimmick you could pick a real subject rather than "foreign".
posted by LogicalDash at 3:39 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you liked butterface, then you'll just love 'cepterhead.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:57 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


This thread inspired me to update my AskMe of arigata-meiwaku, a.k.a. the sordid tale of the doubly-gifted waffle-makers.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:29 PM on January 10, 2013


I speak Japanese as my first language and live in Japan, and this was the first time I'd ever heard of the words age-otori (seriously, I can't even parse this one), bakku-shan and yoko-meshi. So to me these words barely exist in Japanese. 3 out of 25 makes me very skeptical of the other words on this list.
posted by misozaki at 4:31 PM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


However there really is no word for "thank you" in Dothraki.

I feel like "Thank You" in Dothraki is a long pregnant pause during which the thanker does not attempt to kill you.
posted by KathrynT at 4:36 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Americans, Canadians and British aren't all EFL though. And you're forgetting Canada's other official language, which is mostly concentrated in Quebec and New Brunswick.

No, didn't forget, just figured the Antipodes could stand in for those folks. heh.

The population that lives in English predominant countries is over 420 million.
You'd have to have more than a 10% non-EFL population to get down to 375 million.

I suppose that is possible, I've no idea what the numbers are in other countries.
posted by madajb at 5:35 PM on January 10, 2013


Is there an English translation for the Brazilian jeitinho? Literally it would be "the little way", but it a sense of making stuff happen in a way that might be tricky or even illegal... but not necessarily so.
posted by Tom-B at 5:49 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Guanxi", to me, seems easy to translate. It's "relationship". It can be a relationship between friends, between family, between working partners, so forth. E.g. he became General Manager based on guanxi and not ability, because his brother-in-law is the CEO.

As with most relationships, there's a certain ebb and flow, and the explanation on the list is too simplistic.

As a bilingual speaker (or multilingual if you count the different Chinese dialects), there are words I find almost impossible to translate from Chinese to English. 义, for instance. It is often translated as "virtue", "morality", or "righteousness", but these don't quite encapsulate the meaning.
posted by Alnedra at 5:50 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tom-B, you might be looking for "on the down-low".
posted by LogicalDash at 5:53 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


madajb: In the US, 82% claim that English is their "mother tongue". In Canada, 78.2% speak English or French as a first language. With so much immigration to those countries, as well as the UK and Australia, an average of 10% or more not EFL makes sense to me.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 6:23 PM on January 10, 2013


English has a set of insegrevious words that mean whatever the person who uses them wants them to mean. So, no, no missing words.
posted by relish at 7:42 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Arabic has no word for “compromise,” in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement

This sounds like something they'd say about Klingon in a Star Trek, to illustrate how warriorlike they are.

(An image which makes for any easy memnonic for the Safir-Whorf hypothesis)
posted by condour75 at 8:16 PM on January 10, 2013


I remain and probably forever will be a fan of the name Slartibartfast, which may not be a word and may not be English, but is wonderful and does exist.
posted by juiceCake at 9:24 PM on January 10, 2013


Regarding #8 on the list of 25, there is no such language as "Filipino." The predominant language there is Tagalog and "Gigil" isn't showing up in any of the on-line Tagalog dictionaries. Perhaps it's from one of the many other languages there?
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 9:27 PM on January 10, 2013


"Guanxi", to me, seems easy to translate. It's "relationship". It can be a relationship between friends, between family, between working partners, so forth. E.g. he became General Manager based on guanxi and not ability, because his brother-in-law is the CEO.

I'm reminded of an old Mike Royko column on 'clout', which would seem to be not a good option translation-wise, but similar conceptually.
posted by hoyland at 9:51 PM on January 10, 2013


Goedkoop doesn't work for you?

It's a very useful word, but it means cheap, not Preiswert. It has no indication of inherent value or quality. Something can be cheap and really crappy; in that case it's not good value for money, not Preiswert.

We could start using 'prijswaard', maybe. 'Prijswaardig' sounds better, but people might confuse it with 'prijzenswaardig': praiseworthy.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:02 PM on January 10, 2013


It's a very useful word, but it means cheap, not Preiswert.

Yeah, my wife and I were talking about this, and she also said that she understands it as "cheap". But in English, "cheap" is a complicated word, and can be deployed in a variety of ways. My Dutch is not good enough to know if "goedkoop" is similarly complicated.

In English, you could just say "worth it", and waardig means essentially that, right? At least in the context of buying a good or service?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:51 PM on January 10, 2013


LogicalDash, but "on the down-low" misses the non-shady meaning, for example jeitinho could just mean rearranging the luggage in your trunk in a smart way to make more stuff fit in.
posted by Tom-B at 4:30 AM on January 11, 2013


Backpfeifengesicht is so on my list of words to use for politicians. It will replace my use of the Spider Jerusalem line "he has a really punchable face".
posted by mephron at 4:37 AM on January 11, 2013


What about apuba, from the Tupi language, it describes a fruit that's soft from being ripe... would there be an English equivalent?
posted by Tom-B at 4:40 AM on January 11, 2013


Hey! what about estar, this might be something that really does not exist in English, in Portuguese it means "to be right now", so if someone is behaving in a boring way you could say that he is boring, or that he is-now-but-not-always boring... how does that translate?
posted by Tom-B at 4:50 AM on January 11, 2013


Tom-B: "hack"?
posted by pont at 5:09 AM on January 11, 2013


pont: good approximation! but doesn't hack have the connotation of a crude solution, almost brutal? Jeitinho means something done quietly, with minimal fuss. Also when a cop stops you and the infraction isn't that big of a deal, you don't really hack your way out of it — hacking means breaking the rules, finding a jeitinho is more like discreetly bending them.
posted by Tom-B at 9:25 AM on January 11, 2013


pont: I love a good over-the-top compound word as much as the next language bore, but I wish we could get over the idea that "Waldeinsamkeit" is somehow more special as a noun phrase than, say, "forest solitude", just because German doesn't put a space between the nouns where English does.

Agreed. I learned that other one as Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsmütze, which just proves the point. What, you mean english doesn't have a single word for Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz?!? Horrors.
posted by moonbiter at 10:28 AM on January 11, 2013


What about apuba, from the Tupi language, it describes a fruit that's soft from being ripe... would there be an English equivalent?
In my dialect there is the word "ret", which means when something like a fruit becomes ripely soft. So, for example, a pear is best to eat when it has "retted" slightly. It's basically the step before "rot", from which it is clearly derived or related. I'm not sure exactly what the standard word would be though.
posted by Jehan at 11:08 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


What about apuba, from the Tupi language, it describes a fruit that's soft from being ripe... would there be an English equivalent?

Tender.

Hey! what about estar, this might be something that really does not exist in English, in Portuguese it means "to be right now", so if someone is behaving in a boring way you could say that he is boring, or that he is-now-but-not-always boring... how does that translate?

Being.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:29 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Napoleonic Terrier: "The predominant language there is Tagalog and "Gigil" isn't showing up in any of the on-line Tagalog dictionaries."

It is probably the first Tagalog word I learned... right after my not-yet-wife bit me.
posted by minedev at 1:08 PM on January 11, 2013


Damn, Misozaki beat me to it. I too live in Japan, am fluent in Japanese, and neither myself nor my Japanese Girlfriend™ have ever come across those words, nor could we find them in our dictionaries. Well, we found "bakkushon," but the meaning was significantly different from what was suggested in the link.
In addition to being a spectacular example of psuedo-journalism blogger slurry, this article is almost certainly completely made up.
posted by GoingToShopping at 4:43 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tom-B, such a solution would be described as "smooth." It isn't the right part of speech, but you usually just say, "that was smooth" as a compliment.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:55 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you really need a noun for some reason, it's a "smooth move".
posted by LogicalDash at 7:57 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


LogicalDash, good approximation, I like it! There's still some meaning missing though, "smooth" doesn't quite capture the quasi-illegality, the bending of the rule. But maybe it's just my English that's lacking ;-)
posted by Tom-B at 6:43 AM on January 12, 2013


Sys Rq, that was perfect, "someone is being boring" is exactly what estar means, good one!
posted by Tom-B at 6:49 AM on January 12, 2013


Uh, also, Brazilian Portuguese is my first language, and I've never ever heard of desenrascanço. There's a similar slang word in the Northeast though, desenrolar, literally "to unroll", that's used in the sense of disentangling, making something happen.
posted by Tom-B at 6:52 AM on January 12, 2013


Wade Davis has no word for "dubious linguistic claim"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:44 PM on January 14, 2013


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