5 Words We Won't See in English (And Why)
Sometimes, the English language borrows words or phrases wholesale from other languages because they so perfectly express complex ideas. For example: the German “schadenfreude,” or the French, “joie de vivre.”
Though there are many more, as-yet un-translated expressions that seem to be begging to make the jump to English (the German word “kummerspeck,” which refers to weight gain from emotional eating, comes to mind), there are some concepts that just don’t quite compute.
Here, we look at some of the most interesting words that, for various cultural reasons, we can’t imagine ever being used in American English.
Waldeinsamkeit – a German word to describe the feeling of being alone in a forest.
Why there’s no English equivalent: The majority of Americans simply don’t spend enough time alone in a forest. Even on a rare solitary hike, actually managing to avoid other people on the trail can be a challenge. Plus, thanks to horror movies, and (equally terrifying) reports of bear attacks, we’re pretty convinced that being alone in the woods can only lead to trouble. Frankly, we’re so far removed from the idea of woodland solitude that we’re not even entirely sure if this German word is meant to convey a positive or negative emotion.
Sobremesa - a Spanish word referring to a post-meal conversation around a lunch table.
Why there’s no English equivalent: In America, we’re not used to the notion of a long, leisurely mid-day meal. With 60 minutes or less before the mandatory return to work, who has time to savor a nice chat? The relatively recent phenomenon of brunch is our closest cultural equivalent — perhaps a sign that we might gradually learn to incorporate sobremesa into our weekends.
Pochemuchka - A Russian word for a person who won’t stop asking questions.
Why there’s no English equivalent: Americans are typically encouraged to question “The Way Things Are.” From a young age, we’re taught to question unchecked authority, unsourced information, and even what’s in our food. Of course, this isn’t to say some people don’t take things too far. We’re looking at you, guy in our Philosophy 101 class.
Mamihlapinatapai - A word from the Yaghan language (of Tierra del Fuego) for the silent, knowing glance between two people who both want to initiate an action but are hesitant to do so.
Why there’s no English equivalent: This notoriously difficult to translate word is quite cinematic, and conjures up images of star-crossed lovers who dare not declare their feelings. Although this scenario still occurs, the Western world’s increasing emphasis on “talking things through” has made it less common. If two obviously interested people share a charged glance, odds are high that one of them will make some sort of a move.
Prozvonit – a Czech word for calling a cell phone, and then hanging up — in hopes that the recipient will return the call and foot the bill.
Why there’s no English equivalent: This Czech expression actually has a counterpart in many languages — just not English. First and foremost, in America, calling someone and hanging up is often considered just plain rude. Furthermore, even if the other party is aware of (and sympathetic to) your financial situation, there are other options. One popular government program is designed to give free cell phones, minutes, and texts to those who can demonstrate a need.