Schadenfreude and other untranslatable terms

What does it say of a nation when its language carries a term not found and not easily translatable in any other? Does it mean that the Germans particularly enjoy the suffering of others (hence the term ‘schadenfreude’ meaning pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others)? Would it suggest that the Spanish are especially known to chatter after eating? That Indonesians are a particularly unfunny bunch or that that speakers of Urdu are unparallelled story-tellers?

Probably not, but then again, I’ve never understood an Indonesian joke.

Here are 10 untranslatable terms borrowed from, prizes for anyone who can think (or make up) a single term to translate one of these into English:

German: Waldeinsamkeit

A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connectedness to nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson even wrote a whole poem about it.

Italian: Culaccino

The mark left on a table by a cold glass. Who knew condensation could sound so poetic.

Inuit: Iktsuarpok

The feeling of anticipation that leads you to go outside and check if anyone is coming, and probably also indicates an element of impatience.

Japanese: Komorebi

This is the word the Japanese have for when sunlight filters through the trees — the interplay between the light and the leaves.

Russian: Pochemuchka

Someone who asks a lot of questions. In fact, probably too many questions. We all know a few of these.

Spanish: Sobremesa

The period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with.

Indonesian: Jayus

Their slang for someone who tells a joke so badly, that is so unfunny you cannot help but laugh out loud.

Hawaiian: Pana Poʻo

You know when you forget where you’ve put the keys, and you scratch your head because it somehow seems to help you remember? This is the word for it.

Urdu: Goya

This particular Urdu word conveys a contemplative ‘as-if’ that nonetheless feels like reality, and describes the suspension of disbelief that can occur, often through good storytelling.

Swedish: Mångata

The word for the glimmering, roadlike reflection that the moon creates on water.


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