The translation of languages, generally speaking, is no easy task unless you speak or write it fluently.
Case in point, how many times have you been in a situation where you’ve had to sheepishly say, “I really don’t know how to explain it ”or “I wish there was a word for this?”
Each language has its own linguistic, grammatical as well as semantic complexities. As a result, many ideas, descriptions or feelings are simply “lost in translation” with some being “untranslatable.”
As a bookworm from womb to present, I was ecstatic to take some classes during my studies that completely shifted my idea of words and the meaning they hold. My History of the English Language, Linguistics 101, and Current English Grammar classes blew me away with the beauty of language’s history—from culture to culture and continent to continent.
Many of the majestic words spoken throughout the world defy direct English translation. Therefore, almost in spite of themselves, they provide this incredibly magical glimpse into human experiences that are taking place whether we notice it or not.
Here are just a few of my favs that just about every culture uses but probably didn’t even know are shared experiences with others cultures from around the world.
*Pronunciations are the English equivalent
Pronunciation: so – bre – me – sa
Meaning: The conversation at the table that continues after a meal is over.
You know those conversions that we can get so swept up in hours after the meal is over? In Latin cultures, this practice is so common that they gave it its own word! Talk about a wonderful tradition to stay connected, in our busy lives!
Pronunciation: hi – mot
Meaning: The place we’re connected to that shaped who we are.
Your roots. Your home. The place that makes us who we are. This is what heimat refers to. It also refers to the attitudes and beliefs we’ve formed that have evolved over generations.
Pronunciation: forels – ket
Meaning: The feelings you have when you’re falling in love with someone but you haven’t quite reached love yet.
That giddy feeling in the pit of your stomach when we haven’t quite yet reached the point of full-blown “I love you,” but we’re past that initial crush phase, is forelsket in a nutshell. In English, the best we’ve got for this quirky feeling in a relationship is, “I really, really like you a lot!”
HYGGE OR HYGGELIGT
Pronunciation: hyoo – guh – lit
Meaning: A feeling of extreme comfort or coziness.
You know that cozy feeling we get whenever fall comes around? Well, look no further for the perfect word to describe it. Now, most of my Danish friends will cringe at my oversimplified comparison of hyggeligt as “it defies translation” (their words not mine 🤗) but I gotta try cause, 1) it’s just that awesome, and 2) I’m a fall girl, all day every day.
To many Danes, hyggeligt is a warm tingly feeling of comfort in your chest and your bones that makes you want to stay in the moment forever. It can be anything from being home for the holidays to enjoying a warm cup of coffee and cuddling up with a good book, your significant other or furry friend.
A cosiness for the soul, you could say, but the best way to describe hygge is with what translator ToveMaren Stakkestad sayas “ Hygge was never meant to be translated – it was meant to be felt.” I’m officially swooning..
Pronunciation: mor – gan – frisk
Meaning: Feeling fresh after a good night’s sleep.
The nights when we experience good, uninterrupted, nightmare-less sleep, is rare, but whenever we do, the morning after feels extra splendid. I’m talking Disney-princess-singing in the forest and all the animals chime in with a chorus!
De-stressed and reenergized, we’re ready to take on the blues of the weekdays plus a smattering of whatever lies ahead.. That feeling right there is morgenfrisk.
RÈ NAO (热闹)
Language: Mandarin Chinese
Pronunciation: ri – nao
Meaning: Bustling with noise and lively excitement
Now this one is a little hard to translate as with many words that connote a feeling of expression, but the true meaning of rè nao goes beyond “lively” or “bustling.” It’s more so a vibe or something special that makes everyone want to be there. So a bar may be rè nao but so can a university class or volunteering.
Pronunciation: mir – ak
Meaning: Enjoyment of the simple things in life.
Notice a pattern with feelings with global languages? Yes? Well, Merak refers to a feeling of bliss and the sense of oneness with the universe that comes from the simplest of pleasures. In short, it’s the pursuit of small, daily pleasures that all add up to a great sense of happiness and fulfillment.
Pronunciation: moo – an – gata
Meaning: Moon Road..it’s literally the trail of light left by the reflection of the moon on the sea
Getting some Little Mermaid vibes? The Old Man and the Sea? Heck even a little Pirates of the Carribean? Who knew that beautiful reflection of moon light that captivates our imaginations from books to movies, as well as daydreams, o actually has a beautiful single word to describe it. Pretty cool right?
CHANTER EN YAOURT / YAOURTER
Pronunciation: shan – tay / an / ya – ourt (like scoot)
Meaning: Literally “to yoghurt”
This expression is used for someone trying to fudge their way to song lyrics that you don’t really know or filling in the words with tra-la-la sounds. It’s particularly used for singing in another language, but could just as well be used for those faking their way through a Journey song on karaoke night. Who hasn’t done it and is up for doing it again!
Pronunciation: gg – vee – shaa
Meaning: Literally, it’s translated as “life expectancy” but its meaning is much deeper
The Hindi word jijivisha refers to the strong eternal desire to not only live, but to continue living. It’s usually used to talk about a person who loves life and always has intense emotions and desires surrounding the process of thriving.
No matter how you say it, how you live it, take a moment to enjoy everyday actions while being mindful that somewhere in the world there’s a name for that!