One of the best parts of learning a new language is discovering words that we don’t have in English. Many of them describe a specific feeling or mindset — like schadenfreude — that we’ve experienced, but have never had a word to capture it. Some of these words are so accurately able to put a name to a feeling, that they’re now regularly used in English, like the aforementioned schadenfreude, or more recently, hygge.
If you’re a fan of peppering your conversations with these untranslatable words, there’s a website that has catalogued more than 500 words in 70+ languages. Here’s what you need to know.
How to discover new untranslatable words
The website is called Eunoia — which itself is an untranslatable word meaning “a well-mind or beautiful thinking” in Greek. A tool at the top of the page allows you to search for specific words, or for untranslatable words from a particular language, or those categorised under a tag (like “happiness” or “stress”).
But if you don’t have a word, language, or feeling in mind, the homepage also contains a list of randomly generated untranslatable words. For each word, Eunoia provides its definition, the language, the tags, and little icon you can click on to hear the word pronounced correctly. Once you’re done with that page and want more, just refresh the page and the next batch will appear. You can also suggest other untranslatable words that aren’t already featured on Eunoia.
A few examples
So what amazing new words can you learn? Here’s a small sample:
Ayurnamat (Inuktitut): The philosophy that there is no point in worrying about events that cannot be changed
Bixomets (Catalan): Shame on behalf of others
Cavoli riscaldati (Italian): Literally “reheated cabbage.” When you attempt to start up a failed relationship or love affair
Karelu (Tulu): The mark left on the skin by wearing something tight
Layogenic (Tagalog): Good-looking from a distance
Lítost (Czech): State of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery
Madrugada (Spanish): The time of day occurring between past midnight and early morning
Packesel (German): The person who’s stuck carrying everyone else’s bags on a trip
Shouganai (Japanese): It cannot be helped