Saturday, November 26, 2011


On my virtual travels this morning, I found a list of words that are particularly difficult to translate into the English language. I was struck by how many of them I am feeling all at once, with the peculiar heart-heaviness that comes from catching someone's passing mood, denied but there all the same, its presence evident in the way it has invaded me and now lives in the area of my chest, locking my throat and making these words whisper through me, vague tendrils of sadness leaving an aura, toska, or maybe saudade, I can't tell exactly, I only know that many of these words offer as good an explanation as any for the mood that has claimed me, though to be fair I started the whole mist rolling by letting some other words jump from my lips when I should kept them trapped under a bucket. Marylinn Kelly once wrote, "Trap nasty things under a bucket and ask questions later." I should have sat down on that bucket and let the nasty thing fear kick itself out. I know you don't know what I'm talking about and that's okay. The words below say everything I cannot manage at this moment. Enjoy.

Russian – “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness.”

Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.”

Indonesian – “A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.”

Inuit – “To go outside to check if anyone is coming.”

Czech – Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, remarked that “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” The closest definition is a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.

Japanese – “A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement.”

Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.

Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”

Czech – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish, the phrase for this is “Dar un toque,” or, “To give a touch.”

Brazilian Portuguese – “The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.”

German – Quite famous for its meaning that somehow other languages neglected to recognize, this refers to the feeling of pleasure derived by seeing another’s misfortune. I guess “America’s Funniest Moments of Schadenfreude” just didn’t have the same ring to it.

German – Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.” (

Japanese – Much has been written on this Japanese concept, but in a sentence, one might be able to understand it as “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.” (

French – The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country.

Pascuense (Easter Island) – Hopefully this isn’t a word you’d need often: “the act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.”

Danish – Its “literal” translation into English gives connotations of a warm, friendly, cozy demeanor, but it’s unlikely that these words truly capture the essence of a hyggelig; it’s likely something that must be experienced to be known—good friends, cold beer, and a warm fire.

L’appel du vide
French – “The call of the void” is this French expression’s literal translation, but more significantly it’s used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.

Arabic – Both morbid and beautiful at once, this incantatory word means “You bury me,” a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

Spanish – While originally used to describe a mythical, spritelike entity that possesses humans and creates the feeling of awe of one’s surroundings in nature, its meaning has transitioned into referring to “the mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person.” 

Portuguese – One of the most beautiful of all words, translatable or not, this word “refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.” Fado music, a type of mournful singing, relates to saudade.

Found at Consumed by Wanderlust


  1. I know I don't know what you are referring to but then again, I am so right there with you soul sister, in this mystery of anguished love and motherhood all rolled into the painful ecstasy of life. To know the joy we have to embrace the despair and loneliness too. Nothing worthwhile is EVER easy. Sending love to you across the miles.....

  2. I'm keeping this list. Thank you for posting it.

    Iktsuarpok, I love this one, I love them all, but this one is somehow so clean and simple and open.

    I'm going outside now to see if anyone is coming.

    I don't know what words you wished you had bucketed and sat on, but I know the feeling, very well.

    May we have buckets when we need them.

    love d

  3. i need these. all of them. thank you, angella.

  4. Beautiful list of words, thanks for letting my mind wander over them this rainy Saturday. I only knew two of them, but need many of them, especially tartle. I tartle all the time! I like suadade the best, for I'm feeling a little bit that way today myself. Hope this mood leaves you sooner rather than later.

  5. Angella! I wish you were not suffering AT ALL, not one bit but I know it happens. And in whatever it is you are feeling, you have found these words and you have given them to us and isn't it like a head-splitting-open-in-a-good-way to know that there are words for these things? I so often experience toska and it's a REAL thing! I remember mamihlapinatapei (how I wish my tongue knew that one) and remember it with sharp fondness. I have never been enough of a kyoikumama, I do a Jayus all the time. Tartle? That's me. I, too, wish for Ya'aburnee.
    Oh. Can I link this? Would you mind?
    You may keep your words under a bucket sometimes if you MUST but please, do not keep your light under a bushel. We are all loving you. We are loving your light, even as you feel in darkness.

  6. Marvelous words! I have a friend whose cat is named "Duende".

  7. Kathleen, thank you, dear one. and love back to you.

    Deirdre, buckets aplenty. and people we love coming down the road towards us. love to you, darling woman.

    dottie, i need them too. i am glad they speak to you. but i'm thinking they surely would. xo.

    Mel, it helps the name the mood. It makes it a little more sweet and a little less bitter, i find. i hope by now you are feeling more in the line of cafune, or something. hugs.

    Ms. Moon, i knew you would get these words. i knew they would resonate for you as they did for me. somehow i knew that. love to you, dear.

    T.C., that is indeed a beautiful word, and sentiment. Happy thanksgiving to you!

  8. So many jewels here. Saudade, indeed.

  9. Oh, my god. This post just thrills the word-geek in me. I kept thinking that each word was my favorite, and then I'd scroll down, and the next would become my favorite. I don't know what you're talking about, but I can intimate threads of it. Is there a word for "intimating threads of thought?"

  10. Oh how fun!

    BTW in Liberia we say "beep me" for dar un toque. We just don't say it in the US because we have such ridiculous cell phone companies that we're charged whether we call or receive. But often in Liberia my phone rang once and I called the person back.

    Hygellig was in a book I just read - The Girl Who Fell from the Sky - I enjoyed the book quite a lot. The word is "gemuetlich" in German, and I miss using it.

  11. what a comfort/inspiration to return to your blog and read this posting after the holidays, when so many emotions that are impossible to name linger in the air. thank you, angella, the good and wise one.

  12. Dear Angella,
    I know exactly what you're talking about.
    ps. wherever did you find such a beautiful list of words?

  13. Steph(anie), jewels. yes. I might never write another post. I might just choose a word each day to explain what mood holds sway. ha.

    Elizabeth, i had the same experience reading this list, loving each new word I encountered. as for that word for "intimating threads of thought," it is probably a good solid english word, empathy maybe. something that holds the feeling of generosity and friendship. my love.

    NOLA darling, i shall have to get and read that book that holds within it such a fine word. thank you for mentioning it.

    susan t., emotions impossible to name, and so many of them at once. it really is like that, isn't it. thank you for being here.

    Yolie, do you catch moods the way i do? i hate when it happens and that i can't just shake it off, even though i know it's not really my mood to carry. perhaps it is the nature of love, of loving. and the link to the site where i got the words is at the end of the post, under the photo, which i also found at that site, consumed by wanderlust. love, dear one.

  14. May I add another word? 'Eunoia' meaning beautiful thinking. It happens to be my favourite word and always puts me in a good mood.

  15. This is one to print out and put on the fridge! Inspiring!

    They do a native Alaskan word of the day on the public radio in Anchorage, I used to love listening to that. Here's the link if you're interested:

  16. These are fantastic! I wish English had more more of these - are "one word for love" language.

  17. Love this post. Beautiful just like the author.

  18. I'll be saving these...the precision of language seduces me, wishing we had (or I knew) more words that said what needed saying without 5 minutes of hand gestures to explain them. We don't need to know the specifics here to understand the depth of feeling. (I didn't remember about the bucket. Thank you.) xo