A couple years ago, I bought on a whim a copy of Adam Jacot de Boinod’s I Never Knew There Was a Word for It, intrigued by the title and the book’s description. The book is a compilation of the author’s three earlier works on language and “strange” words — The Wonder of Whiffling, The Meaning of Tingo, and Toujours Tingo. To give you an idea of what the books are about, the cover of The Meaning of Tingo provides an example: In German, there is a word for “someone who pays without leaving the bill,” Zechpreller. In the intro to I Never Knew …, we learn that in Czech, nedovtipa is “one who finds it difficult to take a hint.” I’ve yet to really dive into the book, but it’s great to pick up and flip through, as I’m bound to learn a new word in a language I’m (likely) unfamiliar with.
With this in mind, I was excited to come across Fuschia Macaree’s collection of “untranslatable words” (available in a full A–Z print here!), via The Fox is Black. It’s nice to see the Swedish word fika on there (defined as a “relaxed social event with good friends involving coffee and pastries”), which I became quite a fan of when I studied abroad in Stockholm. I think it’s the somewhat roundabout/multi-word English translations that make these “untranslatable words” seem special. I particularly like komorebi, the Japanese word for “dappled sunlight through trees,” and mamihlapinatapai, the Yaghan word for “a shared look of desire which neither party are willing to initiate action upon.” Haven’t we all been there?
Find more words here!