'Jessica Fletcher', a contributor to Lonely Planet's online Thorn Tree travel forum started a great discussion on words that don’t exist in the English language. It got us thinking, wouldn’t it be good if the next time a Scot introduced you to the word tartle, you could say, 'Oh, yeah, we call that...thisissum'.
Using gems from the thread, and scouring the net, we’ve compiled a list of words that filled us with hygge (a Danish concept of cosiness). So, the challenge: take look at our list and see if you can come up with believable anglo-equivalents. Yes, make this list obsolete.
Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut. A word everyone understands, even if it can't be translated. But does it actually exist? Adam Jacot de Bonoid, who wrote The Meaning of Tingo* (a book documenting words that don't exist in English), questions its existence (while hoping that it's true).
Pisan zapra (Malay): The time needed to eat a banana. From Jacot de Bonoid's follow-up book Toujours Tingo (via The Times)
Ilunga (Tshiluba language, DR Congo): One thousand linguists voted in 2004 that this was the world's 'hardest to translate' word. How you determine such a thing is untranslatable in itself. Ilunga means 'a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time'. You've been warned.
Arigata meiwaku (Japanese): 'Misplaced kindness' or 'unwelcome kindness' according to Japan’s Cultural Code Words
Desenrascanço (Portuguese): Well, it’s apparently somewhat translatable as ‘disentanglement’ but that doesn’t come close to explaining it. Desenrascanço is the art of using whatever means at your disposal to extract yourself from a tricky situation. It is a feat of ingenuity and imagination. Actually come to think of it, there is a translation in English: to pull a MacGyver (thank you Urban Dictionary)
Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese): 'The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair,' says Altalang.
Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan, indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego): So sublimely contained that it's apparently been named the world's most succinct word by The Guinness Book of World Records. Wikipedia says it's 'a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to [initiate]'.
Mokita (New Guinean): The truth everyone knows but nobody says. Fast Company's Karin Fong, an untranslatable-word collector, names this as one of her favourites.
Gheegle (Filipino) When something is so ridiculously cute that you want to pinch it. In other words, the kind of feeling you get when looking at blogs like Daily Squee and Cute Overload (or Hungover Owls, if that's your inclination).
Prozvonit (Czech): This is one for the modern age. Meaning 'dropped call', it's apparently used when people deliberately call a mobile phone then quickly hang up. This way, the other person is forced to call them back and incurs the cost of the call.
Waldeinsamkeit (German): The 'feeling of solitude in the forest', say the word obsessives at Wordnik. Somewhat better than the feeling of not being alone in the forest.
*and discovered that Albanians have 27 words for moustache
Further reading: Lonelyplanet.com's article on 'words (and concepts) that can't be translated'