One of the most magical things about language is the element of “semantic range.” This is the realm of meaning for a word that gives language its depth and colour.

For example, in English the word “house” can mean “the building in which I live”. It can also be the verb “to house” meaning  “to keep under shelter”.  It however can also mean, “dynasty” such as the “House of Windsor” or it could mean a type of theatre –  “play house” or a toilet – “out house.” This doesn’t account for other usages such as idioms, “to bring the house down” or “to get on like a house on fire.”

Quickly we can see the richness of language and good writers pick up these nuances and play them to maximum effect, much like great musicians play with notes, chords and keys.

Words are simply human thoughts, and when words are lost, or whole languages die, unique thoughts are lost. George Orwell, in 1984, in his description of a dystopic future world ruled by “Big Brother”, describes the gradual elimination of words from the dictionary in an effort to curb thought.

So in celebration of the richness of language and the richness of thoughts, please enjoy this series of “untranslatable words from other languages”.

1. Fernweh (German)

2. Komorebi (Japanese)

3. Tingo (Pascuense)

4. Pochemuchka (Russian)

5. Gökotta (Swedish)

6. Bakku-shan (Japanese)

7. Backpfeifengesicht (German)

8. Aware (Japanese)

9. Tsundoku (Japanese)

10. Shlimazl (Yiddish)

11. Rire dans sa barbe (French)

12. Waldeinsamkeit (German)

13. Hanyauku (Rukwangali)

14. Gattara (Italian)

15. Prozvonit (Czech)

16. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)

17. Papakata (Cook Islands Maori)

18. Friolero (Spanish)

19. Schilderwald (German)

20. Utepils (Norwegian)

21. Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan)

22. Culaccino (Italian)

23. Ilunga (Tshiluba)

24. Kyoikumama (Japanese)

25. Age-otori (Japanese)

26. Chai-Pani (Hindi)

27. Won (Korean)

28. Tokka (Finnish)

29. Schadenfreude (German)

30. Wabi-Sabi (Japanese)


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