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craig johnston 07-29-2007 04:07 PM

words we need
i've recently been struck by the number of german words which are not translatable into english, everyone knows about schadenfreude, but here are some of my other favourites:

begeistert - is usually translated as enthusiasm, but it is much more than that. the geist is the soul/spirit, and the word implies that you are so into something that it has entered your soul.

ausstrahlung - it's how you express your inner personality in public, it has to do with glowing, beaming, giving off rays of light, it's fantastic and wonderful and impossible to translate into english. if you describe someone as having a nice ausstrahlung, it's like saying they are charismatic and attractive in some way that isn't necessarily physical, but is extremely positive.

feierabend - celebration evening. it means the end of the working day, time to relax and have fun, especially on fridays of course. who said the germans were serious?

maybe you know some more stephi? anyone else know any words in other languages which could fill a gap which english fails to reach?


auntie aubrey 07-29-2007 04:24 PM

my personal favorite:



Satori is a Japanese Buddhist term for enlightenment. The word literally means "understanding". It is sometimes loosely used interchangeably with Kensho, but Kensho refers to the first perception of the Buddha-Nature or True-Nature, sometimes referred to as "awakening". Kensho is not a permanent state of enlightenment, but rather a clear glimpse of the true nature of creation. Satori on the other hand refers to "deep" or lasting enlightenment. According to D. T. Suzuki, "Satori is the raison d'etre of Zen, without which Zen is no Zen. Therefore every contrivance, disciplinary and doctrinal, is directed towards satori."[1] Satori can be found in every moment of life, it is wrapped in all daily activities, its goal to unwrap them to see satori.

As an analogy, we may think of a baby when it first walks. After much effort, it stands upright, finds its balance and walks a few steps (kensho), then falls. After continued effort the child will one day find that it is able to walk all the time (satori).

brightpearl 07-29-2007 04:49 PM

There's a word in Russian that means tourist sites, like landmarks you'd take a visitor to. I'm too lazy to crack out the Cyrillic at the moment, but it hardly matters -- It's 8 syllables and I understand it's translated syllable by syllable from German. Maybe you or Stephi know it?

T.I.P. 07-29-2007 04:50 PM

There is a very nice expression in french "Ítre bien dans sa peau" which literally means 'to be well in one's skin'. It has no equivalent (that I know of) in English. It translates a sense of well being, and inner peace. Usually when we refer to adolescents we say that they are not "bien dans leur peau" because they are in a constant state of restless agitation.

On a another level, being "bien dans sa peau" implies that at the present moment your mind is in your body and not wandering somewhere else. You are here, and you feel well.


brightpearl 07-29-2007 04:52 PM

^We say that, don't we? "Comfortable in your own skin", isn't it? I know smidges of several languages, and I get confused sometimes...

craig johnston 07-29-2007 04:59 PM

pearly - don't we just say sights? as in, 'i'm gonna show you the sights of novosibirsk baby!'

satori and feierabend = nirvana

brightpearl 07-29-2007 05:04 PM

^Yes, but I'm told there's a hella long word in German that is good for trivia purposes...:D

auntie aubrey 07-29-2007 06:04 PM


brightpearl 07-29-2007 06:14 PM

Not sure of its accuracy, but this article is fun. Here's most of the text.
1. "My favourite is the French 'l'esprit d'escalier', or spirit of the staircase. This is used to describe the precise moment a person comes up with a clever retort to an embarrassing insult. It is usually after leaving the party, and walking down the stairs that the quip comes to mind."
Lee, Wellington, New Zealand
2. "In Chinese if you tell a man they 'dai Lu maozi', meaning 'he wears the green hat', it means that his wife is sleeping with someone else."
Zac Teehan, Fredericton
3. "It's weird that English doesn't have words for 'vorgestern' (the day before yesterday) and 'ubermorgen' (the day after tomorrow)."
Anke, Germany
4. "I think my favourite word, and not for its literal meaning, is the Spanish 'puente' meaning bridge. Unlike ourselves, they cleverly place their bank holidays on a Tuesday so that Monday will, on most occasions, be treated as a bridge day (an extra day of holiday) ensuring a four day weekend. Ah, the Mediterranean lifestyle..."
Gary Walker, Barcelona
5. "My favourite is 'faire du leche-vitrines' which literally means 'to lick the windows' and translates as window-shopping.
Phil, in France
6. "I have a soft spot for the German 'luftkissenfahrzeug'. The literal translation being 'air cushion vehicle', but to you and I it is the simple 'hovercraft'."
Jude , Birmingham, UK
7. "In Cyprus, the instrument used to remove staples from paper is termed a 'petalouda', literally translated into 'butterfly'. Go figure."
Jasmine, Nicosia, Cyprus
8. "In Japanese, 'amakudari', literally descent from heaven, describes the phenomenon of being employed by a firm in an industry one has previously, as a government bureaucrat, been involved in regulating."
Jack L. Yohay, Nabari, Mie-ken, Japan
9. "My favourite is the Spanish for handcuffs...'esposas'...mi esposa means 'my wife'. So 'mi esposa, mis esposas' means 'my wife, my handcuffs'."
Ben, Bristol, UK
10. "In Arabic an electrical plug adapter that allows more than one plug to be plugged into the same socket is known as a 'harami', literally a thief."
Brian, Jeddah
11. "There are a few more interesting German words such as 'handschuhschneeballwerfer', which means somebody, who wears gloves to throw snow balls. It is used in general for all cowards."
Bernie, Duesseldorf
12. "In Romania 'pune-ti pofta-n cui' (literally - hang your craving in a nail on the wall) means to forget about getting something."
Gabriel, Bucharest, Romania
13. "In Japan we call a balding man's comb over a 'bar code'."
Kevin, Tokyo
14. "The Fuegians (from Tierra del Fuego) have a succinct word - 'mamihlapinatapai' and it means 'two people looking at each other each hoping the other will do what both desire but neither is willing to do'."
Zephyrus, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
15. "So far as I'm aware, no other language has anything equivalent to the Icelandic 'setja upp gestaspjot', a verbal phrase denoting the action taken by a cat when cleaning itself, with its body curled tightly in a circle and one back leg sticking directly up in the air. Literally it means 'put up a guest-spear' and when a cat was seen doing this it was supposed to indicate that visitors would be turning up."
Nicholas Jones, Cambridge, England
(OMG I am moving to Iceland based solely on the existance of that word.)
16. "I'm a student of the Ubykh language, which has a word - 'qaamch'ip'q'i' - that means 'a filigree metal ornament on the handle of a whip'. It's also an idiomatic term for someone whose good or kind outward appearance is deceptive."
Rohan Fenwick, Brisbane, Australia
17. "My favourite used to regularly appear on Austrian traffic reports - 'geisterfahrer' or 'ghost driver' - one travelling the wrong way up an autobahn."
Eric Pritchard, Clevedon, UK
18. "In Venezuela we have 'culebra', literally snake, but meaning a long, morbid, sentimental soap opera. 'My wife is watching the snake,' means that she is watching the soap opera."
Ivan, Caracas, Venezuela
19. "From Flemish: 'iets door de vingers kijken', literally it means looking at something through the fingers, allowing something illegal or incorrect to happen by conscious inaction."
Wouter Vandersypen, Washington DC
20. "As a native German one of my all-time favourites is the word 'gemutlich' - impossible to translate directly."
Jessica, Nottingham, UK

Hyakujo's Fox 07-29-2007 06:16 PM

and where would we be without wabisabi?

auntie aubrey 07-29-2007 07:03 PM


Originally Posted by brightpearl (Post 355908)
20. "As a native German one of my all-time favourites is the word 'gemutlich' - impossible to translate directly."
Jessica, Nottingham, UK


lukkucairi 07-29-2007 08:11 PM

I could not be without all sorts of words from the Meaning of Liff:

grimbister - a block of cars on the freeway all moving at exactly the speed limit because one of them is a police car

I got caught in a grimbister just south of Ogden. It didn't break up until North Salt Lake!

jalingo - a kind of joyous scattering - e.g. the alacrity with which the grimbister breaks up after the police car exits the freeway

He threw breadcrumbs at the pigeons with utter jalingo

acklins - those weird tingles you get in parts of your body while you're scratching other parts

When I scratch the back of my knee, I get acklins in my left eyebrow.

Tunesmith 07-30-2007 02:23 AM

awesome thread, craig! I've loved linguistics for a while, but unfortunately only one example comes to mind. it's my favorite, though:


In Japanese, "yoko" means "horizontal", and "meshi" means "rice", so together they literally mean "a meal eaten sideways". It's used as a description for the stress that comes

lukkucairi 07-30-2007 02:28 AM

grabalicious (also, gravalicious)

caribbean idiom: greedy, rapacious.

Anna 07-30-2007 02:39 AM

aka curry

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