Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Twenty words and phrases that don't exist in English: no 2

Well, it seems quite a few of you are logophiles like me or at least found some amusing words in my last post. Here are some more while I’m on a roll and then I’ll return to my little series on ‘What makes my heart sing’. Okay? Here goes.

1. mamihlapinatapai: (Yaghan) a look shared between two people suggesting an unspoken desire. It may be used to describe the look of longing shared between two people who are both too shy to act upon their feelings. That one’s for you, Anonymous – is it the one you were looking for?
Too pretty
2. Backpfeifengesicht: (German) a face that is just asking to be slapped or punched. This is a goodie, isn’t it?

3. nunchi: (Korean) the art of listening to someone and gauging their mood. If only more people practised this. And well.

4. tatemae: (Japanese) that which someone pretends to believe. We’ve all done it, especially with our children.

5. honne: (Japanese) that which someone actually believes. A related word, this probably describes our children.

6. sgiomlaireachd: (Scottish Gaelic) being interrupted at meal times. This describes precisely the situation in which you have just sat down to begin a delicious meal, only to be interrupted by an infuriating knock at the door or a phone call.
Remember how we once used such telephones?
7. tingo: (Pascuense) to borrow things from your friend until they have absolutely nothing left. Hmm, not a very ‘friendly’ thing to do, I would have thought!

8. desenrascanco: (Portuguese) the art of coming up with a solution or plan at the last possible minute, without any resources (literally ‘disentangling’ oneself from a tricky situation). Are you skilled at that?

(All found here)

9. Tantenverführer: (German) a young man with suspiciously good manners (literally an ‘aunt seducer’). Brilliant. I love it. You accentuate the first syllable,‘Tant’.

10. Trennungsagentur: (German) someone hired by a woman to tell her boyfriend he has been dumped. How business-like! Or chicken.

11. layogenic: (Filipino) someone good-looking from afar but ugly up close. Not polite but we’ve all thought it, haven’t we?

12. gwarlingo: (Welsh) the sound of a grandfather clock before it strikes. Just magic.
How elegant
13. pisan zapra: (Malay) the time needed to eat a banana. What an elastic measurement of time!

14. mouton enragé : (French) when someone calm loses their temper (literally ‘an enraged sheep’). What a vision!

15. fensterln: (German) climbing through a window to avoid someone’s parents so you can have sex without them knowing. It’s so visual – the word for ‘window’ is ‘Fenster’.

16. momma ko ene: (Cheyenne) having red eyes from crying over your boyfriend marrying someone else. Fortunately, I’ve never needed this one. Maybe you have.
A moment artfully captured

17. tlazlimquiztli: (Aztec) the smell of adulterers. You’re kidding!

18. nosom para oblake: (Serbian) someone conceited (literally ‘he is ripping clouds with his nose’). You can just imagine the nose sticking up so far in the air.

19. traer la lengua de corbata: (Latin American Spanish) to be exhausted (literally, ‘to have your tongue hanging out like a man’s tie’). How evocative!

20. sjostygg: (Norwegian) someone so ugly the tide refuses to come in if they stand on the shore. The hands-down winner for me.

(All found here)

A book which seems to include many of these words and phrases and plenty more is Toujours Tingo: Extraordinary Words to Change the Way We See the World by Adam Jacot de Boinod. That’s one for my Christmas wishlist!

So, which words and phrases here are your favourites? Do any make you giggle or even wince? Do share!


  1. Can you use the work 'sgiomlaireachd' to refer to the meals interrupted by the kids requests for a drink, or in a restaurant when you can see your food emerging from the kitchen just as your 3 yr old decides they need to go to the toilet? Love the words - thanks for sharing!

  2. Absolutely, on both counts, Ange. Life with littlies seems to be punctuated by such interruptions ☺. J x

  3. Who would have thought fruit could be an instrument of measuring time like that! Fun post :)

  4. Backpfeifengesicht. I'm using it. Oh how I love German! x

  5. I know, Kerry, it cracks me up. And Bron, I'm with you! J x

  6. So hilarious, as a non literary person & maths type, i really enjoyed this!! Love Posie

  7. Its so funny you posted this! We were just discussing words not translatable into English over the weekend as both my parents and aunts and uncles are Korean speaking and they always say they can't find the words to express what they're feeling in English... LoL. Nunchi is definitely a good one :)

    There's also one of my favorites in Korean, "Bhun-dae" - which we call my brother. Means, someone who always lives off someone else (taking others food, spending other ppls money, getting lifts from other etc...). hehe

  8. I wish I could just remember them when I need them!...Fun posts, xv.

  9. ha ha! I love that the Aztecs could smell adulterers. Unfortunately we don't seem to be able to do that any more.

  10. I'm so glad they made you smile, ladies. And thanks for 'bhun-dae', Jenn - that's going straight to my list! J x

  11. Hi Jane,
    What an interesting post. I'm a Welsh speaker, so am very excited that you included a welsh word. My favourite welsh word that just can't be translated is "hiraeth' it means having a longing for things gone by.Just as a bit of extra information 'Gwarlingo' is also a title of a Welsh book by the author TJ Davies. I have just discovered your blog, and will definitely be popping back for another read. x

  12. Hi Bethan Thanks for stopping by! Ooh, I'll add that word to my list. J x

  13. Love the word posts. I studied Russian for three years in college, and at one time, hit the point where I was fluent enough that I would occasionally dream in it. Sadly, now, I'm losing it, as I don't speak more than a word or two here or there with my husband on occasion. (He lived in Russia for a year of his life doing missions work.) I WISH I was good at languages but am not....is there a word for that, I wonder?

  14. I particularly love tantenverfuhrer! I'm using it!

  15. I don't think I could go past sjostygg, either. I just wish I could pronounce it!

    Great list, so funny!

    x Sarah

  16. Ooh, Val, I'm sure it's buried somewhere in the depths of your brain, waiting to be called into action again! I'm not sure - I'll keep a lookout.

    You're right, Misssy M, it's a crack-up!

    I would, too, Sarah. Mr Google is being disagreeable at the moment. J x

  17. I didn't know the word Tantenverführer, but Backpfeifengesicht is commonly used esp. among older people (my parents' generation), as the young ones are coming up with new words all the time ...
    Did you know the word "Gesichtselfmeter" for somebody who is ugly, probably comparable to the Norwegian word with the tide ... funny.
    Men who don't like to wear ties call them "Schlucksperre" or "Kulturstrick". ;)

  18. So cool to see you here, Jule! No, Gesichtselfmeter is new to me, as are the others. Thanks for updating my slang ☺. J x


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, you gorgeous soul. You've just made my day! J x

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