Found in translation

I’m reposting this collection of words from Lonely Planet, words that have no translation in English, expressing something particular in other languages, something that may help out on travels or just to understand the cultural and social psyche of the nation you’re visiting. They’re useful, hilarious and very unique.

Saudade – Portuguese for a melancholic longing for better times. It can be a longing for something concrete, a person who has left or passed away. But it can also be a ‘vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist’. Rooted in their Fado culture.

Schadenfreude – Can’t be translated neatly into other languages – but eminently understood. Deriving happiness from others’ unhappiness.

Litost – an untranslatable emotion that only a Czech person would suffer from, defined by Milan Kundera as ‘a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery’. So a sort of counterpoint to schadenfreude in a way. Kundera himself apparently said “I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.”

Wabi sabi – an ‘old fashioned Japanese word that is the basis of their aesthetics meaning the subtle beauty of nature, the profound in the ordinary, and the aesthetics of imperfection.’

Vacilando – a Spanish term for the act of wandering when the experience of travel is more important than reaching the specific destination. John Steinbeck (in Travels With Charley: In Search of America, 1962) wrote: ‘In Spanish there is a word for which I can’t find a counterword in English. It is the verb vacilar, present participle vacilando. It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but does not greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction.’

Mamihlapinatapei – Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – an eye contact implying ‘after you…’ – the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.

Ya’aburnee Arabic: Both morbid and beautiful at once, this incantatory word means “You bury me”, a declaration of one’s hope that they will die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

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