The Oxford Dictionary has identified that there are 171,476 words in the English language currently in use. However, there are still many words that other languages have that capture a concept or meaning that can not be replicated in English. Many of these words encompass a bigger feeling or complex emotion, learning about them gives one a new perspective on language and even human nature.
In this blog, we dive deeper into the etymology and meaning of other non-English words that have no equivalent in the English language.
1. Fernweh – German
For all of us trapped inside our homes during coronavirus who long to travel, the Germans have a word for that: Fernweh, meaning, a pain to see far away places beyond our doorstep.
Fernweh combines the words fern, meaning distance, and wehe, an ache or pain, the word can be vaguely translated as “distance sickening” or “far woe” – a painfulness that is felt when seeing far-away places beyond. It is the opposite to heimweh (homesickness). It’s an ache many of us have felt, especially during the pandemic.
2. Komorebi – Japanese
A Japanese word for when the sun goes through the trees and the leaves filter the light.
There is no simple English translation for this particular word. Yet it is a distinct phenomenon that anyone who spends time outdoors will have experienced. Komorebi roughly translates as “the scattered light that filters through when sunlight shines through trees”. It is made up of three “Kanji” or Chinese characters: “tree” or “trees”, “leaking-through” or “escape”, and “light” or “sun”.
Komorebi tends to be more noticeable when the sun is low in the afternoon. The impact of Komorebi to the observer can create a pleasant ambience for a walk through the woods.
3. Hozho – Navajo
A Navajo word meaning working towards a sense of balance within oneself, art, beauty and life.
In the Navajo language, there is no word for religion or art. Instead, they use hózhó to describe both. It encompasses beauty, harmony and order – it expresses the idea of striving for balance.
This word has spiritual aspects to it, encompassing the philosophy of Navajo life. As humans, we straddle the border between health and illness, good and evil, life and loss. We strive to gain harmony in life, preserve its beauty, and find order again after the balance has been disturbed.
4. Natsukashii – Japanese
A Japanese word that is a combination of nostalgia and the feeling of fondness when remembering something for your past.
It is similar to the word, nostalgia, however, they are different. Nostalgia is associated with a longing for the past, natsukashii, on the other hand, is derived from the verb “natsuku”, which means “to keep close and become fond of” which indicates joy and gratitude for the past.
In Japan, natsukashii is a reminder that you are fortunate to have had certain life experiences. The fact that you cannot return to those moments makes them all the more special.
5. Schwellengangst – German
A German word meaning a fear of, or aversion to, crossing a threshold and trying something new.
The term has been associated with the feeling of intimidation one feels when they are about to enter a space or do something they are not accustomed to. The sense of unease can be caused by a variety of reasons such as negative past experiences or a fear of failure. Not everyone adapts to change and new beginnings as easily as others.
6. Shouganai – Japanese
A Japanese word meaning something similar to “que será, será,” whatever will be, will be.
The word itself is used to express acceptance of a bad situation. Shouganai is a mentality that is generally shared among Japanese people. When one has no control over a situation and has made peace with it, Like being caught in the rain with no umbrella. Shouganai is a reminder that while we can’t always control our environment, however, we can control how we react to these unfavourable situations.
7. Hygge – Danish
A Danish word for the warm feeling you have when enjoying great company.
Hygge goes far in illuminating the general Danish mentality. In essence, hygge means taking time to enjoy the better things in life with those you love. Some examples of Hygge include: The warm glow of candlelight, cosying up with a loved one for a movie, sitting around with friends and family and sharing memories and discussing life. Perhaps hygge explains why Denmark has been voted one of the happiest countries in the world.
8. Wabi-sabi – Japanese
A Japanese word for beauty that is imperfect or incomplete.
Wabi-sabi is the concept of finding beauty in every aspect of imperfection in nature. It is essentially a concept or ideology that comes from the ‘Buddhist teaching’ of the three marks of existence that are namely suffering (ku) and “impermanence” (mujō), emptiness or absence of self-nature (kū)”.
This meaning of Wabi-sabi is about allowing one to be more accepting and open to embracing the beauty of flaws and rawness of existence.
Here at Neo we aim to embrace what makes us all different, including culture. We feel that learning about other cultures’ approaches to different topics can give us a new perspective. If you’d like to read more from our cultural series, you can check out our recent blog on 10 Amazing Funeral Foods from Around the Globe .