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“If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.”
‒ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Do you agree with this quote? I know I do. Many languages have beautiful and unique words which cannot be translated. These words often represent concepts which are so unique to that culture, there is simply no equivalent in any other language.
We’ve collected 12 of our favourite Japanese words with no English equivalent.
The interesting thing about these words is that they reveal a lot about the Japanese character. Many of these words reflect Buddhist concepts which are unknown to many Westerners, but are central ideas in Japanese society.
By learning these unique Japanese words, you are one step closer to understanding the Japanese soul.
Shinrinyoku literally translates as ‘forest bath’. It refers to taking a walk in the forest for its restorative and therapeutic benefits. Can’t you feel yourself relaxing as you soak up all the lovely green light? Scientists have actually found that walking in the forest has many health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and stress hormones. It seems the Japanese are one step ahead with their shinrinyoku practise!
The sunlight filtered through leaves on trees. This is a beautiful word to describe a beautiful moment. You can enjoy some komorebi while taking your shinrinyoku!
Kuidaore means something like ‘to eat yourself bankrupt’. The word implies a kind of extravagant love of good food and drink – so much love that you will happily spend all your money on it! It comes from the words 食い (kui – eating) and 倒れる (daoreru – to go bankrupt, be ruined). Kuidaore has come to be associated with the Dōtonbori district in Osaka, famed for its many restaurants and nightlife spots. You have been warned!
Here’s one for the book lovers. Tsundoku is the practise of acquiring books and letting them pile up, unread. Anyone who just loves books but doesn’t have time to read them as fast as they buy them will understand this one. It uses the words 積む (tsumu – to pile up) and 読 (doku – to read). It’s also a clever pun, because tsunde oku means ‘pile up and leave’.
Wabi-sabi means imperfect or incomplete beauty. This is a central concept in Japanese aesthetics, which comes from Buddhist teachings on the transient nature of life. A pot with a uneven edges is more beautiful than a perfectly smooth one, because it reminds us that life is not perfect. A Japanese craftsman will intentionally add in a small flaw after completing his perfect work in honour of this concept.
Kintsugi (金継ぎ), also known as kintsukuroi (金繕い), is the practise of mending broken pottery with gold or silver to fill the cracks. This is a perfect example of wabi-sabi. Rather than rejecting a broken item, you can find a way to make it even more beautiful. This practise accepts the break as part of the object’s unique history.
Mono no aware 物の哀れ
Mono no aware can be translated as ‘the sadness of things’. It comes from the words 物 (mono – thing) and 哀れ (aware – poignancy or pathos). The ‘sadness’ in question comes from an awareness of the transience of things, as taught by Zen Buddhism. When we view something exceptionally beautiful, we might feel sad because we know it won’t stay so beautiful forever – but appreciation only heightens the pleasure we take in the beautiful thing in that moment. The best example of mono no aware in Japanese culture is hanami, the ritual of appreciating the cherry blossoms each year. Cherry blossom are very special to the Japanese, but the flowers bloom for only two weeks in the springtime. We appreciate the flowers even more because we know they will fall soon.
Irusu is when somebody you don’t want to speak to rings your doorbell, and you pretend nobody’s at home. I think people do this the world over, even if other languages don’t have such a concise word for it!
Here’s a cute one! A nekojita is a person who is sensitive to hot foods and drinks. It literally translates as cat tongue! It’s made from the two words 猫 (neko – cat) and 舌 (shita – tongue). Do cats really hate hot things? I don’t know, but this Japanese word implies that they do!
Karoshi means death from overworking. Tragically, the fact that there is a word for this in Japanese also tells you something about Japanese culture. Karoshi is usually associated with Japanese salarymen who work in a corporate culture of extreme long hours. The Japanese Ministry of Labour official defines karoshi as when somebody works over 100 hours of overtime in the month before their death. The phenomenon reached an all time high last year.
If you live in Japan, this one will be very useful for you! Shoganai means ‘it can’t be helped’. It’s a fatalistic resignation to a situation that is out of your control. It is often used to mean that there is no point complaining about a situation, because you will not have the power to change it. Some people suggest that the concept of shoganai is why Japanese people remain so stoic in the face of natural disasters such as tsunami and earthquakes.
Natsukashii is often translated as ‘nostalgic’. However, whereas nostalgic is a sad emotion in English, natsukashii is usually associated with positive feelings. Something is natsukashii if it allows you to relive happy memories of the past.
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A few years ago, I was introduced to the language of Japanese through work. These 12 beautiful Japanese words you have to know, for me, sum up how incredible the language is.
I remember the first time diving into the language of Japanese, I was smitten with the way the language could describe something. It was “words” we didn’t quite have in English. I found often that the Japanese language would often describe those in-between moments – the moments that are so hard to verbalize.
12 Beautiful Japanese Words You Have to Know
1. Shinrinyoku (森林浴)
You know that moment you walk through a forest and all of the natural, green light goes over you? This word describes that moment of soaking it all in and is translated as “forest bath.” How magical.
2. Ikigai (生きがい)
This was one of the first Japanese words I learned – it describes the reason for being, the reason for why you get up in the morning.
3. Itadakimasu (いただきます)
It’s often said before every meal and it means “I humbly receive.” It captures appreciation for the work that went into preparing the meal.
4. Natsukashii (懐かしい)
A word that captures the nostalgia for the past or close memory.
5. Wabi-Sabi (侘寂)
When I think of Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi comes straight to mind. It’s hard to capture in English but essentially describes the concept that beauty lies in the imperfections of nature.
6. Kanbina (甘美な)
A word that describes when a word sounds pleasant to hear.
7. Mono-no-aware (物の哀れ)
It essentially captures that beauty is subjective and that our senses to the world around us make it beautiful – especially that beauty is impermanent and makes us appreciate it more. The best example is cherry blossoms falling springtime.
8. Furusato (ふるさと)
Though it describes one’s hometown, it’s not always about where we are from but often where our hearts long for.
9. Tsundoku (積ん読)
I love this one. It describes someone who is a book lover and collects so many that they pile up. Like a cross between a book worm and a hoarder.
10. Majime (まじめ)
This is a reliable someone who gets things done, san the drama.
11. Yugen (幽玄)
A word that describes a deep emotional awareness when triggered by being aware of the universe.
12. Mamori Tai (守りたい)
It’s a phrase that essentially says “I will always protect you” and often comes from a loved one.
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100 Beautiful and Ugly Words
By Mark Nichol
One of the many fascinating features of our language is how often words with pleasant associations are also quite pleasing on the tongue and even to the eye, and how many words, by contrast, acoustically and visually corroborate their disagreeable nature — look no further than the heading for this post.
Enrich the poetry of your prose by applying words that provide precise connotation while also evoking emotional responses. (Note the proportion of beautiful words to ugly ones in the compilation below; it’s easier to conjure the former than the latter, though I omitted words associated with bodily functions, as well as onomatopoeic terms.)
Notice how often attractive words present themselves to define other beautiful ones, and note also how many of them are interrelated, and what kind of sensations, impressions, and emotions they have in common. Also, try enunciating beautiful words as if they were ugly, or vice versa. Are their sounds suggestive of their quality, or does their meaning wholly determine their effect on us?
Amorphous: indefinite, shapeless Beguile: deceive Caprice: impulse Cascade: steep waterfall Cashmere: fine, delicate wool Chrysalis: protective covering Cinnamon: an aromatic spice; its soft brown color Coalesce: unite, or fuse Crepuscular: dim, or twilit Crystalline: clear, or sparkling Desultory: half-hearted, meandering Diaphanous: gauzy Dulcet: sweet Ebullient: enthusiastic Effervescent: bubbly Elision: omission Enchanted: charmed Encompass: surround Enrapture: delighted Ephemeral: fleeting Epiphany: revelation Epitome: embodiment of the ideal Ethereal: celestial, unworldly, immaterial Etiquette: proper conduct Evanescent: fleeting Evocative: suggestive Exuberant: abundant, unrestrained, outsize Felicity: happiness, pleasantness Filament: thread, strand Halcyon: care-free Idyllic: contentedly pleasing Incorporeal: without form Incandescent: glowing, radiant, brilliant, zealous Ineffable: indescribable, unspeakable Inexorable: relentless Insouciance: nonchalance Iridescent: luster Languid: slow, listless Lassitude: fatigue Lilt: cheerful or buoyant song or movement Lithe: flexible, graceful Lullaby: soothing song Luminescence: dim chemical or organic light Mellifluous: smooth, sweet Mist: cloudy moisture, or similar literal or virtual obstacle Murmur: soothing sound Myriad: great number Nebulous: indistinct Opulent: ostentatious Penumbra: shade, shroud, fringe Plethora: abundance Quiescent: peaceful Quintessential: most purely representative or typical Radiant: glowing Redolent: aromatic, evocative Resonant: echoing, evocative Resplendent: shining Rhapsodic: intensely emotional Sapphire: rich, deep bluish purple Scintilla: trace Serendipitous: chance Serene: peaceful Somnolent: drowsy, sleep inducing Sonorous: loud, impressive, imposing Spherical: ball-like, globular Sublime: exalted, transcendent Succulent: juicy, tasty, rich Suffuse: flushed, full Susurration: whispering Symphony: harmonious assemblage Talisman: charm, magical device Tessellated: checkered in pattern Tranquility: peacefulness Vestige: trace Zenith: highest point
Cacophony: confused noise Cataclysm: flood, catastrophe, upheaval Chafe: irritate, abrade Coarse: common, crude, rough, harsh Cynical: distrustful, self-interested Decrepit: worn-out, run-down Disgust: aversion, distaste Grimace: expression of disgust or pain Grotesque: distorted, bizarre Harangue: rant Hirsute: hairy Hoarse: harsh, grating Leech: parasite, Maladroit: clumsy Mediocre: ordinary, of low quality Obstreperous: noisy, unruly Rancid: offensive, smelly Repugnant: distasteful Repulsive: disgusting Shriek: sharp, screeching sound Shrill: high-pitched sound Shun: avoid, ostracize Slaughter: butcher, carnage Unctuous: smug, ingratiating Visceral: crude, anatomically graphic
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Have you ever tried to describe something and been unable to find the right words for it?
Of course you have-that’s a natural part of learning any language.
Sometimes you even end up using a horribly wrong word or two.
It happens in your native language too, though, doesn’t it? Sometimes your language isn’t capable of describing a specific situation or item without using ten million extra words.
One of the great things about learning Spanish is that, the more you learn, the more you expand your mind.
For instance, there are numerous words that exist in Spanish that don’t have a direct English translation. That means that if you type them into Google for an English equivalent, chances are you’ll come up with a smattering of different words or sentences strung together to get the idea across.
That’s the point. For some, there’s simply not an easy translation. For others, the words may mean something direct in English (literally) but they mean something completely different when spoken in Spanish (context). All in all, you’ll be giving your brain tons of new ways to express ideas.
So, now it’s time to expand your vocabulary and expand your mind. Here are some wonderfully unique Spanish words that’ll introduce you to a world of new ideas and expressions.
Just a quick note: Remember not to simply learn words in isolation! Put these words into sentences, use them in everyday conversations and watch authentic videos to remember them.
One great way to hear authentic Spanish speech is with FluentU.
Some of the first things we teach our children are their colors right? Red, purple, black and so forth.
Have you ever seen a car that isn’t quite gray but it isn’t quite brown either? I have one, actually, and whenever English-speaking people ask me what color my car is I just shrug. When Spanish-speaking people ask me, I’ve got an answer.
Pardo – the color between gray and brown.
I have a friend who looks like he’s twelve even though he’s in his thirties. He doesn’t really have substantial facial hair, can’t grow a beard and has evidently found the fountain of youth.
I think we can all agree that we know someone or have seen someone like this. Maybe you can envision a boy in your middle school who was so proud of that one little whisker on his chin.
Lampiño – Hairless, but more specifically a man who cannot grow facial hair or has very thin facial hair.
It’s interesting that we don’t have this word in the English vocabulary. We have words that come close, but most of them are derogatory.
Manco – A one-armed man.
Apparently the Spanish-speakers of the world are much better at describing people’s physical features. I feel like having a word like this in English would make it much easier to describe pirates.
Tuerto – A one-eyed man.
Have you ever heard of the website People Of Walmart?
If not, you should hop on over there once you’re done reading this post. It’s full of pictures of people who decided to go to Walmart with no shame. Some of them are in pajamas. Most are wearing clothes that are too tight, inappropriate or downright scary.
Or, if that’s not ringing a bell, have you seen the TV show “What Not To Wear?” All episodes feature hidden camera footage of someone walking down the street clearly unaware of how ridiculous or frumpy they look. Of course, you can’t say anything if you see something like this in real life. Instead, you just shake your head.
Vergüenza Ajena – To feel embarrassed for someone even if they don’t feel embarrassed themselves. This is sometimes referred to as “secondhand embarrassment.”
Do you love Tim Burton? Or the sight of blood? Maybe you enjoyed reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe. You have a love for something dark and you aren’t sure why because, let’s be honest, it’s a little creepy or gross.
Morbo – A morbid fascination.
This one doesn’t happen to me very often because my sweet tooth is out of control. On a rare occasion, I’ll take a bite of dark chocolate cake with decadent chocolate frosting and think to myself, “Wow! That’s sweet!” Then a minute or two later I’ll regret that chocolate cake because my head is pulsing from sweetness overload.
Have you ever felt a little nauseated after seeing a couple being overly affectionate with each other, perhaps smothering each other in kisses on the street corner? This verb works for that, too.
Empalagar – When something’s sickening or nauseating because it’s too sweet.
Everyone is waiting for the quincena!
That’s the bi-monthly payment that many employees receive in the Spanish-speaking world: Once on the 15th of the month, and once at the end of the month. It’s almost like saying “a fortnight,” but they use 15 days as a marker instead of 14.
For people awaiting paychecks, that first payment of the month always falls on the 15th. Apparently 15 is more significant in Spanish than in English in general!
Quincena – A period of 15 days.
It’s sometimes argued that this is the most difficult Spanish word to translate into English. Why? In Spanish literature, especially poetry, this word is used very often to describe how a person feels about nature. However, especially in Spain, it can be used to describe an indescribable charm or magic that isn’t limited to nature. You might hear about the duende of flamenco singing, for example.
Duende – The feeling of awe and inspiration had, especially when standing in nature. The overwhelming sense of beauty and magic.
I have two daughters that are under the age of two. Naturally, my house is always a mess. I’m always a day behind and a dollar short.
This is a feeling I’m incredibly familiar with, but there’s no real way to describe it in English. Another time I often felt this way was when I was in college and I had two papers, an exam, a project and twenty pages of reading due the next day. Maybe I wouldn’t feel this so often if I were more organized…
We can also use this verb when we hear a piece of news that dumbfounds us or stuns us, leaving us speechless and/or bothered.
Aturdir – When something overwhelms, bewilders, or stuns you to the point that you’re unable to focus and think straight.
While we’re on the subject of my daughters, my oldest daughter becomes very frantic when I leave her. Whether I’m leaving for work or just leaving the room, oftentimes she’ll panic. Even if her dad is still in the room with her, she’ll stress when I’m not with her.
Enmadrarse – When a child is very attached (emotionally) to their mother.
This summer my husband was shadowing a doctor to learn more about his practice. When people asked how we knew the doctor it became really confusing really fast. If only concuñado were a word in English.
Concuñado – The husband of your spouse’s sister or the husband of your sister-in-law.
Another word about family that would solve a lot of confusing explanations.
My daughter has two sets of grandparents, my parents and my husband’s parents. We can clearly explain the relationship of both sets of grandparents to my daughter, to me and to my husband (mom and dad and the in-laws). But what are they to each other?
Consuegro – The relationship between two sets of in-laws. My parents and my husband’s parents are consuegros.
Have you ever held a mirror in your hand, caught the sun’s glare just right and shined it in your older brother’s eyes? Let’s be honest, who hasn’t?
Resol – The reflection of the sun off of a surface or the glare of the sun.
You’ve been sitting on the porch enjoying the evening. But now the sun has set. The yawns are starting to set in. The evening’s coming to an end and you all decide to go indoors.
Recogerse – To go indoors in the evening once the day is over or to go home to rest or go to bed.
After you go shopping, you’re beyond excited to wear your new clothes for the first time. At least, that’s how I always feel. Sometimes I’ll even wait until I know that I’ll be around a lot of people so I can show off my new digs.
Estrenar – To wear something for the first time or to break something in.
In English we often call this “going out for coffee.” But that’s very limiting to just getting coffee. Merendar widens that idea up quite a bit.
Merendar – Going out to have a snack, coffee, brunch or some other small meal.
While living in Argentina, my family loved to go out to eat at the local restaurants. The atmosphere was incredibly different from any restaurant I’ve been to in the United States.
Once the meal is over in the United States, the waiter usually will bring you the check, you’ll pay immediately and you’ll leave. In many Spanish cultures, it’s very common to stay at the table for hours after the meal is over and just talk over a cup of coffee.
Sobremesa – The conversation that takes place at the dinner table after the meal is over.
Much like sobremesa, puente speaks to the Spanish culture. Now, puente does mean bridge but, in some cases, it’s a very specific (and abstract) bridge that we don’t talk about much in English.
Puente – When Thursday is a holiday and you take off Friday to bridge the holiday to the weekend, or, likewise, when Tuesday is a holiday and you take off Monday to extend your weekend.
Technically this word can be translated directly into English, but it’s a lengthy, wordy phrase. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a single word?
Antier – The day before yesterday.
Antier is a bit antiquated, and anteayer is the more common phrase in modern day.
My neighbor’s mom was in town staying with her for a few days. Overall, the weather was pretty nice and sunny. Then all of a sudden it started snowing. She came downstairs and told her daughter, “There’s a flight leaving in an hour, I’m out of here!”
Friolento – Someone who’s sensitive to the cold. The cold can refer to the weather, drinks or food.
We’ve all had those nights when we’ve tossed and turned and tried to sleep but just couldn’t convince the sandman to stop at our mattress.
Desvelado – Unable to sleep or sleep-deprived.
You’re in a new relationship. You’re really starting to fall for this guy/girl. You like them as more than a friend, but jumping from friend to “I love you” is like trying to jump across a wide lake. If only you had a stepping stone.
Te Quiero – More than “I like you,” but not quite “I love you.”
Usted versus tú is a confusing concept for someone who’s just learning Spanish or for someone who speaks no Spanish at all. We don’t have a formal and an informal speech in English.
Tutear – When you speak to someone in the informal tú form.
While I was living in Argentina, I’d have friends ask me about my nationality. “I’m American,” I’d reply. “North American or South American?” “North American…I’m from the States…” would be my unsure reply to that follow-up question.
If only I’d known that Spanish has a more specific word for this than English does!
Estadounidense – Someone who’s from the United States.
Do you remember Bert and Ernie from “Sesame Street”? Bert had that fabulous unibrow which was really a fuzzy line across his puppet face. He didn’t have an entrecejo.
Entrecejo – The space between your eyebrows.
Have you ever seen a car that’s literally being held together by zip ties and duct tape? Or maybe someone has made a cake and it looks awful?
Chapuza – A lousy job, a shabby piece of work. When something’s put together poorly.
Dar Un Toque
This phrase was probably more applicable before texting was so widely used. But it’s still something that I find myself doing when I want someone to call me back and I know they won’t answer my initial call.
Dar Un Toque – Calling someone, letting it ring once, then hanging up so the person knows to call you back.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that in English we haven’t needed this word. It makes sense that, with as much political unrest as there has been in Spanish-speaking countries, there would be a specific Spanish word for someone like Franco.
Golpista – The leader of a military coup.
We all know that person who loves hugs and kisses and affection in general. They may even like to be fussed over. We could be talking about our grandma who loves hugging and kissing us, or our cat who wants your constant attention and petting.
Mimoso – Someone who enjoys being given affection or wants to give affection in the form of physical contact.
Sometimes, the mimosos in our lives enjoy pavonearse.
Pavonearse – Strutting around like a peacock, acting like they own the place.
Everyone does this a million times a day without even realizing it. Tying our shoes. Washing our hands a certain way. Pouring our cereal first then the milk.
Soler – Doing something out of habit, doing something that you’re used to doing.
Maybe if we had a fun word in English like this, children would stop being annoyed when someone else has the same name as them.
Tocayo – Someone who has the same name as you.
This isn’t a concept that’s uncommon in any culture worldwide. However, Spanish has consolidated another wordy English phrase into a single elegant word.
Amigovio(a) – Friend with benefits.
Well, there you have it!
Next time you can’t find the word in English, just drop the Spanish word casually.
“Oh your name’s Jessica? My name’s Jessica. We’re totally tocayas. “
Try it out!
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