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How Do You Say Mamihlapinatapei in English?

Dec 21, 2010

We all know there are plenty of words whose meaning is lost in translation, and have no English equivalent. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Kyoikumama – A Japanese word that literally means “education mother.” The kyoiku mama relentlessly drives her children to study, even to the detriment of their emotional well-being.
  • Jayus – Indonesian slang for a joke so unfunny you can’t help laughing.
  • Kaelling – A Danish word for a woman who stands on her doorstep yelling obscenities at her children.
  • Bufetak – Czech for a man who hangs around cafes and eats other people’s leftovers.
  • Toska – Not the Puccini opera, but definitely a word Floria Tosca might have used. It’s a Russian word for a state of agony, torment, restlessness, longing, and possibly boredom. Not to be used lightly.
  • Tartle – We can all relate to this one.  A Scottish word for the hesitation you experience when you are introduced to someone whose name you can’t remember.
  • Cafuné – A romantic word from Brazil. It’s the act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.
  • Prozvonit – Another great word from Czech. It means calling someone on their cell and letting it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. This term is probably not relevant in the U.S. though, since we are charged per minute regardless of who made the call.
  • Torschlusspanik – A German word that literally means “gate-closing panic.” It refers to the sense of alarm or anxiety (usually experienced near middle-age) caused by the feeling that life’s opportunities are passing or have passed.
  • Ya’aburnee – A paradoxical term of endearment in Arabic. It literally means “you bury me.” It’s a declaration of hope to die before a loved one, because of the pain of living without them.

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