Part of my job is trying to find the exact right word for any given circumstance, making texts easy to read, clear to understand, and ensuring they evoke just the right feelings in the reader. My work is in English, but having lived for a long time in Finland I’m also aware of many wonderful Finnish words that I adore. But what about other languages? There are some beautiful words out there that we don’t have the pleasure of in either English or Finnish. Here are just a few.
A word from Papua New Guinea meaning the truth that everybody knows but nobody talks about. In English (and Finnish) it’s the elephant in the room.
German for “background thoughts”. An amazing word to say out loud, as fast as you possibly can. Hintergedanke, hintergedanke, hintergedanke.
In Persia, this is the word for when your teeth are uncontrollably chattering from the cold.
A word that makes you feel sorry for translators, mamihlapinatapei refers to a wordless yet meaningful look shared between two people who both want the other to initiate something they both want but neither wants to be the one to start. It comes from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego and is listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the most succinct word in the world.
An Inuit word for when you keep going outside to see if someone is coming.
An Indonesian word for a joke that makes you laugh only because it’s so unfunny and poorly told. I’ve definitely told a few of these.
The above won’t make any of my copy any time soon, but it’s fun to find words that can encapsulate concepts we all know in just a few letters. I’ve stayed away from Finnish and English here, but in the same spirit I will throw in one Finnish word at the end. Ever wanted an easier way to wonder if you should run around aimlessly? It’s pretty wordy in English, but the Finns have it covered. Juoksentelisinkohan?