Tim Lomas
Use your words

216 positive emotions that have no direct English translation

Quartz: There are hundreds of positive emotions that have no direct English translation

University of East London psychology lecturer Tim Lomas has corralled some of the most striking non-English words about emotions for Westerners to appreciate. While the words describe phenomena experienced and celebrated by many cultures, no easily-expressible equivalents exist in English.

The paper has two main aims. First, it aims to provide a window onto cultural differences in constructions of well-being, thereby enriching our understanding of well-being. Second, a more ambitious aim is that this lexicon may help expand the emotional vocabulary of English speakers (and indeed speakers of all languages), and consequently enrich their experiences of well-being.

Many of these (like zeitgeist, chutzpa, savoir-faire and nirvana) are in common English usage. I’ve excerpted some of the ones I found most interesting…

Feelings: Positive

  • Se déhancher (French, v.): to sway or wiggle one’s hips (e.g., while dancing).
  • Desbundar (Portuguese, v.): shedding one’s inhibitions in having fun.
  • Feierabend (German, n.): festive mood at the end of a working day.
  • Mbuki-mvuki (Bantu, v): to shed clothes to dance uninhibited.
  • Pretoogjes (Dutch, n.): lit. ‘fun eyes’; the eyes of a chuckling person engaging in benign mischief.
  • Ramé (Balinese, n.): something at once chaotic and joyful.
  • Samar (سمر) (Arabic, v.): to sit together in conversation at sunset/ in the evening.
  • Schnapsidee (German, n.): a daft / ridiculous plan thought up while drunk (generally used pejoratively).
  • Sobremesa (Spanish, n.): when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing.
  • Sólarfrí (Icelandic, n.): sun holiday, i.e., when workers are granted unexpected time off to enjoy a particularly sunny/warm day.
  • Tertulia (Spanish, n.): a social gathering with literary or artistic overtones.
  • Utepils (Norwegian, n.): a beer that is enjoyed outside (particularly on the first hot day of the year).
  • Mерак (Serbian, n.): pleasure derived from simple joys.
  • Cwtch (Welsh, n.): to hug, a safe welcoming place.
  • Trygghet (Swedish, n.): security, safety, confidence, certainty, trust.
  • Estrenar (Spanish, v.): to use or wear something for the first time.
  • Fjellvant (Norwegian) (adj.): Being accustomed to walk in the mountains.
  • Flâneur (French, n.): someone who wanders the streets to experience the city.
  • Hugfanginn (Icelandic) (adj.): lit. ‘mind-captured’, to be charmed or fascinated by someone/something.
  • Shemomechama (შემომეჭამა) (Georgian, v.): eating past the point of satiety due to sheer enjoyment.
  • Tyvsmake (Norwegian, v.): to taste or eat small pieces of the food when you think nobody is watching, especially when cooking.
  • Kukelure (Norwegian, v.): to sit and ponder, without engaging in activity.
  • Zanshin (残心) (Japanese, n.): a state of relaxed mental alertness (especially in the face of danger or stress).
  • Nirvāna (निर्वाण) (Sanskrit, n.): ‘ultimate’ happiness, total liberation from suffering.
Positive lexicography, by themes

Positive lexicography, by themes

Feelings: Complex

  • Hahn (한) (Korean, n.): sorrow, regret, patiently waiting for amelioration.
  • Iktsuarpok (Inuit, n.): anticipation one feels when waiting for someone, and keeps checking if they’re arriving.
  • Þetta reddast (Icelandic, phrase): ‘it will all work out ok’ (used especially when things don’t look optimistic!).
  • Dor (Romanian, n.): longing for a person, place, or thing that is out of reach and you love very much.
  • Fernweh (German, n.): the ‘call of faraway places,’ homesickness for the unknown.
  • Nakakahinayang (Tagalog, n.): a feeling of regret for not having used something or taken advantage of a situation.
  • Tîeow (เที่ยว) (Thai, v.): to wander or roam around in a carefree way.
  • Chiaroscuro (Italian, n.): dramatic contrasts of light and dark (usually pertaining to art).
  • Kanso (簡素) (Japanese, n.): elegant simplicity, an attractive absence of clutter.

Relationships: Intimacy

  • Ah-un (阿吽) (Japanese, n.): unspoken communication between close friends, literally ‘the beginning and ending of something’.
  • Cafune (Portuguese, n.): the act/gesture of tenderly running one’s fingers through a loved one’s hair.
  • Famn (Swedish, n.): the area/space within two arms, e.g., ‘in my arms’.
  • Frimousse (French, n.): a sweet/cute little face.
  • Mamihlapinatapei (Yagán, n.): a look between people that expresses unspoken but mutual desire.
  • Agape (ἀγάπη) (Greek, n.): selfless, unconditional, devotional love.
  • S’apprivoiser (French, v.): lit, ‘to tame’, but a mutual process – both sides learning to trust/accept the other.
  • Ongubsy (Boro, v.): ‘to love from the heart’.
  • Onsay (Boro, v.): ‘to pretend to love’.
  • Onsra (Boro, v.): ‘to love for the last time,’ the feeling that love won’t last.
  • Razljubít (разлюбить) (Russian, n.): the feeling a person has for someone they once loved.
  • Yuán fèn (緣分) (Chinese, n.): a relationship ordained by fate/destiny.

Relationships: Pro-sociality

  • Beau geste (French, n.): a graceful, noble or beautiful gesture (especially if it is futile or meaningless).
  • Fremdschämen (German, n.): vicarious embarassment/shame; a cringing feeling.
  • Kreng-jai (Thai, n.): ‘deferential heart,’ the wish to not trouble someone by burdening them.
  • Pole (Swahili, interjection): ‘I’m sorry for your misfortune’.
  • Tithadesh (תתחדש) (Hebrew, interjection): lit. ‘get new’; salutation given to someone who has acquired a nice new possession or change in circumstances.
  • Apramāda (अप्रमाद) (Sanskrit; appamada in Pali, n.): moral watchfulness, awareness of the ethical implications of one’s actions.
  • Giri (義理) (Japanese, n.): duty, obligation, a debt of honour.
  • Imandari (الإستقامة) (Arabic, n.): ‘righteousness,’ cultivating good words and deeds.
  • Tarbiya (تربية”) (Arabic, n.): on-going moral/ethical and spiritual development.
  • Chai pani (चाय पानी) (Hindi/Urdu, n.): lit. ‘tea and water’; favours or money given to someone to get something done (similar to a ‘bribe’, but without a negative connotation).
  • Ta’ârof (تعارف) (Farsi, n.): politeness, social intelligence (e.g., in relation to receiving/offering hospitality/gifts).
  • Tzedaka (Yiddish, n.): generosity/charity (mandated by justice), required righteous giving.
  • Commuovere (Italian, v.): to be moved, touched or affected (e.g., by a story).
  • Enraonar (Catalan, v.): to discuss in a civilised, reasoned manner.
  • Mokita (Kivila, n.): a truth that everone knows but no-one talks about.
  • Talanoa (Fijian Hindi, v.): to tell stories / to gossip (in ways that serve as a ‘social adhesive’).
  • Inuuqatigiittiarniq (Inuit, n.): being respectful of all people.
  • Janteloven (Norwegian/Danish, n.): a set of rules which discourages individualism in communities.​
  • Radarpar (Norwegian, n.): Two people that work very well together.

Character: Resources

  • Að nenna (Icelandic, v.): ability or willingness to persevere through tasks that are hard or boring.
  • Querencia (Spanish, n.): a place where one feels secure, from which one draws strength.
  • Stehaufmännchen (German, n.): lit. a roly-poly toy, used for someone who always bounces back.
  • Arrangiarsi (Italian): the ability to ‘make do’ or ‘get by’.
  • Fingerspitzengefühl (German): ‘fingertip feeling,’ the ability to act with tact and sensitivity.
  • Kombinować (Polish): working out an unusual solution to a problem, acquiring skills in the process.
  • Sprezzatura (Italian): nonchalance, art and effort are concealed beneath a studied carelessness.
  • Pochemuchka (почемучка) (Russian, n.): someone who is always asking questions (perhaps too many!).
  • Won (원) (Korean, n.): reluctance to give up an illusion.
  • Engentado (Spanish, v.): to be ‘peopled out’, to wish for solitude.
  • Ilunga (Tshiluba): being ready to forgive a first time, tolerate a second time, but never a third time.
  • Sunao (素直) (Japanese): meek, docile and submissive (in a positive, deferential way).
  • Kintsugi (金継ぎ) (Japanese): literally, ‘golden joinery’ (the art of repairing broken pottery using gold), metaphorically meaning to render our flaws and fault-lines beautiful and strong.

Character: Spirituality

  • Apramāda (अप्रमाद) (Sanskrit; appamada in Pali): moral watchfulness, awareness of the ethical implications of one’s actions.
  • Kekau (Indonesian, n.): regaining consciousness and returning to reality after a nightmare.
  • Aufheben (German, v.): sublimation; to raise up, to remove/destroy, yet also paradoxically to preserve/keep.
  • Kaizen (改善) (Japanese, n.): gradual, incremental (and often continuous) improvement.
  • Kenshō (見性) (Japanese): temporary ‘glimpse’ of awakening and enlightenment.

Newly coined English words

I’ve separated these from the main list for further research. Some, like sonder, I have heard before, but there are many I hadn’t.

  • Ambedo (English, new coinage, n.): a melancholic trance involving total absorption in vivid sensory details.
  • Chrysalism (English, new coinage, n.): the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.
  • Degrassé (English, new coinage, adj.): entranced and unsettled by the vastness of the universe.
  • Grok (English, uncommon): to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed
  • Kenopsia (English, new coinage, n.): the strange eerieness of empty or abandoned places.
  • Klexos (English, new coinage, n.): the art of dwelling on the past.
  • Lutalica (English, new coinage, n.): the part of your identity that doesn’t fit into categories.
  • Nodus tollens (English, new coinage, n.): when your life doesn’t make sense or fit into a neat story.
  • Opia (English, new coinage, n.): the ambiguous intensity of eye-contact.
  • Semaphorism (English, new coinage, n.): an enigmatic, conversational hint that you have something personal to say on a subject.
  • Socha (English, new coinage, n.): the hidden vulnerability of others.
  • Sonder (English, new coinage, n.): the realization that everyone has a life as vivid and complex as your own).

I wonder what a list of negative words (like schadenfreude) would look like? I’d like to think there would be fewer than 216 words, but somehow I doubt it…

See also


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