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


Volta, a Greek word describing a leisurely stroll down the street. Jugaad, a Hindi term meaning the ability to get by. Gumusservi: Turkish for the subtle glimmer that moonlight makes on water.

Too little of the world’s astoundingly rich lexicon for feelings of beauty, positivity, and well-being exists in English alone. As such, 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.

Lomas published 216 of these so-called “untranslatable” words in the Journal of Positive Psychology last week aiming to both “help expand the emotional vocabulary of English speakers” and “provide a window onto cultural differences in constructions of well-being”; the words are also neatly laid out on his website by theme.

Here are some of the loveliest, alongside translations by Lomas into their nearest-possible English definition:

  • Ah-un (Japanese): Unspoken communication between close friends
  • Að jenna (Icelandic): The ability to persevere through hard or boring tasks
  • Cafune (Portuguese): Tenderly running fingers through a loved one’s hair
  • Fargin (Yiddish): To glow with pride at the success of others
  • Gökotta (Swedish): Waking up early to hear the first birds sing
  • Gula (Spanish): The desire to eat simply for the taste
  • Iktsuarpok (Inuit): The anticipation felt when waiting for someone
  • Kreng-jai (Thai): The wish to not trouble someone by burdening them
  • Mbuki-mvuki (Bantu): To shed clothes to dance uninhibited
  • Querencia (Spanish): A secure place from which one draws strength
  • Santosha (Sanskrit): Contentment arising from personal interaction
  • Sarang (Korean): The wish to be with someone until death
  • Schnapsidee (German): An ingenious plan hatched while drunk
  • Seijaku (Japanese): Serenity in the midst of chaos
  • Sobremesa (Spanish): When the food is gone but the conversation is still flowing
  • Tarab (Arabic): Musically-induced ecstasy or enchantment
  • Toska (Russian): A wistful longing for one’s homeland
  • Uitwaaien (Dutch): Walking in the wind for fun
  • Waldeinsamskeit (German): A mysterious feeling of solitude in the woods
  • Yuan fen (Chinese): A binding force impelling a destined relationship
  • Yutta-hey (Cherokee): Leaving life at its zenith; departing in glory.

Lomas notes in the journal article that he plans to pursue further research on the potential benefits of his positive, emotional, “cross-cultural lexicography.” Offering readers these small glimpses of linguistic beauty seems a good start.

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