Last Words

As any of you who follow or know me understand, I am quite the avid reader. I just recently finished the 1996 Japanese survival novel Battle Royale that many presume was a precursor to The Hunger Games series. As I read the book I found myself being very judgmental about the language being used and told my husband that I found it to be a bit sophomoric and not well edited. There just seemed to be so many words and so much useless information that could have been left out. I felt silly, however, when my husband told me to keep in mind the version I am reading is just an English translation. It would be impossible for a good English translation of a Japanese book to be written just for the sheer number of words they have that absolutely dont exist on our language. This is a bit hard to comprehend for me, but did bring to mind the series I have posted here and here listing words from other languages with no English equivalent.

It seems no matter how great the English language is, there are plenty of mots justes missing from its lexicon. Here, indulge in a third and final volume of wonderful words and phrases you might want to start working into conversation.

 I think my favorite is #6...

1. Seigneur-terraces (French)
Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money.
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2. Ya’arburnee (Arabic)
This word is the hopeful declaration that you will die before someone you love deeply, because you cannot stand to live without them. Literally, may you bury me.
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3. Schlimazel (Yiddish)
Someone prone to bad luck. Yiddish distinguishes between the schlemiel and schlimazel, whose fates would probably be grouped under those of the klutz in other languages. The schlemiel is the traditional maladroit, who spills his coffee; the schlimazel is the one on whom it’s spilled.
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4. Packesel (German)
The packesel is the person who’s stuck carrying everyone else’s bags on a trip. Literally, a burro.
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5. L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.
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6. Hygge (Danish)
Denmark’s mantra, hygge is the pleasant, genial, and intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends.
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7. Spesenritter (German)
Literally, an expense knight. You’ve probably dined with a spesenritter before, the type who shows off by paying the bill on the company’s expense account.
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8. Cavoli Riscaldati (Italian)
The result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship. Literally, reheated cabbage.
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9. Bilita Mpash (Bantu)
An amazing, pleasant dream. Not just a “good” dream; the opposite of a nightmare.
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10. Litost (Czech)
Milan Kundera described the emotion as “a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.”
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11. Murr-ma (Waigman, language of Australia)
To walk alongside the water while searching for something with your feet.


Thanks for exploring these words with me! I just thought the example of my understanding of Battle Royale was a great example of the importance of language and understanding culture. So fascinating to me!


Sources: In Other Words: A Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World (Christopher J. Moore, 2004); They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases (Howard Rheingold, 1988); The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World (Adam Jacot De Boinod, 2006); “Translating the Untranslatable,” Language Log (Geoffrey K. Pullum, 2010); “Weird Words From Around the World,” ABC News (2006)


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