22 Untranslatable Words

When I was young I would “ikstuarpok” when I was expecting friends. I often “pana po’o” when I’m working. And I hope I never “shenmei pilao”. Many times, you can’t quite find the word in English to describe something. Thankfully, other cultures and languages have such words. It makes you wonder why English doesn’t have them. Here are 22 such words:

1. IKTSUARPOK (Inuktitut, v.) To go outside frequently to see if someone is coming.

2. CANTEYUŠLOG (Lakota, v.) To have a change of mind toward a more necessary good.

3. PENA AJENA (Mexican Spanish, n.) The embarrassment felt by watching someone else’s humiliation.

4. PANA PO’O (Hawaiian, v.) To scratch or strike one’s head in the service of remembering something.

5. WANAY (Quechua, v.) To stop doing something for fear of the consequences.

6. CAFUNÉ (Brazilian Portuguese, n.) To act lovingly stroking someone’s hair.

7. HANISA (Yamana, v. prefix.) To do something haphazardly, hoping but hardly expecting to accomplish the desired aim.

8. TARTLE (Scots, v.) To hesitate or be uncertain in recognizing a person or object.

9. TORSCHLUSSPANIK (German, n.) A sense of alarm or anxiety caused by the suspicion that life’s opportunities are passing one by.

10. DÉPAYSEMENT (French, n.) A disorientation caused by a change of scenery

11. NAZLANMAK (Turkish, v.) To feign reluctance; to act coy.

12. NADRYV (Russian, n.) A split, tear, rupture; a paroxysm, crack-up; hysterics, anguish.

13. YOIN (Japanese, n.) A lingering memory of an experience that continues to reverberate.

14. SHENMEI PÍLÁO (Mandarin, v.) To see so much beauty that one grows tired of it

15. MUWASWAS (Arabic, adj.) Obsessed with delusions.

16. TAGUMI (Hausa, n.) A resting of one’s head on the hand or knee in deep thought.

17. ILINAANDU (Fula, n.) A high-pitched joyous cry made by women, especially at festivities.

18. MBUKI-MVUKI (Bantu, v.) To take off one’s clothes in order to dance.

19. MELATAH (Malay, n.) A condition in which one speaks or acts wildly after being startled.

20. SEAKAL-AKAL (Indonesian, adv.) With all one’s strength and mental abilities.

21. LOSKOP (Afrikaans, n.) A person with a ‘loose head,” i.e., who is absentminded or inattentive,

22. JALANYPA  MULYU-MULYU (Warlpiri, n.) A rapid, repeated poking of the tongue in and out of the mouth, typically in anger.

You can purchase a world map with these words at Lapham’s Quarterly.

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