Words English Could Use

I just came across an interesting article that discusses a number of words in other languages that are not lexicalized in English. (“Lexicalization” means that a language creates one concise word to express a specific concept.) So while we still have the ability to talk about these concepts, in English we have to beat around the lexical bush to get the idea across. Here are a few words English lacks that other languages have incorporated. For the full list, check out the article here.

(Text in regular font are from the article; text in italics is my own addition.)

1. Kummerspeck (German)
Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, “grief bacon.” (In my case, it would have to be “grief bread.”)

2. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
You know when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it? The Georgians feel your pain. This word means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.” (I think I’m meant to be Georgian.)

3. Tartle (Scots)
The nearly onomatopoeic word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember. (I experience Tartle whenever I have to call on my students with difficult Basque names.)

9. Mencolek (Indonesian)
You know that old trick where you tap someone lightly on the opposite shoulder from behind to fool them? The Indonesians have a word for it. (The more pressing question is, which culture thought to invent this game? It’s the bane of my existence as a middle-school teacher.)

19. Bakku-shan (Japanese)
A Japanese slang term, which describes the experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front. (Sort of similar to English’s “Butterface,” a girl who is really hot except for her face—everything “but-her-face.” In Spanish this same concept is called a “gamba,” meaning “shrimp,” since you tear off the head but eat the body ;)

20. Seigneur-terraces (French)
Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money. (Leave it to the French to call out the cheapskates. Some of us can’t afford to buy a 4-euro Parisian café au lait every 20 minutes!)

32. 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. (Such a cozy and enticing image, until you realize that all the fires in the world can’t make up for a mere 6 hours of sunlight in winter.) 

36. Luftmensch (Yiddish)
There are several Yiddish words to describe social misfits. This one is for an impractical dreamer with no business sense. (Maybe this one is lexicalized in English—doesn’t it just mean idealist?)

P.S. More words that English lacks.

What are some other examples of words that aren’t lexicalized in English? A common (and genius!) example from Spanish is “Estadounidense,” meaning someone from the U.S. So simple, and yet we only have “American”—which is rather pompous, if you think about it. 

  • Hahah this is great! We really lack those quirky, specific words in English (or maybe as I native speaker I just don’t notice them is much…)

    • Jenny

      Exactly! I wish I could view English with a non-native eye, it would be so interesting to see what we say that we’re not even aware of.