Merriam-Webster asked for words that do not have an English translation. Here are some: NPR
The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s Twitter account sent out a call asking people to share words in other languages that don’t translate perfectly into English. People came through.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The dictionary tweeted the other day. The account was run by Merriam-Webster, and it asked people to share the words they consider perfect from other languages that do not have an exact equivalent in English. A lot of people responded to that tweet, so we asked some of them to tell us more about their favorite non-English words.
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JULIE CAFLEY: My name is Julie Cafley. I’m calling from Ottawa, Canada. My favorite word that is not in English is a French word – debrouillard. And debrouillard, if you translate it literally, means someone who removes the fog. The closest thing in English would be the idea of someone who is resourceful, who is creative, who shows a way through the fog or through the controversy and who just gets to results, effective. It’s a quality I like in people, and it’s something I always try to say in English. And actually, the word does not exist.
RAFA MARTINEZ-AVIAL: Hello. My name is Rafa, and I am a software engineer based in San Francisco. And today I want to talk about the word estrenar, which is a Spanish word that has no real translation in English. It could mean breaking into something, but it doesn’t have to be something you wear. So it could be a new car, a new pair of shoes or even, for example, a new partner that you are taking to a party or social gathering with you for the first time. Generally though, there’s not, like, a general translation, which is funny because I feel like I usually have this problem the other way around where English has so many words that sometimes it’s just really hard to find a Spanish word that tells you. the same nuance or the same signs as an English word.
KYLE WARK: My name is Kyle Wark. My names are Tlingit (speaking Tlingit). I am a health care researcher in Anchorage, Alaska. The word I shared was haa shagoon, which means our ancestors. But because the Tlingit believe in reincarnation, it is our descendants too – the ancestors who come back to us. But it also means a lot more than that, too. It means the history of our ancestors encoded in places, stories, songs, names, art, customs, etc. that guide our lives. The concept of haa shagoon is also related to haa kusteeyix, which means our way of life or our culture.
STEPHANIE THOMPSON: My name is Stephanie Thompson. I am originally from Lebanon. And in Lebanese Arabic, one of my favorite words is soubhiye, which refers to that time in the morning when no one else is awake but you and you can have some quiet time to yourselves before the family is awake. My mother often had soubhiye alone or with one of my sisters or friends. And now that I’m a mother of two myself and no longer sleep in, I really appreciate that time when you can just gather your thoughts and that time to have for yourself.
UPDATE: That was Stephanie Thompson, Kyle Wark, Rafa Martinez-Avial and Julie Cafley with some of their favorite words.
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