10 Words for Emotions We Don't Have in English but Should

April 7th 2017

Almie Rose

You're probably familiar with the German word "schadenfreude," which loosely translates to taking delight in someone else's misfortunes. It's the "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" of words.

It's the perfect word for describing this particular emotion, and one that we don't have in English. In fact, there are a lot of words for feelings, emotions, and well, just being human, that we don't have in our English language. And some people think this keeps us from growing.

Tim Lomas, a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London, aims to change that.

He started a project, the Positive Lexicography Project, to collect these words for emotions, from delightful to bittersweet, in order to expand our world view. You can search for these words on the project home page by either "theme" (like "pleasure") or "language" (from Afrikaans to Yiddish).

BBC News, who spoke to Lomas in January, wrote  "learning these words, he hopes, will offer us all a richer and more nuanced understanding of ourselves." As he told BBC News, "They offer a very different way of seeing the world."

And as such, Americans might be better off if we had these words to express these emotions. If we had a better way of expressing our feelings and emotions, Lomas seems to suggest we'd be better off mentally and emotionally. Here are some such words, with all definitions quoted from The Positive Lexicography Project.

1. Sisu (Origin: Finnish)


Definition: "Extraordinary determination/courage, especially in the face of adversity."

This was the word that first inspired Lomas to do his project. "According to Finnish speakers," BBC News reported, "the English ideas of 'grit', 'perseverance' or 'resilience' do not come close to describing the inner strength encapsulated in their native term. It was 'untranslatable' in the sense that there was no direct or easy equivalent encoded within the English vocabulary that could capture that deep resonance."

2. Mbuki-mvuki (Origin: Bantu)


Definition: "To shed clothes to dance uninhibited."

3. Gigil (Origin: Tagalog)


Definition: "The irresistible urge to pinch/squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished."

4. Uitwaaien (Origin: Dutch)


Definition: "Lit. 'to walk in the wind'; to go out into nature (e.g., the beach, or countryside), perhaps to clear one's head."

5. Wabi-sabi (侘寂) (Origin: Japanese)


Definition: "Imperfect and aged beauty, a ‘dark, desolate sublimity’." The BBC piece defines this as "a Japanese term that describes our appreciation of transient and imperfect beauty - such as the fleeting splendour of cherry blossom."

6. Magari (Origin: Italian)


Definition: "Maybe, hopeful wish, wistful regret, in my dreams, if only."

7. Samar (سمر) (Origin: Arabic)


Definition: "To sit together in conversation at sunset/ in the evening."

8. Kekau (Indonesian)


Definition: "Regaining consciousness and returning to reality after a nightmare."

9. Dépayser (Origin: French)


Definition: "A pleasant sense of disorientation or strangeness from being in a foreign country."

10. Mamihlapinatapei (Origin: Yagán)


Definition: "A look between people that expresses unspoken but mutual desire."


There are hundreds more words categorized, and you can even submit your own word to the project

[H/T BBC News]