• Gia

It's just a feeling: 6 words that don't have an English equivalent

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

"One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can't utter."—James Earl Jones

I am quite an avid user of Pinterest and have boards galore covering almost every topic under the sun from tempting baking recipes to interior design to my future wedding inspiration. Cliché? Maybe. But it’s simply far too easy to get lost and immerse oneself in this world of endless aesthetic beauty and useful guides (it has been a godsend for birthday ideas to say the least).

One of my favourite boards must be my Word Board’. “How exciting Gia…” I hear you all mutter under your breath. Stay with me. The English language is rife with pulchritudinous (e.g. mellifluous) and grotesque (e.g. moist) verbiage. It is rich, dense and daunting, but also intricate, flowery and indulgent. The great writers of generations past (and of today) have been gifted the ability to spin together fine threads of words into masterpieces that defy time, teach us life lessons, make us cry and make us laugh. They are word magicians if you will. Words are some of my favourite things. To learn a new word (especially if it’s quite a cumbersome one) can be gratifying. I can recall that when I was a young girl I would often rifle through the dictionary and make lists of words to learn and get true excitement out of challenging myself to use them the following day (“I don’t like peas, they’re abhorrent!”) I continue to be entranced by the sheer power and beauty of words, with the facility to stir so much change both good and bad.

With this in mind, whilst I was perusing the millennial platform that is the Pinterest playground, I stumbled on a whole galaxy of new words. None of them were English words. These words were primarily descriptions of recognizable feelings or moods, ones that we usually just had a sense of rather than a word for in English. I was struck at the universal nature of these words, as it seemed to reveal commonalities between cultures and nations that I would not have even considered otherwise.

Today I would like to share just a few of my favourites with you.

1) Gökotta

Description: To rise at dawn to listen to the early morning birdsong

Country of origin: Sweden

I’m not sure about you but I far prefer this over “the early bird gets the worm”, especially as I have an innate aversion to all things creepy crawly. More of a daily routine for many Swedes, gökotta encourages people to get out of bed early, shake off the cobwebs and (in theory) adopt a positive mind-set first thing, which will remain with them throughout the rest of the day. Traditionally this is practiced on Ascension Day, forty days after Easter when you can hear the first cuckoo of spring, but now this has increasingly become a regular practice. If you decide to adopt this habit, you may just find yourself becoming an early riser, experiencing a burgeoning inner wellness and a connection to nature – how refreshing!

2) Fernweh

Description: A far sickness or longing for unseen places.

Origin: Germany

Comprised of the German words wander (to hike) and lust (desire), fernweh is the antithesis of homesickness (Heimweh) and a feeling I have experienced quite often. In the recent 21st century fernweh replaced the more familiar word wanderlust. Being quite a hyperactive person by nature my mind can often explode into overdrive, fizzing and overflowing with a burning desire to travel and explore places I have never seen before. My passion for travel is a by-product of having flitted between several different countries when I was younger. I learnt that my roots are wherever my family is, and I never developed strong attachments to a particular home base as such. As a result my yearning to go farther afield can be difficult to ignore.

3) Sisu

Description: Used to describe a stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, and bravery. Origin: Finland Embodying backbone and grit, this word falls on the other side of the spectrum to the above. This goes beyond courage and outlines the psychological strength required to soldier through the most difficult of circumstances to ensure you meet your end goal. It was and still is an important mantra for the Finnish throughout history. It was this inner strength that was tapped into for such feats as unlocking their fearsome vigour and brawn to fight off Soviet forces three times their size during World War II, to home front struggles of pushing through even the harshest and coldest of winters. This hardiness and internal strength is said to burn from your core outwards, and I strive to stoke my own internal flame when any hardship or issue presents itself.

4) Tsundoku (積ん読) Description: The art of buying books and never reading them. Country of origin: Japan

If you are a bibliophile I challenge you not to admit that you have indeed been a culprit of tsundoku. A term that is said to date as far back as 1879 and combines the words doku (to read) and tsuma (to pile up) and one that goes in hand in hand with the better known term bibliomania meaning ‘book madness’. Currently I have a pile of approximately eight books that I have yet to make a start on, but with so many exciting novels to explore how can you blame me? None lay forgotten and will soon be enjoyed as they should.

5) Komorebi (木漏れ日)

Description: Sunshine filtering through the trees

Origin: Japan

I love taking my daily walks through the common nearby (park for your non Londoners). It often reminds me of those watercolour forests that usually feature in Hiyazaki films. Heavily wooded and brimming with lush green trees that cover your path as you walk, their boughs melting into each other forming one large canopy overhead. Sometimes the wood clears into pockets of open grassy fields, a welcoming site for picnickers alike. But it is the dappled light filtering through the fluttering leaves that always offers a sense of the ethereal and one cannot help but sense a hushed shiver of magic in the air.

6) Hanyauku

Description: The act of walking on tip toes across warm sand Country of origin: Namibia

With quarantine still lingering here in the UK as the rest of Europe appears to be slowly waking up from it’s lock-down slumber, I have found my voracious hunger to travel continuing to gnaw at me. Many of us are suffering some severe feelings of ‘fernweh’, and I am one of them. So for now I will sit here picturing the soft sandy beaches of Jost van Dyke (actually any Caribbean island will do for that matter) and imagine the sounds of gentle waves lapping at the shoreline, counting down the days when we can all return to a true sense of normality again.

I must pause there otherwise I will continue rambling for pages and pages on all of the charming words out there that describe acts and emotions that we just can’t seem to find a word for in English. I have a particular affinity for the words I have chosen as they’re not just throw away or lightweight adjectives. They all encompass a semblance of substance that goes beyond the descriptive: containing a nation’s spirit, a symbolic religious ritual or a deep longing for the unknown and fanciful. These words advocate building one’s resilience, promoting inner strength, and serve as a reminder of the simple, yet enjoyable things in life. I encourage you to find your own favourite words that may become your personal mantras down the line. Go beyond the allure of surface definitions, and you may find not just a word, but also a new and improved way of thinking.

For more wordy inspiration, follow my Pinterest board of words to help get your started: https://pin.it/eGCRpV2

Bye for now,


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