Foreign Words the English Language Needs
Because language shouldn't be a barrier.
Oh hello. I’m finally getting around to making this news article that I said I might do, like, a month ago. Sorry, I’m not used to writing news articles. Bear with me.
Back in August, I started a series in my forums for cool foreign words. It went over extremely well and numerous people requested that I combine them into a handy-dandy news article for deviantART at large to enjoy. So, here you are: fifteen foreign words that the English language needs to
Hiraeth (Welsh) What it means:
A feeling of longing associated with displacement, but not necessarily displacement from one’s original home. An intense yearning to be somewhere you are not. Hiraeth also expresses a sort of ache or longing for something of the past, somewhat similar to the notion of "golden" or "good old days," but with more ancient connotations. Why it needs to be a thing in English:
I speak as someone from a country with a rich history of immigration and diverse ethnic culture, and as someone with a longing to see Ireland. Wanderlust is a near compulsion some days. We can always use more words to describe intangible longing, and maybe, in the process, make that longing a little more accessible. Further Reading
Koi No Yokan (Japanese) What it means:
The sense one can have upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love. Differs from “love at first sight” as it does not imply that the feeling of love exists, only the knowledge that a future love is inevitable. Why it needs to be a thing in English:
Because we're far too damn taken with this teenage "love at first sight" bullshit.
I don't begrudge anyone their fairy tales and indeed I know the words to nearly any Disney song you care to name (and have something like 150 of them collected in my iTunes >.>)
, but this concept has always bugged me thanks to the way it influences real-life relationships. Koi no Yokan describes a relationship that evolves and progresses - "true love" carries an implication that the relationship is the same from day one to forever, because if it's a perfect match/relationship, why should
it ever change? A new word, no less romantic, but with different connotations, is a good place to start getting out of that rut.
Rhwe (Tsonga, South Africa) What it means:
To sleep on the floor without a mat, while drunk and naked. Why is needs to be a thing in English:
What it means: Literally meaning ‘you bury me’, this is the hope that a person or loved one will outlive you as to spare yourself the pain of living life beyond that person. Often spoken by parents to children.
Why it needs to be a thing in English: Are you kidding? Did you read the definition? That’s not some whiny “I can’t live without you” declaration of love. Ya’aburnee is hardcore. You fall so hard with Ya’aburnee, it puts you in the ground. Not to mention the word is like a sonata to the ears. Go ahead – say it out loud. Ya-ah-boor-nay. Morbid and gorgeous.
What it means: “To slake an emotional or spiritual thirst; to be revitalized.” Sabsung is the thing that makes you happy to be alive, the thing you struggle through a long workday just to get to.
Why it needs to be a thing in English: We all have hobbies, but sabsung goes deeper than that and can have spiritual undertones that the word hobby simply doesn’t carry. Maybe your hobby is something as domestic as cake decorating, but if you get a true joy and release out of it, then it’s more than that – it’s a need, not something to pass the time.
What it means: The “call of the void.” The urge some people get to jump from high places when they encounter them, for example when close to the edge of cliffs. Laden with pseduo-philosopical connotations.
Why it needs to be a thing in English: The closest thing I can think of is “suicide,” or perhaps “vertigo,” but that’s not it. It’s not a sense of disorientation or a suicidal urge at all, and indeed never even appears until one happens to find themselves in a high place – say an office building, or perhaps while hiking. The call of the void is that tiny voice in the back of your mind that says “jump.” The one you would never listen to, but can’t help but wonder what the free fall is like. The urge to do exactly the wrong thing in a given situation, something Poe might have called “the imp of the perverse.” It’s a siren song, enticing with promises of the unknown.
What it means: The day after tomorrow.
Why it needs to be a thing in English: It’s such a simple thing. Why don’t we already have a single word for this concept of time? It honestly doesn’t make any sense now that it’s been brought to my attention. And the English language could always use more Z words.
Mono no aware (Japanese):
What it means: Literally “the pathos of things” or “a sensitivity to things.” A term used to describe the awareness of the impermanence of all things and the gentles sadness one feels at their passing. Somewhat similar to the Western phrase “memento mori.”
Why it needs to be a thing in English: English is a language of instant gratification, and of the present tense. Our society looks forward to brighter things, better things, to the newest fads and trends. The wistfulness inherent in a term like mono no aware is foreign to how our minds work.
Mono no aware recognizes that earthly things are beautiful precisely because they are temporary, that the spring must be tempered by autumn. In a culture obsessed with eternal youth through surgery, the so-called golden years are giving way to plastic years.
What it means: A rather uniquely Thai concept, greng-jai involves not wanting to put someone else in an uncomfortable position. That feeling you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a pain for them. A little bit similar to the “little white lie” in that the lie is told to spare the feelings of the person lied to, instead of lying to save face.
Why it needs to be a thing in English: What’s interesting about this word is what a big perspective flip it is. Say you have three people in a movie theater. One person is on their cell phone – not loudly, not enough to ruin your movie experience, but just enough to pull your attention away. It annoys you. But the third person in the row is not bothered at all, enjoying their popcorn and laughing at all the jokes, happily ignoring the interruption. You are the one with the problem because you can’t push aside the minor distraction. You are the one that needs a sense of greng-jai.
What it means: To carry a heavy burden together; the relationship between two people who carry a burden. Similar to reciprocity as the carriers often bear the burden as a mutual arrangement.
Why it needs to be a thing in English: It’s just one of those feel-good words, one somewhat similar to charity, but without the negative connotation of accepting without giving back. Better to bear a burden together than be another charity case, right?
What it means: Finding beauty in something considered imperfect, like the crack in the liberty bell, or the Venus de Milo’s lack of arms.
Why it needs to be a thing in English: I’ve always liked the concept of finding magic in small places – the dandelion growing in a sidewalk crack, the streetlight spotlight, the oil on puddles. Wabi sabi gets right to the heart of that and goes even further by insisting that a thing is beautiful precisely because it is imperfect. So quit fussing over your hair so damn much, it looks fine in a messy ponytail.
What it means: To repeatedly run your fingers through someone’s hair. Usually done in a soft and affectionate manner.
Why it needs to be a thing in English: I’ve used this concept before in my own writing, and I still really love it. It’s so pretty and simple and I just want to make it a verb in English so I have an excuse to use it.
Retrouvailles (French) What it means:
The joy experienced after meeting again after being a long time apart. Why it needs to be a thing in English:
It’s another one of those simple words where everyone knows the feeling and we don’t have a nice concise word for it. “Happy” is probably the closest equivalent, but it’s a very specific kind of happiness, one that anybody can relate to instantly. Given the increasingly global world we live in, this is the sort of word we need when we come home from a long trip abroad.
Komorebi (Japanese) What it means:
The sort of scattered, dappled light effect that happens when sunlight shines in through tree leaves. Why it needs to be a thing in English:
Oh my GOSH, I love this word. It’s amazing. It sounds so much better than dappled. And it’s more than just the dappling effect of the shadows – it’s about the scene as a whole. That sort of translucency just isn’t captured by dappled. Dappled is what you call a spotted horse, not the elegant play between light and shadow.
Koev halev (Hebrew) What it means:
Identifying with the suffering of another so closely that one hurts oneself, that one’s heart aches. Why it needs to be a thing in English:
Sometimes “empathy” just isn’t good enough.
And there you have it - 15 words we need to update our discourse with. What are your favorites? And which ones have I missed?