Untranslatable words from around the world.

Why Doesn’t English Have a Word for a Knowing Look Between Two People?

Why Doesn’t English Have a Word for a Knowing Look Between Two People?

Language and how we use it.
Oct. 6 2014 9:00 AM

Komorebi, Karelu, and Mamihlapinatapai

Work these untranslatable words into daily conversation!

Excerpted from Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words From Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders. Out now from Ten Speed Press.

1410_SBR_LOST_TIMA

Icelandic, verb

It can be difficult to part with things of value, such as time and money, as they aren’t infinite and they can slip through our fingers with surprising ease. We can’t get them back once we’ve given them away, and so wanting to keep them for as long as possible is understandable.

1410_SBR_LOST_KOMOREBI
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Japanese, noun

It may be temporarily blinding, but it’s most definitely beautiful. There is something wonderfully evocative and uniquely magical about sunlight filtered through green foliage.

1410_SBR_LOST_KARELU

Tulu, noun

Something we’ve likely all experienced at once time or another, commonly because our watch was slightly too tight or our socks too small. Tulu, incidentally, is spoken in parts of southwestern India.

1410_SBR_LOST_Mamihlapinatapai
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Yaghan, noun

A word so difficult to spell, it aptly reflects the tangled and incomprehensible nature of this look. Fittingly, Yaghan is an indigenous language of distant Tierra del Fuego, Chile.

1410_SBR_LOST_Poronkusema

Finnish, noun

This may seem like a very imprecise and rather unpredictable way to measure distance, but actually it’s pretty widely acknowledged (in reindeer circles at least) that a poronkusema is about 4.7 miles.

1410_SBR_LOST_AKIHI
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Hawaiian, noun

When they explained how to get there, their directions all made perfect sense—you nodded and looked back with clear understanding. Then you parted ways, and now you can’t remember whether to take a left or a right.

1410_SBR_LOST_Murrma

Wagiman, verb

Whether you are searching for something tangible (like a perfectly shaped pebble) or something intangible (like an answer to one of life’s many questions), it can probably be found in the wise, all-encompassing oceans. Or sometimes in rivers, lakes, and streams. And on occasion, in puddles. (Wagiman is a nearly extinct Australian language.)

1410_SBR_LOST_TRETAR
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Swedish, noun

Whether you read this and think, “Only three cups?” or you don’t understand how it’s possible to stomach even one cup of coffee, let alone three, you have to admit that this is a very logical and efficient word.

Lost in Translation by Ella Frances Sanders

All illustrations by Ella Frances Sanders. Reprinted with permission from Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words From Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.

Ella Frances Sanders is a writer and illustrator who intentionally lives all over the place, most recently Morocco, the U.K., and Switzerland.