Lost in Translation: 14 Amazing Asian Words with No English Equivalent
  • by Kristine Ortiz
  • August 6, 2013

With over 170,000 words in current use, the English language is pretty expansive. But to believe that it (or any other language for that matter) can express every emotion, situation and feeling that we experience is a bit absurd; we’ve probably found ourselves searching for the right word, always seeming to come up short. For your vocabulary-expanding benefit, here’s a list of some words from some Asian languages that have managed to find that right word where English could not.

1 Boketto (Japanese): the action of just staring out blankly without any thoughts

2 热闹 (Pin Yin: Rènào): implies crowdedness and lots of noise and activity, but in the positive sense

3 Pambahay (Tagalog): your “house clothes (aka sweatpants, t-shirt, etc.)”
or clothes you’d wear in private spaces

4 Sayang (Tagalog): interjection that connotes frustration over a near-miss

5 Betsubara (Japanese): translates loosely to “extra stomach”; is meant to describe a woman that always has room for dessert

6 撒 娇 / 撒嬌 (sa-jiao), sai-nai in Taiwanese Hokkien: Sulky, whiny, cutesy, coaxing, coy, spoiled, clingy, and coquettish are all used to describe it, but no single English word encompasses it. (From my interpretation, it’s like aegyo in Korean.)

7 Yuanfen (Chinese): a fated relationship or a relationship that has been destined

8 Gigil (Tagalog): the urge to squeeze or pinch something because it’s so cute

9 Nunchi (Korean): the understated or subtle ability to be able to read another’s feelings or mood by listening to them, like emotional intelligence

10 Greng-jai (Thai): That sense you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a burden for them

11 잘한척 (Korean): Romanized roughly as “jalhancheok”. It roughly means when one shows off or is cocky for something that he/she doesn’t deserve to gloat over

12 Mencolek (Indonesian): describes the prank people play on each other when you tap someone on the shoulder from behind to trick them

13 Kilig (Tagalog): the inexplicable feeling of being intoxicated by when something romantic happens; feeling as if you’re on “cloud nine” because of love, or at least the idea of it

14 Koi No Yokan (Japanese): when you meet someone for the first time, feeling that you two are going to fall in love

Know of any other words? Let us know in the comment section!

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7


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