- It's estimated that 75% of English words come from other languages.
It's a very grabby language, if it sees something it likes, it takes it.
That makes it kind of the England of languages.
That's one reason English has amassed one of the biggest vocabularies on earth.
No one knows exactly how many, but it's surely in the hundreds of thousands, and yet, there are still gaps in the lexicon.
There are just too many things and ideas and experiences for one dictionary to hold.
But hey, we can try.
We add almost 1,000 words a year to the English language.
So if we're going to continue yoinking words from other languages, I have a few suggestions.
These are words that describe concepts that everyone can relate to, but we don't get to say in English.
That's not to say that they're entirely untranslatable, because we can do our best approximation of them, but there's that intuition that a non-native speaker wouldn't have that, je ne sais quoi, if you will.
That phrase is borrowed from the French for, I don't know what, but now refers to that little somethin' somethin' that's indefinable or je ne sais quoi.
If you think my French is bad, just wait until you hear my Inuktitut.
I'm Dr. Erica Brozovsky, and let's take a look at some other words, because, after all, this is "Otherwords."
(funky music) - [Announcer] Otherwords.
- Some concepts are so universal, it's a surprise we don't have words for them already.
Here's a good example.
What do you call it when you think of the perfect witty comeback or snappy retort, but hours after the fact, essentially, the opposite of a riposte?
English may leave you hanging, but Yiddish and German and French all have a term for that blown mic drop opportunity.
Trepverter, treppenwitz, and l'esprit de l'escalier, which all roughly translate to staircase wit, likely, because you think of these comebacks when you're leaving, walking down the staircase away from what could have been such a satisfying linguistic beatdown.
And maybe you're so flustered, that on your way home you ask someone for directions, and say, "Yep, got it, thanks," and get one block away and then immediately forget what they said.
Hawaiian's got a word for that, akihi.
They also have a term, pana po'o, for scratching your head in order to remember something you've forgotten, which might help with remembering those directions.
Have you ever recklessly taken a bite of food only to realize it's the temperature of molten lava?
You don't wanna spit it back onto your plate in front of your date, and you're not about to flambe your esophagus, so your only choice is to keep it moving around in your mouth while sucking in air.
Where English fails us, Buli, a language spoken in Ghana, saves the day and maybe our taste buds as well.
Pelinti, literally means to move hot food in your mouth, and as an impatient eater, it happens to me more often than I care to admit.
We all try to listen to our body when it's saying it's full, but, you know, sometimes, there's something left on your plate, and you wanna eat it because it's delicious, but you don't wanna eat the whole thing, because you're not actually hungry anymore, so you have a little spoonful here and maybe a nibble there, and all of a sudden, it's gone.
And by accident, you've become part of the clean plate club.
Not just me, right?
Well, I know it's not, because Georgians only need one word, shemomechama, to express what took me 79 words to describe.
Speaking of mindless eating, Korean has a word for that feeling of wanting to eat, not because you're particularly hungry, but because your mouth is bored, ib-i simsimhada.
A more wistful way of expressing a similar sentiment, the Japanese version, kuchisabishii, means to eat because your mouth is lonely.
And then, when you've satisfied your mouth, and you're feeling a little sleepy, ah, there's an Italian word for that, abbiocco.
Like food, relationships are universally important to humans, so there are many words to describe social interactions with special cultural nuance, and what better way to start than around the dinner table?
In Spanish culture, you don't just chow down and get out.
Sobremesa refers to the time you spend lingering around the table, enjoying your time talking, drinking coffee, or a digestif for hours, with no rush to get onto the next thing, even at a busy restaurant.
The Dutch have a word for it too, natafelen.
Many of us have heard of the Danish word, made famous by a certain book, "Hygge," which highlights the custom of cultivating an environment of warmth, coziness, and togetherness, which I imagine is important to prioritize when it's dark and cold for half of the year.
And speaking of togetherness, the Inuit people use piliriqatigiinniq to describe community spirit and working together for the common good.
In warmer places, you might appreciate the time after the sun has gone down a little bit more, so in Arabic, samar means staying up late after the sun has set and enjoying time with friends.
It also refers to evening conversations that might include Arabic music and poetry.
I love how much meaning can be packed into one word.
Not that they're the authority on the matter, but "The Guinness Book of World Records" has weighed in on what word does it best.
The Yaghan people, whose last remaining speaker died in 2022, used mamihlapinatapai to describe that meaningful look shared between two people, who both wanna start something, but are unwilling or hesitant to do so, hoping that the other person will initiate.
Boy, that would save romcom writers a lot of time.
And as a non-native speaker of all the languages mentioned so far, just know that these explanations are simply scratching the surface.
So, here's a word from my own idiolect that I found impossible to translate exactly: máfan.
A Mandarin dictionary will say it means troublesome or annoying, both as an adjective and a verb, but it's also so much more.
I asked my mom how she defined it in English, and she said.
- Máfan is inconvenient, but I have to do it, like making this film for my dear daughter, Erica.
- I also asked my Taiwanese American community and got a wide range of answers, and I've used máfan in all of those contexts.
Language is complicated, but that's half the fun.
Whether you're looking for a word to describe a joke, that's so unfunny that it's hilarious, or the feeling that overcomes you when you see something so cute that you can't help but squeeze it, there are countless beautiful moments that exist outside of the limitations of one language.
There's a word in Hebrew for the pure joy and genuine happiness you feel about someone else's accomplishments with no ulterior motives.
And you know the way sunlight filters through a canopy of trees, shining its dappled light on the ground?
There's a Japanese word for it.
By learning about these so-called untranslatable words, you come to understand that though our dictionaries may be different,