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A Few of My Favorite Words

Every now and then when I’m learning a language, I find a word that English simply cannot express in a single noun or verb. A few weeks ago, I had someone ask me if I had a favorite word, and I’ve never really stopped to think or compile a list of some of the cool words I’ve found, so here goes:

Possibly my all-time favorite words are Aranyhíd from Hungarian and Mångata from Swedish, which literally translate to “golden bridge” and “moon path” respectively. If you’ve ever been on a shore at sunrise or sunset, and you see the sunlight as it reflects a shimmering strip of yellow light off of the water, that is an Aranyhíd, the golden bridge, which stretches out and over the horizon. Mångata is similar, only with moonlight as opposed to sunlight. The next concept exists in two unrelated languages, so once again I’m going to pair them: 生き甲斐 (ikigai) and raison d’être, from Japanese and French respectively, both meaning “a reason for living / something that makes life worth living”. English rarely borrows the French raison d’être, but not often enough that many people who aren’t speakers of French would likely know the meaning. Another pair of similar words in unrelated languages is Hiraeth in Welsh and Saudade in Portuguese. Hiraeth and Saudade both refer to homesickness and missing someone/something that you can’t get back. It can refer to missing the past, a person who passed away, or a significant other after an awful breakup. I wouldn’t say I like the words as much as I wish we had as succinct a way to express the emotion of feeling a hole in your heart where something used to be. Next is a happier group of words. English seems to really have gotten the short end of the stick with this next example because three different Germanic languages share this next concept: Gezelligheid in Dutch, Gemütlichkeit in German, and Hyggelig in Danish. They all refer to something with a warm and cozy atmosphere. Think of a nice living room with hot chocolate, blankets, and a fireplace while it’s snowing outside; it’s that kind of thing. The last one for this short list is an Arabic phrase “يقبرني” (ya’aburnee). Literally translated as “may he (God/Allah) bury me”, it’s a Levantine phrase to express how much someone loves another. In context someone is saying that they’d rather die than live a life without their significant other.

That’s all I can think of for now. These words are just a few of many that are exclusive to only one or a small few languages, and these things keep learning new languages exciting all the time.