Can All Emotions Be Translated?

There are hundreds of emotions that have no direct English translation.


Is it possible to experience an emotion, a feeling, or an attitude that cannot be expressed in language? Have you ever experienced feelings for which there are, apparently, no words?

It can happen during a moment of rage, frustration, sadness, surprise, or even joy. The phrase, “I’m too happy for words” can actually be true.

Sometimes though, words do exist to describe those nameless emotions — just exactly the right word for what we’re feeling — they’re just in another language besides English.

Here are 10 emotions that do not translate to English:

1. Pana Po’o (Hawaiian)

“Hmm, now where did I leave those keys?” he said pana po’oing. It means to scratch your head in order to help you remember something you’ve forgotten.

2. L’esprit de l’escalier (French) 

Usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it.

3. Pochemuchka (Russian) 

A person who asks a lot of questions.

4. Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island) 

To borrow objects one by one from a neighbor’s house until there is nothing left.

5. Gigil (Filipino)

The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute.

6. Desenrascanço (Portuguese)

“To disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (to MacGyver it).

7. Age-otori (Japanese)

To look worse after a haircut.

8. Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese)

An act someone does for you, that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude.

9. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)

You know when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it? The Georgians feel your pain. This word means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”

10. Tartle (Scots)

The nearly onomatopoeic word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

Most likely there are many other emotions besides these that have no direct English translation. When translators come across such a word, they usually describe it so that it makes sense in the target language.

Each language has its own descriptive words that others lack. In translation, we do not translate words, we translate meanings and ideas. To translate from one language to another, we must have an idea about the culture of both countries. Sometimes even the finest translators come up against words that defy translation.

Let us know if there are any words you would like to share that don’t translate easily.

By Abbey Casella | July 10, 2022 | Categories: ITC | No Comments

About the Author: Abbey Casella