Words can mean so much more than strung letters. They hold emotions, aesthetics, beliefs and even ways of life. A wide amalgamation of languages across this world has produced many enigmatic and beautiful words. Here are some words that are so profound that a single English word cannot satisfy what they speak.
1. Toska /Тоска/ Russian
Toska is a profound word that can roughly be considered as melancholy or deep sadness. However, the true meaning that the word holds cannot be justified by a single English word. I will let Vladimir Nabokov explain this in one of his most famous quotes:
“No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases, it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level, it grades into ennui, boredom.”
2. Litost /ליטוסט/ Czech
Lítost can be translated any of “self-pity”, “pity”, “misery”, “sorrow” or “regret” depending on context. Probably the closest description that has helped understand it comes from Milan Kundera: “a state of torment caused by sudden insight into one’s own miserable self”. It is an abstract noun that speaks of feelings so enigmatic and complex that one not only grapples to comprehend it but also to describe it. Even its native uses are vague as it depends more on the emotions held in the situation than in reality.
3. Cafuné /ka.fu.ˈnɛ/ Brazilian Portuguese
Simply, it can be described as the art of running your fingers through your lover’s hair. While that may seem like a technical verb, it holds so much more depth that it can be categorized as an emotion. It speaks of happiness, warmth, love, comfort and brings along a whole world of fireplace memories. Cafuné rightfully holds its position as one of the most beautiful words that the English language lacks.
4. Wabi-Sabi /侘寂/ Japanese
In traditional Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-sabi is a worldview centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Wabi-Sabi is not a single word, emotion or description. Instead, it’s an abstract aesthetic that speaks beyond simple verbs, it speaks of ways of life. The aesthetic is described as a beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō), suffering (苦 ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū).
This aesthetic itself is diverse and inculcates modesty, simplicity, asymmetry, austerity, and intimacy among many others.
5. Ya áburnee /يقبرني/ Arabic
This word means ‘you bury me’. It’s a morbidly beautiful way of proclaiming one’s love. It is an expression of one’s deep love and helplessness to live without the other. The love is so intense and the longing so present, that they hope they will die before the other just so as to not live a life in solitude. The word describes a love so definite that even death seems more desirable than separation.
6. Yugen /幽玄/ Japanese
This word is another Japanese aesthetic that means ‘a profound awareness of the Universe’. The next time you have an existential crisis, you will actually have a word that is sufficient to explain the complex feeling that clouds your mind. Just like Wabi-Sabi, this originates from Buddhist beliefs. In particular, the one that notes that the universe evolves and dissolves from nothing. Zeami Motikoyo has managed to put the meaning held in this word in the following manner: “To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return. Or to stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands. To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds…”
7. Waldeinsamkeit /ˈvaltʔaɪ̯nzaːmkaɪ̯t/ German
Waldeinsamkeit is a word that is generally used to describe ‘woodland solitude’. It consists of two words: “Wald” meaning deep woods, and “Einsamkeit” meaning loneliness. It is the feeling of being alone in the woods. Although one can associate it feelings of solitude and melancholy, it also hints at a connectedness to nature. The feeling plays a big role in religion and deep appreciation of Mother Nature. While simultaneously representing a more stable and strong mindset.
8. Saudade /saʊˈdɑːdə/ European Portuguese
This word represents a longing or nostalgia that befits a more Brazilian or Portuguese temperament. It is especially used in reference to literature, songs, and poetry. In Portuguese folk culture, it represents a deep emotional state of melancholic longing for a person or thing that is absent.
9. Hiraeth /hɪəraɪ̯θ/ Welsh
Hiraeth is one of the most famous words that can’t be translated into English. It speaks of ‘longing for a homeland that you can’t return to’. But not exactly in the context of homesickness. Although it imitates homesickness, it alludes to a place that doesn’t exist. Some can argue that home is inside—that it’s with you all the time. A nagging restlessness, this feeling that ‘no, this isn’t home either.’ It echoes the belief that:
Home isn’t a place; it’s a state of being.
Home is balanced, Home is reconciliation, Home is forgiveness, Home is release.
10. Komorebi /木漏れ日/ Japanese
Komorebi is a compound of ‘slipping through’ and ‘continuative stem forms’. It describes the visual of sunlight slipping through the treetops and gracing the forest floor. It is a poetic version of crepuscular rays (commonly known as god rays). This is the word the Japanese have for when sunlight filters through the trees – the interplay between the light and the leaves.
These words leave one with a more profound understanding of the intricacies and importance of the diversity in languages. So much beauty is hidden under the guise of all these diverse cultures and their dialect. Thus, it really promotes the need and the importance of multilingualism to truly understand the universal meaning of Life.
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