Let’s Make English More Efficient!

Here are a few amazing words from an article a friend in Arizona sent. Bill DeMain compiled this list of single words for Mental Floss that express things and feelings that need a whole sentence (or two) to get across in English. See all 38 here, and prepare to wonder at the universality of human experience!

Boketto (Japanese) – when you gaze vacantly into the distance, thinking of nothing. My cats do that a lot.

Tartle (Scots) – that panicky feeling you have when you must introduce someone and their name has flown right out of your head.

Iktsuarpok (Inuit) – that feeling when you’re expecting someone to show up and you keep checking outside to see whether they’ve arrived.

Greng-jai (Thai) – that feeling when someone wants to do something for you, but you know it would be a problem for them, so you don’t want them to do it. (Too many of us aren’t that considerate.)

Gigil (Filipino) – when you have an irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze something, often accompanied by squealing “soooo CUTE!”

Lagom (Swedish) – when something is neither too much or too little, but exactly right. DeMain asked a pertinent question: “Maybe Goldilocks was Swedish?”

Zeg (Georgian) – the day after tomorrow

This word—actually, it’s more than one word—that I could use daily: L’esprit de l’escalier (French) – literally, stairwell wit—a retort that occurs to you only after you and your conversation partner have gone your separate ways. In my case, it could be L’esprit au milieu de la nuit. 3 a.m., maybe.

And here’s one I thought of myself: Repoussé (French) – appropriately, the word came to me in the middle of the night (some random synapse firing) and I made a correct guess about what it means. Repoussé is a metalworking technique in which the artist hammers on the back side of a piece of metal so that the design appears on the front. These amazing battlefield shell casings from a display at the Arizona Copper Art Museum are an example—probably where I encountered this word I didn’t know I knew.

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