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Old 01-20-2020, 05:35 PM
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English words that pack lots of meaning but other languages don't have a word for it?


We hear a lot about other languages that have a single word that is ridiculously specific and translate into English as a phrase, like schadenfreude.

Can you think of any English words that would take a sentence or two to explain to a foreigner?
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Old 01-20-2020, 08:15 PM
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Secondhand, but...[urlhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1f_uMKaeZM]If English Is Your Second Language, What New Words Blew Your Mind? (r/AskReddit)[/url].

Three examples from the above, as seen from some other languages: "Arson," "Awkward," and "Roadkill."

Last edited by Ranchoth; 01-20-2020 at 08:15 PM.
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Old 01-20-2020, 08:39 PM
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Over/under.

Hangry.

I had to explain the phrase "come-to-Jesus moment" to some German colleagues recently.
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Old 01-20-2020, 10:00 PM
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Serendipity
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Old 01-20-2020, 10:26 PM
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Seems like one would need a formidable command of at least several widely-spoken languages to answer this. I can think of a few English words for which I haven't been able to find satisfactory Spanish equivalents*, but I don't know whether the Germans have a 10-syllable word or the French have a poetic phrase that means something even more specific.

*Cute, for example. There are of course words for praising someone's baby or kitten, but they usually mean something more akin to "pretty" and thus don't have quite the loaded potential for condescension, which is a very important part of my conversational arsenal.
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Old 01-20-2020, 10:33 PM
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Japanese "kawai" seems pretty close to English "cute", from what I've seen of its usage. If anything, it's even more condescending.
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Old 01-20-2020, 11:46 PM
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Seems like one would need a formidable command of at least several widely-spoken languages to answer this.
Not necessarily. I have seen many lists of words in other languages that we dont have in English. Especially German words. Are there similar lists with English words aimed at non-English speaking audiences?
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Old 01-20-2020, 11:51 PM
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But you only need to be fluent in English to know whether a new word you just learned in any other language has an English equivalent. To know whether an English word has equivalents in any other languages, you'd need to know all those languages.
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Old 01-21-2020, 12:31 AM
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Thats what linguists are for.
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Old 01-21-2020, 12:46 AM
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"OK" (as in acceptable) is one of those words that I've found has been loaned into nearly every foreign language I've encountered because there's no native word that really captures that exact sentiment.
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Old 01-21-2020, 01:16 AM
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Japanese "kawai" seems pretty close to English "cute", from what I've seen of its usage. If anything, it's even more condescending.
All the usages of it i note in anime seem to be completely sincere e.g. one girl complementing another's bag in an episode of Girls und Panzer I watched last night.
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Old 01-21-2020, 01:29 AM
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"cowboy".

Lots of languages have words for "farmer who raises cows", but the American cultural context of adds many layers of meaning.





(Although this example isn't quite what the OP is looking for, because it's more about cultural/historical context, and less about language)
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Old 01-21-2020, 01:36 AM
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Oh, here are a couple more I just thought of:
1. To make.
English has two separate words--"to do" and "to make".
Other languages use only one word for both concepts. (example: French "faire")



2. to Love vs to like.
Many languages have only one word for both concepts. (French : "Aime")
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Old 01-21-2020, 01:45 AM
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"cowboy".

Lots of languages have words for "farmer who raises cows", but the American cultural context of adds many layers of meaning.
Gaucho? Vaquero? Both of those are more than just "cow-farmer"
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Old 01-21-2020, 01:45 AM
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Japanese "kawai" seems pretty close to English "cute", from what I've seen of its usage. If anything, it's even more condescending.
Nitpick: kawaii. That second i is important, turning the last part from a dipthong to emphasize the "ee" ending.

And I agree it's usually not condescending. However, some hip Japanese are aware of the over-abundance of "kawaii" in their commercial culture and might use it in an ironic or meta way.

As for English words for which they don't have an equivalent (or sometimes even if they do) the Japanese will just adopt it, pronouncing it as well as they can. Someday I'd like to compile a list of borrowed English words that I can't believe they didn't already have a word or expression for.

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Old 01-21-2020, 01:54 AM
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Can you think of any English words that would take a sentence or two to explain to a foreigner?
Yeah. An American is a foreigner to an Englishman it would take a sentence or two to fully explain-

Chuffed
Cheeky
Minging
Others...

Sure, Urban Dictionary has a stock word for its replacement for each, but that doesnt do the word justice in the context they use it. In the same way Gemtlichkeit means cosy or comfortable, yeah kinda, but not really.
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Old 01-21-2020, 02:07 AM
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As for English words for which they don't have an equivalent (or sometimes even if they do) the Japanese will just adopt it, pronouncing it as well as they can. Someday I'd like to compile a list of borrowed English words that I can't believe they didn't already have a word or expression for.
I read technical science documents all day and the katakana in them if rife. And often really inexplicable/misleading. Like would you believe that a "capacitor" is a "コンデンサ"
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Old 01-21-2020, 02:37 AM
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They do the same thing in Hong Kong Cantonese because of the British influence. Two of my faves re baa si (bus) and dik si (taxi).

I'm surprised at how accurate katakana can sometimes be. When I first saw my favorite Taiwanese actresses name, 王祖賢 (Joey Wong Jyo Yin / Wang Tsu Hsien) in katakana, ジョイウォン, I wondered how accurate it would be. After painstakingly translating it character by character, I was shocked that translates to directly to Joey Wang (doesn't rhyme with bang, close to Wong, but different).
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Old 01-21-2020, 02:40 AM
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"scrumping"

It means children stealing apples from a tree that isn't theirs. No other sort of fruit stealing scenario qualifies.
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Old 01-21-2020, 02:45 AM
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I read technical science documents all day and the katakana in them if rife. And often really inexplicable/misleading. Like would you believe that a "capacitor" is a "コンデンサ"
If you were an audio technician, perhaps! ("Condenser microphone" is, I think, the main place where the old term "condenser," superseded by "capacitor" in the 1920s because of its ambiguity vs steam condensers, is still used in English)
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Old 01-21-2020, 02:47 AM
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I nominate sick/sick/sic/[sic]

Sick = really good I'm sure there's a reason it came to mean something good, but I'm sure even if I learned why, I wouldn't be able to explain it to someone.

Sic = attack

[sic] = thus Which I just learned is the correct meaning. I always thought it meant verbatim when used in writing.
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Old 01-21-2020, 03:12 AM
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"Fair" - and especially "fair play".
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Old 01-21-2020, 03:14 AM
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I think "cool" and "nerd" often don't have good matches in other languages.

I wasn't going to post here, but I noticed Chefguy used the word "scrounge" in another thread.

ETA: No, I think there are words for "fair" and "fair play" in most languages.

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Old 01-21-2020, 03:16 AM
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[sic] = thus Which I just learned is the correct meaning. I always thought it meant verbatim when used in writing.
There's quite an overlap, since it's used to mean "I know it's wrong/mad/stupid, but yes, that's exactly as they said/wrote it, so don't blame me".
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Old 01-21-2020, 03:41 AM
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Oh, here are a couple more I just thought of:
1. To make.
English has two separate words--"to do" and "to make".
Other languages use only one word for both concepts. (example: French "faire")
Do is actually a kind of troublesome word. In many cases, it is not even translated do you know what I mean? And its place in negative questions is unusual most other languages don't use this kind of structure, do they? It is just an odd word that is difficult to explain to non-English speakers.

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2. to Love vs to like.
Many languages have only one word for both concepts. (French : "Aime")
Well, what is the difference between je t'aime and je t'adore? (There was a silly joke in the book of College Humor that ends with the French lass saying "shut it yourself you silly yankee.")
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Old 01-21-2020, 03:52 AM
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Two that came up recently for me:

Posh. Posh to me doesn't necessarily mean rich / expensive. But some languages don't make such a distinction. And (slightly off-topic) the idea that some small towns in the English countryside are very posh can be difficult to explain to people who tend to assume rural = poor.

Naive. We use naive for negative or neutral meaning, which is broader than some other languages. In fact, the neutral meaning might not have a good translation at all (btw if this isn't "really" an English word, then basically none are)
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Old 01-21-2020, 04:23 AM
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If Scottish dialect counts as English, I nominate "girning," "jagger," and "tattie hawker."*

The Russian word for "nerd" is botanik, which literally means "botanist." I guess to the Russian mind, such people match this image:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-3yGYK_0RS9...s1600/nurd.jpg

One English word I always have trouble explaining is "tomboy." If I say "a girl who likes to act like a boy," the other person automatically thinks I'm talking about lesbians.

When it comes to describing the people I've always been forced to work or go to school with, I'm partial to terms like "dillweed" and "wanker," unless I really want to be profane.

*"To whine and nag/piss and moan," "to poke somebody with a sharp instrument like a sword," and "a seasonal potato harvester on the order of a migrant worker," respectively.
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Old 01-21-2020, 04:24 AM
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Here's one that I encountered. (Any Spanish speakers: Tell me if this is right?)

I had occasion to speak to a Spanish speaker who spoke English moderately well but not fully fluently. In the conversation I mentioned the word "elope" and was surprised that she did not know the word.

We looked it up in a English-Spanish dictionary and found the Spanish translation was a phrase "to run away with one's lover" and there apparently isn't a Spanish word for it.

Another one, along with Spanish not having separate words for "like" and "love": I don't think there are separate words for "wish", "hope", and "wait". (Is this true in French too?)
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Old 01-21-2020, 04:37 AM
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If Scottish dialect counts as English, I nominate "girning," "jagger," and "tattie hawker."
Nitpick: "girning" is the gerund, not the infinitive or base form (which are "to girn" and "girn").
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Old 01-21-2020, 04:38 AM
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Hebrew has no word for "subtle" - although if you've ever met an Israeli, you probably already know that.
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Old 01-21-2020, 04:50 AM
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I find it interesting that the Russian word for "subtle" is tonkii, which is usually translated as "fine," as in That's a very fine distinction. It can, however, also refer to the dimensionality of something, as in She has very fine (not coarse) hair.

I'm thinking that if I wanted to characterize humor as "subtle," I'd have to use another word like "refined" or "sophisticated."
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Old 01-21-2020, 05:26 AM
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Quenched has no german Translation. There actually was a contest by the Company that sells Quench Juice to come up with a German word for it.
Strangely, it is simply you can be thirsty or not thirsty, while there is a translation for being sated.
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Old 01-21-2020, 05:27 AM
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One English word I always have trouble explaining is "tomboy." If I say "a girl who likes to act like a boy," the other person automatically thinks I'm talking about lesbians.
When referencing more mature females, I find it hard to explain "mannish" as well. Again, the other person automatically thinks I'm talking about lesbians while I might not be.

(FWIW, a female co-worker (American) once said to me "I don't think Sandra Bullock is pretty. I think she looks very mannish." It took me a long time to decide how I could convey that thought.)

"Mature" is also hard to translate. Another teacher at the school where I worked told one of EFL students that she was more mature than another woman, and I had to explain he was referring to her conduct and not her appearance. When she asked me "How do you know that?" all I could say was "It's clear from the context."
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Old 01-21-2020, 05:27 AM
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Here's one that I encountered. (Any Spanish speakers: Tell me if this is right?)

I had occasion to speak to a Spanish speaker who spoke English moderately well but not fully fluently. In the conversation I mentioned the word "elope" and was surprised that she did not know the word.

We looked it up in a English-Spanish dictionary and found the Spanish translation was a phrase "to run away with one's lover" and there apparently isn't a Spanish word for it.

Another one, along with Spanish not having separate words for "like" and "love": I don't think there are separate words for "wish", "hope", and "wait". (Is this true in French too?)
Right you are: fugarse (para casarse)=to run away (to get married).

Wrong about separate words for like and love, though (gustar and amar/querer). Me gustas=I like you. 燐e quieres?=Do you love me? In Spanish querer/amar are both used to mean love. The other words sometimes overlap and/or are used differently. Desear can be used in the sense of wish (熹u desean tomar los se隳res?=What would you like to have?) but also sexual desire (Te deseo=I'm hot for you, or something less lame sounding). Esperar can mean wait, and when it means hope you usually use the subjunctive. Esp廨ame aqu=Wait here for me. Espero que me esperes=I hope you wait for me.

Last edited by jerez; 01-21-2020 at 05:30 AM.
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Old 01-21-2020, 06:04 AM
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I don't think this is fully on-topic, but is there a word for "mileage" in metric countries? Both in terms of comparing gas mileage between cars, and also in terms of overuse: "Wow, you're getting a lot of mileage out of that joke."

(Pretty sure I've asked this before years ago but I forget the consensus answer.)

Last edited by Ellis Dee; 01-21-2020 at 06:06 AM.
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Old 01-21-2020, 06:08 AM
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The Appalachian word hollow/holler. It's hard to explain to Americans from other part of the country.
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Old 01-21-2020, 06:14 AM
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I don't think this is fully on-topic, but is there a word for "mileage" in metric countries? Both in terms of comparing gas mileage between cars, and also in terms of overuse: "Wow, you're getting a lot of mileage out of that joke."

(Pretty sure I've asked this before years ago but I forget the consensus answer.)
In Hebrew, it's "Kilometrage" (pronounced "kee-loh-met-RAZH"). I think it's from the French.
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Old 01-21-2020, 06:16 AM
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I used the phrase "hot rod" meaning a tricked-out car to a Romanian. She didn't know what that meant, and it was tough to explain.
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Old 01-21-2020, 06:21 AM
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Antidisestablishmentarianism?
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Old 01-21-2020, 06:23 AM
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The Appalachian word hollow/holler. It's hard to explain to Americans from other part of the country.
Sounds like what I'd call a kloof in Afrikaans.
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Old 01-21-2020, 06:47 AM
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This is a bit of a tangent, because it's not a matter of a English have a word that another language doesn't but a lot of languages having a word that another language doesn't.

Irish Gaelic doesn't have a discreet word for either "yes" or "no".

For example, if someone asked "Did you go to the store?" in Irish you can't answer "yes" or "no", you have to answer either "I went/did go" or "I didn't go"
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Old 01-21-2020, 06:53 AM
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i've had disturbed foreigners ask me whether "shooting the shit" is a medical condition, and if so, is it contagious.
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Old 01-21-2020, 06:59 AM
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Haver. I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more to figure out what that means.
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Old 01-21-2020, 09:49 AM
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"Defenestration". Makes me proud to be an English speaker.
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Old 01-21-2020, 10:15 AM
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But you only need to be fluent in English to know whether a new word you just learned in any other language has an English equivalent. To know whether an English word has equivalents in any other languages, you'd need to know all those languages.
You're right, but that never stops this type of assertion in threads like this. Often these generalizations are overstated simplifications.
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Old 01-21-2020, 10:24 AM
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When I worked with Japanese colleagues, I found they had a rough time figuring out the difference between
That is a great idea
and
That is a great idea
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Old 01-21-2020, 10:26 AM
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Gaucho? Vaquero? Both of those are more than just "cow-farmer"
In fact, the word "cowboy" was simply a transposition of the Spanish "vaquero," as the first "cowboys" were Spanish/criollos/Mexicans (Mestizos).
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Old 01-21-2020, 10:27 AM
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This is a bit of a tangent, because it's not a matter of a English have a word that another language doesn't but a lot of languages having a word that another language doesn't.

Irish Gaelic doesn't have a discreet word for either "yes" or "no".

For example, if someone asked "Did you go to the store?" in Irish you can't answer "yes" or "no", you have to answer either "I went/did go" or "I didn't go"
Mandarin Chinese is like this too. There is no true equivalent of yes and no.

Questions are answered with either "have" / "haven't", or whatever the verb was in the question (e.g. Q:"Do you swim?" A:"Swim.").
And often questions give both the positive and negative, and you pick one: Q:"Do you drive not drive to get to work?" A:"Not drive"
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Old 01-21-2020, 10:36 AM
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Sarcasm
When I worked with Japanese colleagues, I found they had a rough time figuring out the difference between
That is a great idea
and
That is a great idea
The Japanese do have a concept of sarcasm, and a word for it (皮肉). If some Japanese people had difficulty understanding your sarcasm, it's probably because you have to be pretty fluent in English to detect sarcasm.
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Old 01-21-2020, 10:50 AM
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lover" and there apparently isn't a Spanish word for it.

Another one, along with Spanish not having separate words for "like" and "love": I don't think there are separate words for "wish", "hope", and "wait". (Is this true in French too?)
gustar is 'like', como 'like' as in 'similar too', querer is often used for 'want', but also used for 'love'. Amor is love but strictly for someone you're physically attracted to.
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