Those little lexical gaps

First of all, I’m not really sure what to title this thread. Or which forum to put it in. Or even exactly what it should be about.

I just wanted to share with you all the fact that the Norwegian language doesn’t have a word for “enjoy”. This isn’t to say that Norwegians don’t know how to enjoy themselves, or that the language doesn’t have terminology for dealing with enjoyment - on the contrary, it has an abundance of it. It just lacks one single word or phrase that covers the same lexical space as the English word “enjoy”. There is the word “nyte”, but that is more for sensual, hedonistic or extreme pleasures, such as food, sex, bubble baths, or finally killing your arch enemy and getting to dance on his grave. Otherwise, you say that you liked something, had fun doing something, something was nice, you appreciated something, et cetera. Problem is, when translating from English, these will often not cover the “enjoy” without extensive retooling of the sentence. As a result, in translations (especially in places like the sports section of your local paper, with hastily translated quotes, where the original mentioned that “we really enjoyed the game”, or “we really enjoyed beating [our closest rivals]”), you can often tell where the “enjoy” used to go, because that is where the Norwegian translation suddenly trips over itself and falls on its face with an audible clunk, before quickly scrambling to its feet and getting on with it, with a look on its face like the one your cat has after misjudging the jumping distance between the sofa and the shelf.

Any other examples of this, in other languages versus English, or vice versa, or versus each other?


Those are just a few words that I’ve run across that are commonly cited as ‘untranslatable’. In my experience it was often hard to find a spanish word that worked as a translation for ‘funny’.

There’s a number of them between Finnish and English, the only two languages I know well enough. Like the Finnish word “arki”, which means roughly “everyday” or as the wiktionary says “ordinary or non-special days in life” but offers no actual English (or any other language) equivalent. Or “vitutus” which means a state of often not targeted anger or annoyance, the sort of state where a cartoon character has a grumpy face and a thought cloud full of black. Annoyance is too mild and anger is too acute to describe it perfectly.

There’s a bunch of others but can’t remember any other examples just now. One thing that’s close is cold weather terms in general - English can explain most of the same weather well enough as Finnish but from my point of view it does it in an incredibly bland way. We might not have 40 words for snow (though with all the dialects we just might) but our weather vocabulary is still a lot more interesting than what English has. Maybe it’s not very surprising, given what kind of climate Great Britain has.

If I’m not mistaken, the Latin languages (Italian, French, Spanish) use the same word for “like” (as in liking another person who is your friend) and “love” (as in romantic love). I believe this is true in Hebrew too. Thus, it’s textually difficult to distinguish “I like you” from “I love you”; the distinction has to come from the context.

Here’s a case I thought odd: We have this stereotyped notion of Latin (meaning, South American) culture as being one of torrid fiery romance (hey, just read anything by Isabel Allende). Yet, I discovered that Spanish seems to lack a word for “elope”.

Another detail about Hebrew (which I think is true in some other languages too): The verbs “make” and “do” are the same word. So, for example, “to make <something>” is the same as “to do <something>”. I suppose the distinction is whether the <something> is a noun or a verb.

And here’s a very basic one about Spanish vs. English: Spanish has two distinct verbs (ser and estar) that both correspond to “to be” in English; each has its particular nuance of meaning. English speakers learning Spanish would typically find it confusing, until they really “get it”, to know which verb to use when.

Spanish also has three demonstrative pronouns where English only has two (but sorry, I don’t actually know enough Spanish to write the words here. Spanish speaker to the rescue?) We say “this thing” to point to an object near the speaker, or “that thing” to point to an object that is not near the speaker. In Spanish, there is a third demonstrative pronoun, that points to an object away from the speaker but near the person being spoken to.

English seems to lack a common but non-crass verb for “to make love” or “to have sex” (meaning, to engage in sexual intercourse). We have the clinical term “copulate” that a doctor or biologist would use in professional discourse. And we have crass verbs like “fuck” and “screw”. But we don’t seem to have a polite but common (non-clinical) word.

The spanish demonstratives are este, ese, and aquel. Conjugate appropriately for feminine and plural.

And it’s not for objects away from the speaker but near the listener. They pretty much correlate to “this”, “that”, and “that thing over there”. A dress in my hand could be este vestido, ese vestido in your hand and aquel vestido in the corner of the room.


There’s no single word to express it in English, but there’s a short phrase–“free-floating anger”. It’s even evocative of your angry-cloud description. (“Free-floating” is more often used to characterize anxiety, but it gets applied to other emotions, too.)

My German coworker informed me today that there isn’t an overarching word that means ‘businessperson’ in the sense of a white-collar worker person with a briefcase and an office/cubicle.

Spanish “aprovechar” is a toughie. “To take advantage of” doesn’t usually work. “Get the most you can out of”? I guess.

Going the other way, English “to look forward to something” is a toughie in Spanish. Kind of have to work around it, like with the Spanish words which mean “to think about something that is anticipated to take place in the future while experiencing a pleasant sensation associated with that thought.” Whew!

Huh, live and learn - thanks! I can’t remember ever seeing it used though, while “vitutus” is a very common term in spoken Finnish, at least with people who don’t mind it being vulgar slang.

This is true in Finnish as well, though it’s easy for me to wrap my brain around the idea of having two different words. What I can’t comprehend even after 20+ years of using English is why there must be two different words for “borrow” and “loan” when we get by with just one that means both. I keep on mixing them.

Translating a phrase from English to Spanish using the verb “like” often requires reworking the sentence in the way the OP mentioned.

You like the room.
Te gusta el cuarto. Which more literally translates as “To you is pleasing the room.” or simplified “The room pleases you.”

In Spanish the sentence must be re-phrased so that the item/person being liked becomes the subject of the sentence. And the person doing the liking becomes the object of the pleasing.

In Spanish *elope *becomes an idiom… fugarse con. (To escape with…) So true, it is not a single word.
Juan se fugó con María. = Juan eloped with Maria.

How many languages have a single word for “elope”, anyways? Finnish doesn’t, you’d have to explain it in length. I guess it wasn’t the sort of thing that was done in these parts.

English doesn’t make a distinction between we=“me and you” and we=“me and some other person or people” I believe that Mandarin Chinese does (zan men vs wo men). Though everything I know about Mandarin I get from my children, so don’t trust a word I say :wink:

English does have three, but the third is fairly archaic: this, that, and yon(der).

Hebrew has MEHABEV (Meh-Huh-Beev) for like, and OHEV (Oh-Have) for love.

Hebrew, however, doesn’t have a word for “tact”.
In the other direction, Hebrew has a special blessing for someone wearing something new for the first time (TIT’HADESH - literally “become new”), which I think English does not.

Not once have I heard it used. Most often where English uses “he likes”, Hebrew would use the (awkward, to my ear) “motze chen beeynav” - “finds favor in his eyes”.

Russian also doesn’t have the direct “like” verb. Instead, it’s always indirect - “mne nravitsya” - “it’s pleasing to me”. Like in Spanish.

Jein* - only in the sense that German nouns describing an occupation are invariably gendered, i.e. there is no one-word translation to an English gender-neutral appelation in the singular. But there’s the word Büroangestellter (m)/Büroangestellte (f) (salaried employee working in an office) that describes “white-collar worker person with a briefcase and an office/cubicle.”.

*Jein - literally yesno - is a word I miss in English.

A classic example is that English has to get by with just one word for love, but Greek has four.

Perhaps like quotidian? It can mean “daily” or “mundane.”

I have noticed that French seems to lack single words for “clockwise” and “counterclockwise”. My Larousse bilingual dictionary translates them as dans le sens des aiguilles d’une montre and dans le sens inverse des aiguilles d’une montre.

I’ve seen sens horaire and sens antihoraire but those may not be standard.