Words we wish we had in English

Coming up with a clever reply too late, forgetting names, eating to patch a heart-break, sun lamp overdosing: other languages have perfect expressions for our foibles. Here are 10 of our favourites


1. Kummerspeck (German)
We have “comfort eating” to describe how someone might sit on their couch mournfully spooning double-chocolatechip ice-cream into themselves in a desperate attempt to salve a broken heart but what is sadly lacking from the English language is a neat phrase for the inevitable consequence of too much of that comfort eating.

The Germans are all over it though and if you hear one of them talking about your kummerspeck – which translates, wonderfully, as grief bacon – be offended: they are referring to the pounds you have piled on as you ate your way through the pain.

2. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
It’s not comfort eating, but unless you keep an eye on your shemomedjamo, you could find yourself up to your eyeballs in grief bacon all the same. It is how Georgians talk of folk who keep eating long after they are full just because the food tastes so good – the type of thing Pringles claims we do when we pop a tube of its salty circles. Apparently it loosely translates as: “Oops, I ate the whole thing by mistake”.

3. Tartle (Scots Gaelic)
You are at a party and someone comes up and greets you like an old friend. They seem to know all about you and, once they’ve done with saying how great it is to see you after all this time, they pause expectantly and wait for you to introduce them to the person you’re standing next to.

But you can’t do that because you have absolutely no idea who this person, who has greeted you like their long-lost child, is. You pause awkwardly. It is tartle time – that all too familiar moment of panicky hesitation when you desperately try to work out how you are going to make an introduction when you can’t remember the person’s name.

4. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)
You know the way you constantly find yourself looking out of the window or going to the front door while waiting anxiously for the postman with that cheque or job offer, or for a child coming home from Irish college or a lover you have been apart from for too long?

Admit it, you’ve done it, we all have. All the checking is not going to make the person we’re waiting for come any faster but we do it just the same – all that we’re missing is a word for this slightly unhinged behaviour. The Inuits have one: iktsuarpok.

5. L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
This translates as the wit of the staircase and it describe the hilarious or withering put-down you think of in response to someone else’s insult that comes to mind that little bit too late to actually say it. This perfect response may hit you as you walk down the stairs of the party with the derisory laughter of the crowd still burning your ears, or it may come in the dead of night weeks after the party has ended. It doesn’t matter – once the moment has passed, it has passed for ever and there is nothing you can do to bring it back.

6. Nunchi (Korean)
While someone who has l’esprit de l’escalier comes up with the right thing to say at the wrong time, a person with nunchi has a natural ability to know what the wrong thing to say at any given moment is and the wit not to say it. Nunchi translates as “eye-measure” and is important in a society such as Korea where status and respect are crucial and saying the wrong thing can have calamitous consequences. A person is a nunchi eoptta if they are particularly good at putting their foot in things.

7. Bothántaíocht (Irish)
Visiting friends or neighbours just to collect tittle tattle is as a very Irish trait. There isn’t (always) badness in it, mostly it’s just nosiness.

You might think you are above such carry-on but if it is extended to non-physical visitations too you might have a different view. If you ever find yourself texting or tweeting someone just to collect some juicy gossip about someone or something there’s a bit of a Bothánach in you.

8. Slampadato (Italian)
If you are obsessed with being bronzed to the extent that you have lost all understanding of what it means to be tangoed you are most likely a slampadato - an unnaturally orange slampadato.

9. Boketto (Japanese)
You might think no country in the world would be bothered coming up with a word for absentmindedly staring into the middle distance thinking of nothing at all but you would be wrong. The Japanese have one – we’re not sure if they use this word as a positive or a negative but we think such idle gazing is to be commended.

10. Sgiomlaireachd (Scots Gaelic)
You are absolutely starving, have had a bad day at work and are just about to sit down to your dinner when the doorbell rings.

Of course it does. The people who have an uncanny ability to ruin your dinner with their ill-timed visits are known by our Scottish cousins as sgiomlaireachd. We just call them the guy from Airtricity who wants a few moments of our time to tell us what a great deal he can do for us on our electricity.

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