Have you ever felt something that you just didn’t have the words for? Well, what if those words were out there, they were just in another language? Let’s explore this beautiful world of words, shall we?

When it comes to complicated emotions that are difficult to express, the words around love are, well, frankly hard to find.

As I write here in English, I have to ask: how do you differentiate the love you feel for your parents or your siblings from the love you feel for your romantic partner? Or, the love you feel for your friends? We use the word “love” for all of these situations, and yet, “love” means something different to us every time. So, how do we express the way that our love for people changes over time?

While words may fail us in this one language, our world is rich with other languages and cultures that have put some of our most complicated emotions into words! And maybe, by the end of this article, you’ll recognize that look from a stranger as mamihlapinatapei (the shared look of desire between two people too shy to make the first move in Yaghan), or feel a sense of gezelligheid (the warmth of being with loved ones, Dutch) the next time your family walks through the door. 1

image: Paper Cutout of the word love

Source: Pixabay

A new vocabulary for love…

So often, our vocabulary holds us back. Without words, we are unable to put a name to our feelings or experiences and share them with others or talk about them with ease. Studies have shown that language has a significant influence on how we perceive the world. 2 So, what if we had just the right word to express our actions or emotions. Could we change how we talk about them?

Maybe if in English, we had a great phrase like cavoli riscaldati (from Italian, literally, “reheated cabbage” which is a phrase used to describe when you attempt to start up a failed relationship again) we’d be able to warn our friends (or ourselves) from getting back together with that ex. 3

Or, what if we could use the Welsh word cwtch—which means a safe space given to you by the one you love, a hug—we’d cherish those warm moments of feeling safe in someone’s arms a little more. 4

There are around 7,111 languages spoken in the world today. 5 That’s a lot of beautiful, colorful vocabulary to choose from. And, when it comes to love, humanity has come up with a wide range of words to describe the experiences big and small that make love such a powerful emotion.

So, we want to celebrate this wonderful world of love with some of the ways the world’s languages have come to describe it. We’ll start with this beautiful video from the creator Andrew Norton, in a short piece he directed for the CBS’s podcast, Love Me.

If you want to see more from Andrew Norton, check out his Vimeo channel. He has some beautiful work there that will leave you feeling a little more inspired. You can also keep up with his work on his website, or over on Instagram and Twitter!

More words for love!

It turns out there are many more untranslatable words that describe the feelings and emotions of love. Here are a few of my favorites from a project that Expedia UK did to illustrate some of these untranslatable words about love.

You can check out all 10 of these beautiful illustrations by clicking here!

I also stumbled across some illustrations from the artist Emma Block that she did in collaboration with the jewelry company, Vashi. Here are a few of my favorites from that series as well…

Illustration: Untranslatable Words about love, Mamihlapinatapei (Yaghan) The shared look of desire between two people too shy to make the first move

Source: Vashi

Illustration: Untranslatable Words about love, Gezelligheid (Dutch) The warmth of being with loved ones

Source: Vashi

Illustration: Untranslatable Words about love, Geborgenheit (german) the feeling of safety that comes from being with loved ones

Source: Vashi

Illustration: Untranslatable Words about love, Naz (urdu) The pride you feel from being loved

Source: Vashi

Illustration: Untranslatable Words about love, Merak (Serbian) A sense of oneness with the universe derived from the simplest of pleasures

Source: Vashi

You can enjoy that series in its entirety and explore more untranslatable words about love by clicking here.

The Beauty of Untranslatable Words

There’s something so wonderful about having the right word at the right moment. Really, it’s beautiful to think that a culture values an emotion or action so much that it has a name for it. To think, the next time I run my hands lovingly through my dog’s fur that in Brazilian Portuguese, that action is called cafuné. And it wasn’t until I heard the word iktsuarpok, that I could label a feeling I have so very often when I sit in anticipation of friends and family coming to visit.

Language has a way of validating our feelings. When we can put a word to something, and express meaning to somebody else, we’re able to connect and bond with others.

And that’s just one of the beautiful powers that language has. Whether we are connecting over our own language or welcoming the rich vocabulary of another, it’s one of the most powerful tools we have to connect with one another and express our humanity.

If you want to check out a few articles we’ve written about the power of language, spend a little time with these:

20 minutes

How Saving Languages Can Save the World!

Have you ever thought about the relationship between language and knowledge? Each of the 7000 languages spoken around the world is a powerful encyclopedia of generational wisdom. Half of these records of human history may be going extinct in the next decade, but there are amazing people out there working to save this knowledge!

Read More

12 minutes

Endangered Alphabets

Have you ever considered what might happen if the alphabet you use became extinct? It's happening slowly, but here is one person using his unique talents to change that!

Read More

So, however you choose to express love for those around you, just do it. Say it out loud! Say it with your actions! Or say it with your presence! But let the ones you love know that they are loved, because, really, there’s no better feeling.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Even more to love!

Want a few more articles that explore the beauty of love? Check out the corner of our library dedicated to all things of the heart! From random acts of kindness to the love between father and son, how ever you show your love, there’s something there for you.

Love on EWC

Notes:

  1. https://www.facebook.com/boredpanda. “Bored Panda.” Bored Panda, 2020, www.boredpanda.com/untranslatable-love-words-meanings-emma-block/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
  2. FastCo Works. “Jonathan Adler & Tan France Recharge on the Road.” Fast Company, Fast Company, 29 Jan. 2020, www.fastcompany.com/90455787/jonathan-adler-tan-france-recharge-on-the-road. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
  3. Piazza, Nicole. “The (Untranslatable) Phrases of Love.” Lingualinx.Com, 2019, www.lingualinx.com/blog/the-untranslatable-phrases-of-love. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
  4. Enochs, Elizabeth. “Untranslatable Foreign Words About Love To Share With Someone You ‘Flechazo.’” Bustle, Bustle, 17 Feb. 2017, www.bustle.com/p/untranslatable-foreign-words-about-love-to-share-with-someone-you-flechazo-38936. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
  5. “How Many Languages Are There in the World?” Ethnologue, 3 May 2016, www.ethnologue.com/guides/how-many-languages. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
  6. Norton, Andrew. “A Series of Untranslatable Words About Love.” Vimeo, 6 Feb. 2020, vimeo.com/172355597. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and the COO at Ever Widening Circles. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV