Dictionary of Curiosities

In working as translators, we always come across words that are difficult to translate. We’ve spoken on other occasions about how certain languages use words that are curiously specific and even impossibly specific to describe actions or situations that in another language would require a longer explanation. Today we present a few more to satisfy your curiosity.

Since the World Cup is about to start, we’ll start with a Brazilian Portuguese word: The romantic and sensual Brazilians, masters of samba and bossa nova, use the word cafuné to refer to the action of gently caressing another person’s head.

The second in today’s list is the affable Indonesian word jayus, which describes a joke that is told so poorly and is so lacking in humor that you can’t help but laughing. Who hasn’t had that happen to them, right?

Speaking of uncomfortable situations, the Scots use the verb tartle to refer to that moment of uncertainty that besets us upon forgetting someone’s name precisely at the moment of introducing them.

The Czechs and Slovaks have the word proznovit, with which they describe the action of calling someone’s cell phone but only letting it ring once in order for the other person to then return the call and thereby not have to pay for it themselves. This is generally known as “placing a missed call.”

As usual, we’ve saved the main course for the end. Two main courses, in fact:

In German, Torschlusspanik literally means “panic due to the doors closing” and describes the fear and anxiety provoked by the passage of time and how, along with it, we start to lose certain opportunities.

Finally, we have the word mamihlapinatapai from the Yagán language, spoken by the Yagán people, a nomadic American Indian tribe from the islands and channels of southernmost Chile and Argentina. It means “a gaze between two people, each of whom is waiting for the other to begin an action that both of them want but which neither is willing to start,” and it has the particularity of appearing in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most concise word in the world.”

That’s all for now, but remember that at Trusted Translations we’re here to serve you, and so we’ll continue researching and looking up more linguistic rarities and curiosities. And if you happen to know or ever come across a word that is oddly concise or specific, we invite you to share it with us in the comments section.