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Ten Relationship Words That Aren’t Translatable Into English (February: writings of love in weekly installments)

Our means of expression is often limited by the language we use. The value an abstract idea holds in a culture can be seen in the amount of ways available for people to express it to each other. Unfortunately, in the English-speaking culture, there are just some feelings/actions that don’t can’t be expressed in a single word or phrase.
As a person fascinated by the role of languages in culture, when I stumbled upon this list I had to share it.

Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan, an indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego): The wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something, but are both reluctant to start.

Yuanfen (Chinese): A relationship by fate or destiny. This is a complex concept. It draws on principles of predetermination in Chinese culture, which dictate relationships, encounters and affinities, mostly among lovers and friends.

Forelsket: (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you’re first falling in love.

Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese): The act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair.

Saudade (Portuguese): The feeling of longing for someone that you love and is lost. Another linguist describes it as a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.”

Retrouvailles (French): The happiness of meeting again after a long time.

La Douleur Exquise (French): The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.

Ilunga (Bantu): A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.

Koi No Yokan (Japanese): The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall into love.

Ya’aburnee (Arabic): “You bury me.” It’s a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them.


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