Words With No English Equivalent, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 8 2011 @ 11:50am

A reader writes:

These are Spanish words from my childhood with no direct English equivalent:

Lagaña – Eye crunchies.
Mocoso – Someone who has boogers.
Vavoso – Someone who slobbers.

Very entertaining to the 4-14 set.


One of your readers mentioned the German word "Fremdschämen" for "feeling shame or embarrassment on behalf of someone else." You might be interested to know that some linguists have tried to coin the English word "igry" to mean much the same thing.

It seems to have caught on as well as "fetch." Another:

The best Japanese word without an English equivalent: tsureshoben. It means to accompany another person after drinking to go out and pee in the street.

Another mixes romance and politics:

A true classic: Mamihlapinatapai.  It's listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Succinct Word.  Its approximate definition is "a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start".

Think of two people who mutually would like to be a couple, but dance around the subject because neither one is comfortable asking the other out on a date.  Or two politicians who both wish to implement a controversial policy, with each one wanting the other guy to stick out his neck first.


How about a new thread on the topic of British words for which there is no equivalent word in American English?  My favorite is "wanker", which initially referred to an onanist but has since become a general insult for someone considered to be pointless and useless.  It has a synonym in "tosser", but I find that word less jolly.

I'm also fond of the word "handbags" to describe a silly fight where the protagonists are unable or unwilling to seriously hurt each other. It is short for "a handbag fight", in reference to the way girls fight by hitting each other with their handbags.

Of course, it must not be confused with "handbagging".  A gift to the English language from the days of Margret Thatcher, it refers to dishing out or receiving a metaphorical battering in the world of politics.  Its entomology is tied to the fact that La Thatcher was rarely seen without a sleek and sturdy black bag on her arm. Persons on the receiving end of her abrasive style were said to have been "handbagged". The Iron Lady may be gone, but the word lives on – it has its own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.