Page 1

Lexical Gap

Lexical Gap by Kaeting Kikii

Lexical Gap English

/lax·i·kal gap/ n.

An absence of a word in a particular language.

A lexical gap refers to when a distinct concept in another language does not have a distinct word in the language in question. That is, there is no one-to-one equivalence between the word, expression or turn of phrase in the source language and another word, expression or turn of phrase in the target language. While most concepts are complex and culture-specific, others are simple and universal. A translator can resort to a number of translation procedures to compensate for this. The degree of difficulty of translation depends on their nature, as well as on the translator’s knowledge of the languages in question.

➊ ➐ ➋➌ ➑➒ 14

12 13

➏ 15 15

➓ 11


15 most untranslatable words 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Toska Déjà vu La Douleur Exquise Ilunga Mamihlapinatapai Duende Hyggelig L’appel du vide Esprit d’escalier Koi No Yokan Wabi-Sabi Schadenfreude Litost Saudade Ya’aburnee

Russia France France Congo Tierra Del Feugo Spain Denmark France France Japan Japan Germany Czech Portugal Arab Nations

Toska Russian


A feeing of physical or metaphysical dissatisfaction, a sense of longing, a dull anguish, a preying misery, a gnawing mental ache.

single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At “ No its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom. -Vladmir Nabokov

� 1

Déjà vu French


Literally meaning “already seen”. The experience of feeling sure that one has already witnessed or experienced a current situation, even though the exact circumstances of the prior encounter are uncertain and were perhaps imagined.

The experience of déjà vu is usually accompanied by a compelling sense of familiarity, and also a sense of “eeriness”, “strangeness”, “weirdness”, or what Sigmund Freud calls “the uncanny”. The “previous” experience is most frequently attributed to a dream, although in some cases there is a firm sense that the experience has genuinely happened in the past. The most likely explanation of déjà vu isn’t that it is an act of “precognition” or “prophecy”, but rather that it is an anomaly of memory, giving the false impression that an experience is “being recalled”.

This explanation is supported by the fact that the sense of “recollection” at the time is strong in most cases, but that the circumstances of the “previous” experience (when, where, and how the earlier experience occurred) are quite uncertain or believed to be impossible.


La Douleur Exquise /la du·lur ex·kees/ French

Literally means “the exquisite pain”. The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can never have, by circumstance or subjective decision, and knowing that you will still try to be with them.

“Douleur exquise” is a medical term that refers to a pain a person feels in some areas, and which becomes more intense from time to time (it is generally considered a “psychosomatic” pain this person will “use” as a “means of expression -of his anguish for example) The english term which could possibly describe La douleur exquise is “unrequited love”. It’s not quite the same, though.

“Unrequited love” describes a relationship state, but not a state of mind. Unrequited love encompasses the lover who isn’t reciprocating, as well as the lover who desires. “La douleur exquise” gets at the emotional heartache, specifically, of being the one whose love is unreciprocated.


Ilunga Congo


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

From the Bantu language, a traditional sub-branch of the Democratic Republic of the Congo languages. In 2004, this word has been chosen by numerous translator as the work’s most untranslatable word (in the opinion of 1,000 linguists surveyed). Ilunga captures what is described as the shade of gray complexity in marriages— Not abusive marriages, but marriages that involve infidelity, for example.

out the complexity into black and white, or binary code. You put up with it, or you don’t. You “stick it out,” or not.

We’ve got tolerance, within reason, and we’ve got gradations of tolerance, and for different reasons. And then, we have our limit. The English language to describe this state of limits and tolerance flattens

Ilunga restores the gray scale, where many of us at least occasionally find ourselves in relationships, trying to love imperfect people who’ve failed us and whom we ourselves have failed.


Mamihlapinatapai Yagán


A wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start themselves.

From yagán, the indigenous language of the Tierra del Feugo, an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland. Mamihlapinatapai, (sometimes spelled mamihlapinatapei), has been listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the “most succinct word” (most briefly and clearly expressed in a single word), and is considered one of the hardest words to translate.


Duende Spanish


The mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person.

dilates the mind’s eye, so that the intensity becomes almost “ unendurable... There is a quality of first-timeness, of reality so heightened and exaggerated that it becomes unreal...

-Brook Zern, critic, on a performance of someone with duende

El duende is the spirit of evocation. It comes from inside as a physical/emotional response to music. It is what gives you chills, makes you smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic performance that is particularly expressive. Folk music in general, especially flamenco, tends to embody an authenticity that comes from a people whose culture is enriched by diaspora and hardship; vox

populi, the human condition of joys and sorrows. “Tener duende” (having duende) can be loosely translated as having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity, often connected with flamenco.


Hyggelig Danish


Its “literal” translation into English gives connotations of a warm, friendly, cozy demeanor, but it’s unlikely that these words truly capture the essence of a hyggelig. It’s likely something that must be experienced to be known.

A love of or need for hygge is an important part of the Danish psyche. Hygge is usually inadequately translated as cosiness. This is too simplistic: cosiness relates to physical surroundings; a jersey can be cosy, or a warm bed. Whereas hygge has more to do with people’s behaviour towards each other. It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment rolled into one. Friends meeting in the street might say that it has been hyggeligt to see each other, and someone who is fun to be with can

be called a “hyggelig fyr”, when he would hardly be described as a cosy fellow. The truly emotive depth of the word hyggelig is best captured by considering its opposite, uhyggeligt, which means anything from cheerless through sinister to downright shocking.


L’appel du vide French

/lah·pel due vid/

Literally means “call of the void”. The urge some people get to jump from high places when they encounter them, for example when close to the edge of cliffs.

There is an inner appetite to explore, to experience, to exist beyond mere societal expectations. While the consciousness realizes the apparent dangers in such an act, the subconscious flirts with the idea. It is a shame. As a society we owe much to those that refused a stable life and instead survived with their tenacity and the guiding voice from within. They have given us new lands to explore, medicine, Ben and Jerry’s, and soul inspiring art. Stability is for a man who has already fulfilled his vision quest. If you do ignore the call you give up the right to say I should have listened.


Esprit d’escalier French

/es·pree des·kal·i·ye/

The feeling you get after leaving a conversation, when you think of the things you should have said.

sensible, comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui “ L’homme objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier. ” (A sensitive man like me, overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him, loses his head – and doesn’t get it back again till he’s at the bottom of the stairs) -Diderot

We’re all witty. It’s just that many of us think of our clever remarks a bit too late. It literally means staircase wit, indicating that one thought of that perfect retort on his or her way out. Originally derived from the witticism of Diderot, French philosopher, art critic, and writer, in Paradoxe sur le Comédien.


Koi No Yokan 恋の予感 Japanese

The sense upon first meeting a person and knowing that the two of you are going to fall into love.

This is different than “love at first sight”. It implies that you might have a sense of imminent mutual love, somewhere down the road, without yet feeling it. The term captures the intimation of inevitable love in the future, rather than the instant attraction implied by love at first sight.


Wabi-Sabi 䞘 寂 Japanese

A way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.

Westerners tend to associate wabi-sabi with physical characteristics: imperfection, crudeness, an aged or weathered look, etc. Although wabi-sabi may encompass these qualities, these characteristics are neither sufficient nor adequate to convey the essence of the concept. The term is not rigidly attached to a list of physical traits. Rather, it is a profound aesthetic consciousness that transcends appearance. It can be felt but rarely verbalized, much less defined. Defining wabi-sabi in physical terms is like explaining the taste of a piece of chocolate by its shape and color to someone who has never tasted it.

Wabi-sabi is not a style defined by superficial appearance. It is an aesthetic ideal, a quiet and sensitive state of mind, attainable by learning to see the invisible, paring away what is unnecessary, and knowing where to stop.


Schadenfreude German


The feeling of pleasure derived by seeing another’s misfortune.

“ To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish. ” -Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Study researcher, Wilco W. van Dijk, of Leiden University in the Netherlands, and his colleagues had 70 undergraduate students (40 women and 30 men) read two interviews about a high-achieving student who was likely to land a great job. Then they read an interview with the student’s supervisor revealing that the student had suffered a big setback in his/ her studies. Next, they rated their level of agreement with five statements meant to gauge their schadenfreude, such as: “I enjoy(ed) what happened to Marleen/Mark”; “I couldn’t resist a little smile.”

Those with low self-esteem (assessed at the study’s start) were both more likely to be threatened by the overachieving student, and to experience schadenfreude. However, the researchers found that regardless of self-esteem, those who felt more threatened by this student also felt more schadenfreude.


Litost Czech


A state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own inadequacy and misery. Litost is a nearly untranslatable Czech word, a state of feeling miserable and humiliated. It connects insult to revenge, with desire to strike back at the perceived source of one’s shame.

for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other “ As languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.

-Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being


Saudade Portuguese


The feeling of longing for something or someone that you loved and lost. A vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.

It’s interesting that "saudade" accommodates , in one word, the haunting desire for a lost love, or for an imaginary, impossible, never-to-be-experienced love. Whether the object has been lost or will never exist, it feels the same to the seeker, and leaves her in the same place: She has a desire with no future. Saudade doesn’t distinguish between a ghost, and a fantasy. Nor do our broken hearts, much of the time.


Ya’aburnee Arabic


Literally meaning ‘you bury me’. A declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.that person.

The word is said to those who we love, and the phrase basically says: “I wish that he/she puts me in grave”. It’s extreme terms of endearment, meaning “I hope the time never comes in my life when you’ll be gone.”In other words, we wish that they live long - longer than us. Ya’aburnee is most often spoken from parents to children, in fact. Also sometimes comes out as “Ya To’aburnee,” when you’re addressing someone as opposed to speaking in an indefinite third person, like, “This one could bury me.”


There are at least 250,000 words in the English language. However, to think that English – or any language – could hold enough expression to convey the entirety of the human experience is as arrogant of an assumption as it is naive.

Lexical Gap presents a collection of 15 of the world’s most

untranslatable words, describing the concepts of some of the most beautiful and surreal human emtions that the english language has no word for.

SGD $25.90

Lexical Gap  
Lexical Gap  

There are at least 250,000 words in the English language. However, to think that English – or any language – could hold enough expression to...