I was intrigued by a recent Quora post asking for examples of words in languages other than English that had no simple translation into English. Amongst the words and expressions instanced there were the following:
- Dasein: the title of this post and part of the title of Martin Heidegger’s philosophical work Sein und Dasein, which is one of the most difficult books I have ever attempted to read. The Quora poster gives a good sense of the word as Heidegger means it, and therefore of the difficulty presented by “normal” readers trying to come to terms with the book. He talks about Heidegger using dasein to signify “a very specific type of being — one that actively contemplates its own existence and is aware of the paradoxical nature of existence (principally that we are surrounded by people for the entirety of our lives, yet we are essentially alone with ourselves). He views this type of being as always engaging in the world where just being is an issue for it”. So there.
- Iktsuarpok: an Inuit word describing the “feeling of anticipation that leads you to go outside and check if anyone is coming, and probably also indicates an element of impatience”.
- Jayus: an Indonesian slang word for someone who tells a joke so badly, that is so unfunny, that you cannot help but laugh out loud.
- Pana P’o: a Hawaiian word for the act of scratching your head to help you remember where you have put something.
- Dharma: a Sanskrit word that is deeply rooted in a number of religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism that is particularly difficult to translate. Wikipedia gives a sense of the difficulty of translating it into English: “[t]he meaning of [the] word “dharma” depends on the context, and its meaning evolved as ideas of Hinduism developed over its long history. In earliest texts and ancient myths of Hinduism, dharma meant cosmic law, the rules that created the universe from chaos, as well as rituals; [i]n later Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and the Epics, the meaning became refined, richer, complex and the word dharma was applied to diverse contexts. In certain contexts, dharma designates human behaviours considered necessary for order of things in the universe, principles that prevent chaos, behaviours and action necessary to all life in nature, society, family as well as at the individual level. Dharma encompasses ideas such as duty, rights, character, vocation, religion, customs and all behaviour considered appropriate, correct or morally upright.
- Löyly: a Finnish word referring to the heat that fills a sauna after one has thrown water on the stones.