Emotions For Which There Are No Words in English

You can feel it. You can sense it. Somewhere deep inside, you know exactly what emotion you’re experiencing, but for some reason, you can’t seem to find a way to describe it. Your brain starts concocting word recipes like, “anger tinged with longing and a dash of depression” to capture the unidentified feeling, one that is all too familiar.

Before you prescribe yourself anti-psychotics and make claims to insanity, you need to realize this phenomenon is entirely normal. Though the English dictionary has become heavy enough to be considered more of a weapon than a book, its 3,000-plus vocabulary is still inadequate when it comes to describing certain abstract emotions. Luckily, there is a solution. In a study done at London’s Royal College of Art, design student Pei-Ying Lin identified a number of words from other languages that describe specific emotions, ones that cannot be defined by any one term in English. For example:

Saudade (Portuguese): a somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness; longing for something that might never return.
Remember that time in elementary school when you raised a group of butterflies and set them free into the wild, secretly hoping that one of them might flutter back to you and refuse to leave? Remember how you felt when it didn’t happen? How about the time you tuned into one of your many TV shows the week after they killed off your favorite character? Imagine how you felt then, knowing that, until the writers run out of plotlines and resort to character resurrections, your fictional hero/heroine will no longer be included in the show’s script. That is saudade. It is the same reason why, no matter how much you hated high school, you are still flooded with a sense of nostalgia whenever you flip through a yearbook. You don’t want that time back. You want that emotion back.

Tocka (Russian): great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause; ache of soul, a longing with nothing to long for.
Tocka is the center-point of every 2-dollar paperback novel you find in the “beach book” section of a convenience store. By which I mean, it is the feeling of missing something or someone that you never had in the first place (and later finding a man or woman or cat that fills that void). It is often referred to as the “Carly Rae Jepsen Syndrome” in reference to her lyric “Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad.” To put it simply, if this were an episode of Friends, Phoebe would be cleansing your aura.

Schadenfreude (German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain.
Schadenfreude is everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure. Why? Because schadenfreude describes the inexplicable joy you experience when you watch a video compilation of dramatic wipeouts on YouTube. You know you shouldn’t laugh. You know that the person who just tumbled down a hill or ran into a bookcase is probably suffering from a great deal of pain. You know that George of the Jungle could potentially suffer brain damage from swinging into that tree, which he does every time, even though you repeatedly told him not to. You know that your ex-boyfriend is about to slip into a mild depression when you see the girl he dumped you for break up with him on Facebook. And yet… you laugh. Why? Schadenfreude. That’s why.

Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.
Litost is the underlying cause of a mid-life crisis, the state of self-reflection that forces you to acknowledge the laugh-lines forming around your mouth, the bags hanging below your eyes and the party playlist you made on your iPod that consists only of nostalgic country music. Litost can also strike in your younger years on New Year’s Day when you wake up with “Harry Styles have my babies” scribbled across your forehead and an album of pictures on your phone filled with people you don’t remember ever meeting.

While some emotions can be described with a term from another language, others are so new, they don’t have words to describe them at all. Another chart made by Lin depicts a collection of nameless emotions that have arisen during the age of the Internet, feelings that are so unique to the current generation, society hasn’t had time to label them yet. So, to save everybody the trouble, I have decided to name these emotions myself so that they may be included in daily conversation:

Rechneravis  (Rechner= Computer in German, Avis= Bird in Latin): a sudden and irrational rage in response to reading an “@-Reply” on Twitter.
Hungdort (a clever combination of hungry and discomfort made by yours truly): the car collision of appetite and discomfort one feels simultaneously when using the internet to seek and consume images or information that may be considered unseemly or inappropriate.
Wibloque (a condensed, more sophisticated-sounding version of writer’s block that I made up just now): the sense of fatigue and disconnect one experiences after emitting a massive stream of content only to hit a kind of wall and forget and/or abandon the entire thing.
Logosleeg (Logos= Message in Greek, Leeg= Empty in Dutch, or something): a vague and gnawing pang of anxiety centered around an IM window that has lulled.
Rhydosa (while suffering from this phenomenon, I hit my face on the keyboard and this word came out so I figured it might fit): the state of being installed at a computer or laptop for an extended period of time without purpose, characterized by a blurry, formless anxiety undercut with something hard like depression.

There are a lot of experiences in life that do not have names. The pang of excitement you feel when you bite the tip off of a slice of pizza. The fear of getting old that flares up when you find your first gray hair at the age of 19. The split-second moment just before the roller coaster drops where time seems to stop. While it may be fun to come up with names for these instances, it is also important to realize that perhaps they have remained nameless for a reason. Sometimes it’s okay to be struck by an emotion that you can’t describe, one so unique that you have no choice but to be speechless.

Original study can be found here. Image via Shutterstock.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7700120 Caitlín Rosberg

    The English equivalent of Schadenfreude is actually “epicaricacy.” That’s actually a popular misconception that there’s no word in English for it, and one that’s easily dispelled with a few minutes on our friend Google.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001892051614 Jess Valandingham

    I LOLed at “rhydosa”… thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1817831209 Elinor O’ Donovan

    Is Schadenfreude not just sadism??

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1114891552 Nathalie Margo M

      No, it’s not. We also have the word sadism (Sadismus). If you are schadenfroh, you don’t DO or WISH something bad to people. It’s just funny. Slap stick comedy works that way. Everytime Homer says “D’oh!” and you smile you are schadenfroh. Everytime you hit someone in the face and enjoy his pain you are sadistic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002528262018 Jamaica Elharar

    I was thinking about Tocka a few days ago! I was wondering if it was an actual thing, I guess it is

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590996853 André Silva

    I’m brazilian, and I’m pretty sure the word in english that is equivalent to “saudade” is “missing”. Like when you say “I miss you”. If you translate this to portuguese you have “eu sinto saudade de você”. But I’m no expert anyway.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000349985995 Ananda Marques

      André, you are right! Missing is not as strong as saudade, but is the word that better fits in translations. I think this description is too nostalgic, we feel saudade of things that come back too.
      For example, we can feel saudade of people who lives away or who is not with us anymore, forever or for a while. When you want someone or something with you and you don’t have it or can’t have it this is saudade.
      When we study english in Brazil most of teachers say that saudade may be compared with the feeling of homesick 😀

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2359116 Elyse Marie Welcher

    can’t forget Sisu- the Finnish word that roughly translates to “guts” or perseverance, that feeling of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” and pushing through whatever obstacles stand in life’s path.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=842349222 Anna Slusarczyk

    litost is regret, tocka (tosca) – depression.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507151972 Kyndl Brunson
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=611542237 Tyler Vendetti

    Toska is the English spelling. (And also how it’s pronounced in English.) тоска is the Russian spelling.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1190164667 Ganesh Jayakumar

    Thank you :-) great effort..I had a hard time finding words to express some emotions,but many on the list , have rescued me :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1642418708 Lex Tonelli

    Gee, thanks Ty…I’ve found a new word for JT…Rhydosa!! :-) he goes to his computer room and gets depressed! Jk :-) I learned a lot today…thanks!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=14826379 Melissa Cooper

    I like Hangry. A conjunction of hungry and angry. Because who isn’t a little hangry every now and then?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1289867765 Jim McCormick

    Connect with Facebook to post a comment

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=29502461 Lucy Brock

    There must be a word eventually for the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction that comews with the number of likes, or for the people who like your facebook statuses.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1469714673 Greg Howard

    Englsh is a poetic language. The resolution of meaning is subject to interpretation, which some are more capable of than others. US english has distorted the meaning of many words, i.e. ‘gross’ which has never meant disgusting. Learn English and then make useful articles. This sort of rubbish has no place in a literary environment, ao is patently insulting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=810486 Emily Przylucki Peterson

    I like “Hul” (헐), a Korean expression that can be used as “Really??” or “that sucks”. It’s a feeling of disbelief at what’s occurring, or you want it to happen to you.
    – Your ex-boyfriend gets a new girlfriend. “Hul”
    – Your friend tells you she found $10 on the side of the road. “Hul”
    – You spent a long preparing a presentation, and your boss hates it. “Hul”

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