Pena Ajena!

So Bad So Good published an interesting article a few weeks back called 25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In English. It says, “We look at 25 words that simply don’t exist in the English langauge (and yet after reading this list, you’ll wish they did!)” It is a fun article, but I have a few thoughts about it.

1 Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut

We do have phrases like “getting your ears lowered.” But more specifically, we do have a word: nice. “Oh! You got your hair cut. It looks nice.”

2 Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude

This is a good one. We do have a specialized word for it, however: Christmas.

3 Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist

Leave it to the Krauts, huh? I can’t think of anything here, but I just don’t see the usefulness of this word.

4 Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind

I’m out of my depth here. I just don’t think about this kind of thing, but I suspect we have words and phrases for this.

5 Desenrasçanço (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it)

We do have a word for this: divorce. Geez!

6 Duende (Spanish): a climactic show of spirit in a performance or work of art, which might be fulfilled in flamenco dancing, or bull-fighting, etc.

What? The fact that it is associated with flamenco and bull-fighting might have something to do with the fact that we haven’t needed to coin such an odd word.

7 Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love

We’re Americans. We just call it love, because we never get more mature than that.

8 Gigil (pronounced Gheegle; Filipino): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute

I think we do have a word for this, or a sound. You know: oiggeeeg!

9 Guanxi (Mandarin): in traditional Chinese society, you would build up good guanxi by giving gifts to people, taking them to dinner, or doing them a favor, but you can also use up your gianxi by asking for a favor to be repaid

This is all very nice, but we most definitely have a word for this and it is even in the definition: favor. Or a phrase, “good graces.” This one isn’t even close.

10 Ilunga (Tshiluba, Congo): A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time

We don’t have such amenable people.

11 L’esprit de l’escalier (French): usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it

This is just silly. We definitely have a word that means L’esprit de l’escalier: L’esprit de l’escalier! Geez!

12 Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery

I don’t know about you, but I always use bergmanesque.

13 Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan): A look between two people that suggests an unspoken, shared desire

This is a nice one. I think it is well represented by “shared glance” however.

14 Manja (Malay): “to pamper”, it describes gooey, childlike and coquettish behavior by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men. “His girlfriend is a damn manja. Hearing her speak can cause diabetes.”

I don’t even know what this is supposed to be. Does it mean to pamper or one who incites the desire to pamper? Regardless, I don’t want to be in any social setting where I might need to use this word.

15 Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee; Greek): Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing

Like a soulless people would need such a word!

16 Nunchi (Korean): the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood. In Western culture, nunchi could be described as the concept of emotional intelligence. Knowing what to say or do, or what not to say or do, in a given situation. A socially clumsy person can be described as ‘nunchi eoptta’, meaning “absent of nunchi”

I think we would call this empathy, but this word has a nice specificity.

17 Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation

Leave it to the Mexicans to coin a phrase that—out of all of the words here—I really do feel bad about not having. I’ll just have to memorize this and start using it. Pena ajena!

18 Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions

I can see that my friends might feel deprived by the lack of his word. But in general, we have no use for such a word because as a people we do not ask a lot of questions. We just talk a lot. And there are lots of words for that!

19 Schadenfreude (German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain

Again: the Krauts! I am liking those people less and less. Contrast with the Mexicans.

20 Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky

I’m not a big whiskey drinker, but even still, I have no idea what this is. Perhaps you have to be a drunk. Or Irish.

21 Taarradhin (Arabic): implies a happy solution for everyone, or “I win. You win.” It’s a way of reconciling without anyone losing face. Arabic has no word for “compromise,” in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement

Perhaps we would just say “a solution” or “agreement.” I would say, “The denouement of every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

22 Tatemae and Honne (Japanese): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively

Not fair! That’s two words. Anyway, I don’t think these are difficult enough concepts to require their own words.

23 Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island): to borrow objects one by one from a neighbor’s house until there is nothing left

I don’t believe it! What? Like someone borrows your screwdrivers one by one until he has the set? Does anyone even live on Easter Island?[1]

24 Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods

Might I suggest: alone? Or “alone in the woods” if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.[2]

25 Yoko meshi (Japanese): literally ‘a meal eaten sideways,’ referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language

I wouldn’t know about that.

Are you experiencing Pena ajena?


[1] Yes! There are 5,034 residents of Easter Island, according to Wikipedia.

[2] Yes, I am quoting from The Big Lebowski, which I seem to do more and more as the years go by.

5 replies on “Pena Ajena!

  1. […] Project videos. To be honest, I’m a little afraid. For one thing, I expect to feel a lot of pena ajena while watching them. But there’s also the fear that I will just embarrass myself. But I did […]

  2. Elizabeth says:

    4: no but men do react negatively to a woman if she turns around is not as attractive as they thought.
    7: I thought that was infatuation.
    10: Most people take quite a bit of abuse before they finally leave a situation. At least that is my experience. YMMV.
    17: I like this one, I hate humiliation comedy which is why I never liked the Office.
    22: Republicans
    24: Horror movie

    • Frank Moraes says:

      4: But these are the Japanese, so maybe not.
      7: I agree
      10: I tend to think people aren’t so systematized. They tend to forgive forever (liberals) or never (conservatives).
      17: It’s the only term that has made it into my vocabulary. I made it about 5 minutes into The Office and I couldn’t take it. I’m sure it’s good, but I can’t take the anxiety of watching that sort of thing. Same goes for Peep Show and I love Mitchell and Webb.
      22: Ha!
      24: That one doesn’t make much sense. I figure it is a bad translation.

  3. Dave L says:

    21: Win-win. A win-win situation

    • Frank Moraes says:

      Indeed. But I think that is a more general word. When I first saw the comment, I thought you were talking about the card game.

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