Have you ever blurted out, “Wow, that guy is just so…so…” and then were left floundering with nothing to say? Well, it’s not always your fault. English doesn’t have words for every situation, or even the ones that happen every damned day.
Fortunately, other languages usually do. And since we already borrow words from them (just recently we’ve taken “schadenfreude,” the German word for pleasure in someone else’s misfortune) here’s a few that we need to pick up right away:
#10. Bakku-shan (Japanese)
A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind.
Say you’re in a bar, and you look over to see the most incredible sight you’ve ever seen: a tall, slim woman with a waterfall of dark copper hair, an ass like a fresh peach in shrinkwrap and legs all the way down to the floor. You saunter over, lean against the bar next to her and give her your best line: “I got a boner just looking at you, can I buy you a drink?”
That’s when she turns to look at you.
Bile rises in your throat. It’s hard to say which is worse–is it the mole sprouting hair on her cheek? The yellow tombstone teeth? The eyepatch? The wiry black hair sprouting out from between her breasts?
Congratulations, you have just been a victim of bakku-shan: a girl that looks attractive from behind, but not from the front. It’s a more sophisticated variant of the American frat boy’s butter-face (as in everything about her is hot, “but her face”) that makes room for attractive women with weird neck tattoos, while at the same time allowing the speaker to avoid giving everyone within ear-shot douche-chills.
Truly the Japanese have a talent for coming up with words to describe common social situations so succinctly. Like they did with “bukkake.”
#9. Espirit d’escalier (French)
When you think of the perfect verbal comeback… much too late.
So you’re at a social gathering and a friend, in front of your peers, points at your chest and says, “Good sir, is that your shirt, or did you just vomit on your torso?”
The sting of his insult renders you wordless. Then, mere moments later, just as you’ve exited the room to the cacophony of humiliating laughter that will be the soundtrack to the rest of your life, you come up with the perfect comeback. Only moments later, but still much, much too late (note, the correct comeback was, “Neither, this is a special shirt created by scientists at the FBI to identify pedophiles, as it is specifically designed to offend their sensibilities to the point that they must comment. You will now be added to a sex offender registry”).
“Oh, excuse me, it looks like you dropped your pride. Better grab it.”
The French have come up with a term for your belated wit, Esprit d’escalier. Literally “the wit of the staircase,” meaning you couldn’t think up anything sassy until walking down the stairs afterward.
#8. Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan)
A look between two people that suggests an unspoken, shared desire.
There are two types of people in this world. There are the go-getters, the ones who see what they want and go after it with both hands, whether it be the boobs of the girl at the bar or a half-eaten candy bar in the hands of a two-year-old child.
Or, for the more experienced go-getters, both.
Then there is the second group, the shy ones, the ones who cower, terrified of rejection, forever tormented that they don’t have the things they want, primarily because they never get up the nerve to ask for them.
Get two of the latter together, and you get Mamihlapinatapai. It’s 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.”
It’s the shy dude and the insecure girl, sitting there at each end of a park bench, perhaps glancing every now and then at the other and blushing whenever eye contact is made, forever making trivial conversation, each imagining the two of them fucking like wildcats.
#7. Backpfeifengesicht (German)
A face badly in need of a fist.
Some people, we just suspect deep down that the only way to get through to them is by violence. Or perhaps the violence is the only thing that will make us feel better.
It’s the friend who insists on telling racist jokes in front of your mixed-race girlfriend, a co-worker who’s constantly sniveling about minor grammar issues on your post-it memos or any number of entertainers you see on magazine covers.
Courtesy of Germany, this nameless horror is in fact named backpfeifengesicht, a face that cries out for a fist in it. Everyone knows at least one of these people. If you don’t, it might be you.
There are variations that definition, that claim it merely means the face needs to be “slapped” but this is Germany we’re talking about here. We’re going with fist, and further ask if we can modify the word to mean “A face that needs a crowbar.” Because there’s really another category that needs addressed there.
#6. Nunchi (Korean)
The art of not becoming a Backpfeifengesicht.
Speaking of which, why is it some people just seem to have no idea what’s going on in a social situation? They tell six jokes in a row without noticing no one is laughing, they smoke in a house that has clearly never been smoked in, they managed to always bring up the one subject you’re sensitive about (“Hey, you know what’s funny? The Holocaust!”)
The Koreans would say they lack nunchi, the innate ability that lets you sense what would be the wrong thing to say in a situation (and presumably the ability to then not say it).
“And it went right up her butt. Swear to God. Hey, did you hear me?”
The boss character from The Office (both versions) is simply a guy who completely lacks nunchi. It goes beyond tact, or simple manners. It’s the ability to read your audience and instinctively know, as soon as you see them, “here are people who will not enjoy my dildo anecdote.”
#5. Shlimazl (Yiddish)
Somebody who has nothing but bad luck.
Have you ever found yourself at the end of a sequence of events that started with ordering a Big Mac, and ended with being roughly sodomized on national television? Fortunately most people will not experience this. But then there are those that the Yiddish call shlimazl</>, the chronically unlucky.
And yes, we know that half of you are saying, “Ha, that’s ME!” but be honest, all of you know at least one guy you wouldn’t trade lives with if you were paid millions of dollars to do it. These are the guys you tell sad/hilarious stories to your other friends about.
You know, the guy who got the girl pregnant the first time he had sex, thanks to getting the rare defective condom. The guy whose blind Internet date turns out to be his mother. The dude who gets elected president despite being a career C-student, and within a few years has the worst terrorist attack and worst hurricane in the country’s history.
#4. Tatemae and Honne (Japanese)
What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively.
A whole lot of the angst in the world is due to the difference between what we actually believe, and what we’re allowed to admit we believe. We talk about “political correctness” but it goes beyond that. Even if you consider yourself the most politically incorrect, edgy guy around, when grandma asks if you like the sweater, you’ll still say “yes” and ensure you get another one next Christmas. When your aspiring artist friend shows you the horrible picture he’s spent a year painting, you’ll tell him it’s good.
The Japanese have just accepted this huge difference between what we mean and what we say, calling them “honne” and “tatemae.” The first is reality as you understand it, the second is reality as filtered through what society expects.
The difference is the Japanese don’t seem to regard this as something to get pissed off about (they don’t recognize one as being more true or honest than the other, but as simply two sides of reality). They have have figured out that it’s just the way the world works. Society is built on lukewarm lies, get over it.
#3. Sgiomlaireachd (Scottish Gaelic)
When people interrupt you at meal time.
Hey, don’t you just love it when you’ve just gotten your tacos arranged neatly in front of you when you get a knock at the door? And it’s a couple of Mormons? Or maybe a local politician, or some hippie trying to get you to sign a petition?
Most of us have an almost instinctual hatred of that, maybe because our evolutionary ancestors knew an interruption at meal time meant some other predator was looking to take our freshly-killed gazelle from us. Or maybe it’s just because burritos don’t taste as good when they’re cold.
Either way, Scottish Gaelic has a word for rude mealtime interruptions: sgiomlaireachd. We can’t begin to imagine how that’s pronounced, but literally translated we believe it means, “A visit with less worth to you than even one cold french fry.”
#2. Tingo (Pascuense)
To borrow from a friend until he has nothing left.
You know what sucks? Buying stuff. Especially when your friend already has a load of stuff and a generous disposition. Televisions are expensive, and what with the credit crunch looming large over our heads it makes sense to cut down on spending. So why not just borrow your friend’s TV, just for a little while…
A week later they arise from the cold hard floor in their bare bedroom in their empty house. Meanwhile, you’re getting out of a four-post bed into a silk bathrobe to prepare for a long hard day hitting the jacuzzi.
The Easter Islanders have the word tingo, which means to borrow items one by one from your friend’s house until there is nothing left. It’s kind of odd that this happens enough there that they need a special word to describe it. We’re picturing a whole island full of people living out the Homer Simpson and Ned Flander’s relationship.
#1. Desenrascanco (Portuguese)
To pull a MacGyver.
This is the art of slapping together a solution to a problem at the last minute, with no advanced planning, and no resources. It’s the coat hanger you use to fish your car keys out of the toilet, the emergency mustache you hastily construct out of pubic hair.
What’s interesting about desenrascano (literally “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation), the Portuguese word for these last-minute solutions, is what is says about their culture.
Where most of us were taught the Boy Scout slogan “be prepared,” and are constantly hassled if we don’t plan every little thing ahead, the Portuguese value just the opposite.
Coming up with frantic, last-minute improvisations that somehow work is considered one of the most valued skills there; they even teach it in universities, and in the armed forces. They believe this ability to slap together haphazard solutions has been key to their survival over the centuries.
Don’t laugh. At one time they managed to build an empire stretching from Brazil to the Philippines this way.