It never fails.  We’ll be out walking the dogs or preparing dinner or working out when Akemi will turn to me and ask: “What’s the English world for…”.  And then proceed to lay out the most ridiculously detailed scenario like “What’s the English for when you’re trying to lose weight and keep at it for a while but, eventually, you give up and have, say, a piece of cake ?” or “What’s the English world for when you’re not hungry but you have something to eat because your mouth feels lonely?”.  I’ll inform her there is no English equivalent, word or phrase, that perfectly encapsulates such a comprehensive definition and she is, as always, surprised and disappointed.  Because, you see, the Japanese seem to have a word FOR EVERYTHING!

For example…

Age-otori: The state of looking far worse following a haircut.

Arigata-meiwaku: When somebody does you a favor you didn’t want them to do but they went ahead and did it anyway and, as a result, caused you a huge inconvenience but social convention requires you to thank them anyway.

Aware: The bittersweetness of fading moment.

Bakku-shan: A woman that looks far better from behind than from the front.

Boketto: The act of staring blankly out into space, devoid of any thoughts.

Happou bijin: The act of being ungenuinely nice to everyone out of fear of being disliked.

Karoshi: Death from overwork.

Kenjataimu: Period directly after the sexual act when a man is free of desire and can think clearly.

Kintsugi: The act of repairing broken pottery with gold.

Koi no yokan: The feeling, upon first meeting someone, that you will eventually fall in love.

Kuchi zamishi:  When you’re not hungry but you eat because your mouth is “lonely”.

Kyoikumama: A mother who relentlessly pushes her child to study.

Shrinrin-yoku: “Forest bathing” – visiting a forest for some R&R.

Tsujigiri: The act of trying out a new sword on some random stranger.

Tsundoku: The act of buying  a book and never getting around to reading it.

Wabi-sabi: A world view that accepts the transcendent and imperfect nature of life.

Yoko meshi: The stress experienced speaking a foreign language.

Familiar with any words in other languages that lack an English equivalent.  List away!

28 thoughts on “August 17, 2013: The Japanese have a word for it!


    and a few others
    Sgiomlaireachd (Scottish Gaelic)
    When people interrupt you at meal time.

    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.
    (according to the article i got this from they teach this in their universities & to their military)

    Gumusservi (Turkish)
    It means moonlight shining on water.

  2. It’s like Hawaiian-
    Aloha: Welcome to my island, the gift shop is to your left, the beach to the right and you are about to get lei’d.

  3. For this:
    “What’s the English world for…”. And then proceed to lay out the most ridiculously detailed scenario like “What’s the English for when you’re trying to lose weight and keep at it for a while but, eventually, you give up and have, say, a piece of cake ?

    Either you yourself or someone who knows you want/need to diet becomes: “Diet Buster.” This applies to either yourself or the outside influence that cause you to do the cake.

    Kuchi zamishi: When you’re not hungry but you eat because your mouth is “lonely”.

    LOL….this one could also apply to the diet busting.

  4. “Bakku-shan”

    I think, in English we would describe her as a “Butter Face”…

    As in, everything looks good… but her face.

  5. Being peckish, grazing or noshing comes close to describing eating when you’re not hungry, I knew way more words for that when I worked in an office with 100 plus girls, we had phrases to describe every type of food emergency that wrecked our diets. Giving up on dieting to have cake could be called falling off the wagon. All addiction terms work with dieting; gateway foods, people who force food on you when you’re dieting are pushers, we jones for our fave foods and anything delicious we describe as “like crack.”

    I love Aware; ironic that you have to be aware to experience aware.

  6. “Age-otori” – BAD-Hair-Purchase
    “Arigata-meiwaku” – a SQUEEGY-Person
    “Koi no yokan” – smitten
    “Kenjataimu” – a 69-NANO-second-*MYTH*!
    “Tsujigiri” – a KING JOFFREY-ism

  7. I’m not sure if we have any words here in Ireland that lack an English equivalent, but we do have our own unique way of saying things.
    For example: ‘Banjaxed’ means ‘Broken’, ‘Grand’ means ‘Everything will be fine’, ‘Giz a shot’ means ‘Let me have a look at it, please.’ It doesn’t mean to drink shots.
    ‘Lashed’ means ‘To get very drunk’, ‘Suckin’ diesel’ means ‘To have a great time’, while ‘Sweets’ are ‘Candy’, and ‘spuds’ are ‘potatoes’.

    Quite a few of the words we use in everyday conversation in Ireland are also used in America and Canada all the time, but mean VASTLY different things, which can lead to some embarrassing, and potentially, uncomfortable situations.

    For example, a ‘chippy’ in Ireland, is a fish and chip shop. After receiving looks of horror from the family I was staying with when I visited America a few years ago, I realized that is NOT what a ‘chippy’ is across the water. There were a few other instances of where etymology has gotten me into bother on holiday/vacation! Like, ‘Craic’ (pronounced ‘crack’) means ‘to have a good time’ and has nothing to do with drugs. I wouldn’t really recommend saying this one outside of Ireland too much though.. it doesn’t end well when people don’t understand the comment is innocent.

    We also tend to greet people we know well with insults – and the greater the friend, the greater the insult!

  8. I know some Burning Man specific phrases, the main one is
    playadipity … when the playa provides an amazing, appropriate and completely impossible event by random coincidence, often fulfilling a want or need. Includes finding long lost relatives or far flung friends in the unlikeliest of situations.

    You’re on the deep playa, checking out the art installations and the dust kicks up. You duck into the shelter of a giant dancer whose hands spout flames (or any number of wild things you may imagine). Someone hands you a cold beer, and it turns out they’re the kid you met fifteen years ago hiking in the outback. That sort of thing.

  9. @Ganymede. Delicious! Though I would like to know the word for trying out a new sword on people you know and probably deserve to be a test dummy, as in your excellent example.

  10. The South does have language shortcuts and I’ve noticed Memphians use some words in ways I wasn’t familiar with. For example, a few Memphis DJ’s started saying “I’ll be dialoging with you” or “We can dialogue about this further.” Of course, there is y’all for “you all” but that’s pretty common. Then I’ve noticed words like “Baby Momma or Baby Daddy” creep into the English language in the last few years. Other than those kinds of words, I got nothing.

    Narelle has a tons of different words. It seems Australia is creating its own version of the English language. You out there Relle? Thank God for Twitter, so we can touch base occasionally.

    It must be exhausting trying to come up with English equivalents though. I had no idea the Japanese language was so expressive. Thanks for sharing your list!

    Articgoddess: A belated Happy Birthday to you! I kept meaning to post this yesterday but my ADD got the better of me.

    LJ: Yay and Thank you!

  11. The Japanese are an interesting and sophisticated people. With this kind of ability, no wonder they think we Westerners are idjits…but this is what you get when you pour everyone in a big pot and stir vigorously…

  12. ,,,and now that I know of this penchant they have for creating a word for everything, I’ll have to start stealing them. Greek is so passe…

  13. That’s amazing. I am particularly amused by “Kenjataimu”. Does that actually exist? Also, I think when our mouth feels lonely…I’m pretty sure that’s just “boredom eating”. “Kuchi zamishi” does sound cooler, though, and much less on point. It gives it emotion, it’s comforting your mouth! Not simply putting on

  14. Is there a Japanese word for a person who thinks they know everything, Thinks they are always the smartest person in the room but has no idea they keep saying things that are so stupid it almost hurts to hear them and he never, ever, ever admits he’s wrong?

    Sounds like my brother, but he is reasonably smart and I once heard him admit he was wrong. Once.

  15. @Maggiemayday: “Playa” as in beach or is it pronounced differently?

    The one that always gets Mr. Deni is “no tengo pelos en la lengua”, which translates into “I don’t have hairs on my tongue”. It translates into “I’m not afraid to say what’s on my mind.” 🙂

  16. Do the Japanese have a word for always hungry for ice cream? I could eat it pretty much every day. 😀

  17. Boketto: The act of staring blankly out into space, devoid of any thoughts.

    I should just go and change my name to Boketto…

    Tsundoku: The act of buying a book and never getting around to reading it.

    …or Tsundoku. 😛

    Nice to know there are words out there to describe some of my worst habits. 🙂


  18. to Tam Dixon
    For example, a few Memphis DJ’s started saying “I’ll be dialoging with you” or “We can dialogue about this further.”

    i think they used that in the movie/tv industry for awhile. they always seem to be using some new slang to sound “hip” or “edgy.” actually i think “edgy” was the latest buzzword in hollywood for a few years there. i read somewhere that a script for a fraggle rock movie was rejected because it wasn’t edgy enough. 🙄
    i think we could spend days just on industry (medical, law, etc.) and local jargon & slang alone.

  19. They say there’s no English word for the German word “schadenfreude”. (Or in Dutch leedvermaak) In more than one word it basically means the joy of seeing others suffer. I guess you could call it “sadism” but even that is not the direct translation for it.

  20. @ for the love of Beckett: I’d be on the toilet EVERY DAY if I ate ice-cream! I wish I was kidding! I’m sure there’s a Japanese word to describe certain dairy intolerances 🙂

    “Boketto: The act of staring blankly out into space, devoid of any thoughts.” This is a GOOD word! You can’t beat a good day dream session!

    On a personal note:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my wonderful Son who celebrates the big 20 today! Yikes! I don’t want to think about next year! I am proud of ALL his achievements ! Sweetheart, you did brilliantly in your first year at University – I know you’ll publish your first book in the next few years!

    I hope you will all forgive me for publicly documenting a proud Mum moment! 🙂

  21. Ah yes, sayings and idioms are just as much culturally unique as they are fun to learn what they are and how they came to be. I’m Armenian and there are plenty of one or two-word sayings that translate into more of a complete sentence or thought that I could share…..but that could take a while, so here’s just one:

    Saadgeleek shoon: A dog not worthy enough to be put down.

    As for those Japanese ones you listed, I’d think being a wordsmith, you’d know that we DO have some of those one-worders in English. Here’s my stab at some of them:

    Arigata-meiwaku: Thanks for nothing.

    Bakku-shan: Butterface. (Have to agree with BoltBait)

    Boketto: Zoning, or “to zone out”.

    Happou bijin: A Politician. Seriously though, a “fake” fits best, but the added fear of being disliked complicates it.

    Karoshi: I don’t have one for this one. I was just surprised that I actually already knew this word.

    Kenjataimu: Sleep. 😉

    Koi no yokan: Kismet?

    Kuchi zamishi: Gnash(as in “I’m just looking for a…”).

    Kyoikumama: Overbearing?

    Tsujigiri: Going postal?

    Wabi-sabi: Que Sera Sera.

    What’d be interesting is if you asked Akemi about sarcasm in Japanese culture. So many of these might be spoken with certain inflections that make all the difference in the world as to their tone and real meaning. I’d be curious if the Japanese are known for their sarcasm, the way Americans can be.

    -Mike A.

  22. @Angelus, English has an equivalent, it is just very rarely used today. The English equivalent of ‘schadenfreude’ is ‘epicaricacy’: “Rejoicing at or derivation of pleasure from the misfortunes of others”.

  23. Karsk = “Karsk is a scandinavian cocktail containing coffee together with moonshine or vodka, and sometimes a spoon of sugar (enthusiasts often consider moonshine exclusively to be appropriate as an added component, as it has no inherent taste like other alcohols)…..according to the Norwegian Minister of Culture Trond Giske “Everyone who has grown up in Trøndelag, has had Karsk at some point”

    *raises hand* I grew up/live in Trøndelag and can attest to this.

    Drar til Syden = Traveling to the South (Drar / Going, til / to, Syden / the South. Syd = South, “Syd”+”en” = the South, odd I know).
    A unintentionally silly phrase as pretty much everything (except from Svalbard and The North Pole). If I where to travel straight West I might bump into Iceland on the way to the shores of Canada.

    Hyttekos = Having a good time at the cabin. Rough transmutation to English would be “Cabincozy”

    Solveggen = The sunny side/wall of a house or building (or a cabin), usually involving sitting with your back against said wall and your face towards the sun.
    Rough transmutation to English would be “Sunnywall”

    Matpakke alternatively Matpakka, which would roughly translate to a Bento and the Bento to borrow a Japanese word to explain it.

    Uffda = A very generic word, a mix between acknowledgement or slight surprise or sympathy, someplace between shitty and not so shitty, used for situations where one also could respond by saying “And he actually fell on his face?” “So it’s still stuck in there?” “You owe the IRS money after taxes?” “*burp* I don’t think that’s digesting so well.

    Utepils = Roughly transmutated to English this could be “Outsidebeer” or “Outdoorlager” or “Openairdraft” etc. Basically it means having a beer or pilsner outside on a nice day. Usually during the summer months.

    Matmor and Matfar = Roughly transmutated to English these are “Foodmother” and “Foodfather”. If you are a petowner/have pets, and you are not androgynous then you are one of these, Matmor being female and Matfar being male obviously.
    Meaning that Mr. Malozzi is the Matfar for his Puglings.

  24. The only cool thing I can contribute to this blog is that I know how to swear in sign language. It’s fun doing and no one knows what you are saying. I would do this in Patrick’s school district meetings.

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