Words to express emotion – what we miss by only speaking English

I love playing with words. But sometimes, there just isn’t a word in English or Spanish (the two languages I know) to express what I’m feeling.

Sometimes it exists in another language, and several writers have now published articles with their favourites. But sometimes it does not exist at all.

Below are my 3 favourite sites to explore for words to emotions I can’t put a name to.

The Positive Lexicography

The Positive Lexicography Project by Dr Tim Lomas is a comprehensive and interactive site that is super easy to use.

Quickly narrow your search to the types of words you are looking for based on emotion, or explore all the words offered up by more than 150 of the world’s languages. You can even submit your own suggestion from a language that you know.

One of my favourites is from Yagán an indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego.

I absolutely know this feeling! And I love that it comes from South America, where I used to live.

Lost in Translation

A less comprehensive but beautifully illustrated take on this idea is the book: Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders.

An example from another language close to my heart and related to where I currently live:

I can absolutely understand why this word exists in an Inuit language (there are actually several dialects used by the Inuit) as I currently live in Greenland. I can actually see two potential reasons why it exists.

The first is a safety concern. The Arctic can be a dangerous place (mostly weather, but also polar bears depending on where you are), so if you are expecting someone – it totally makes sense to keep checking outside for them until they arrive safely.

The second is due to the isolated nature of living in the Arctic. The arrival of someone new is definitely something to hope for and look forward to. It is this feeling of isolation (combined with opportunities afforded by the modern age) that drives most Greenlanders to get “off island” at least once a year during their holidays.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Yet another variation on this theme is the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (now also a book). In their own words: “the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines new words for emotions that we all feel but don’t have the language to express.”

I’m not sure if they have cross-correlated with the Lexicography Project at all, but I particularly love the beautiful, short (~3mins) videos they have made for their YouTube channel.

One of my favourites is this one for Morii – the desire to capture a fleeting experience.

We ALL experience this on an almost daily basis. It’s why we now carry a camera around in our pockets – something unheard of even 15 years ago (except for hard-core photographers).

I suspect this new word derives from Memento Mori (“remember you must die” in Latin) as, in the words of the narrator:

With every click of the shutter,
you’re trying to press pause on your life.
If only so you can feel a little more comfortable moving on
living in a world stuck on play

Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows


All of their videos are amazing with compelling narration that often makes you stop and think.

If you are as fascinated by words as I am, I encourage you to give the above a look.

Language really is a beautiful thing.

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