Things You Thought You Knew #4: There’s a Word for That in English, Right?

What You Thought You Knew: The English language vocabulary is sufficient for expressing our needs. When we don’t have a word for something, it’s because we haven’t learned the word for it.

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What You Didn’t Know: You know you’ve been there — that moment when you’re stuck, mid-sentence, scrounging around for a word, but you just can’t find anything that means what you want. So you have to resort to spelling it out in a long, explanatory phrase because you just can’t find a word for it.

What’s up with that?

You’d think that any language that’s been around for a while would be able to articulate anything that you’d ever need. And truth is, we can. So What You Thought You Knew is actually pretty correct to begin with — our language can function to cover our expressive needs.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that we’ve got a word for everything! Other languages have words that we don’t, so it looks like we’re missing a lot of words. We don’t have a single word to express a person whose face just really needs a fist (literally…a person in need of a face-punch), but German does — backpfeifengesicht. Similarly, Malaysia’s pisan zapra has no parallel in English…unless we were to explain that it’s the amount of time an average person takes to eat a banana.

Now You Know: That foreign languages have a lot of interesting words that we don’t!

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