English Dictionaries. Photo by John Keogh on Flickr. CC BY-NC-2.0

Sometimes there’s something we want to express, but we can’t seem to find the right term for it. There’s a feeling or situation that we just can’t put into words. Or maybe the precise word doesn’t even exist in English.

On occasion we have to turn to words and phrases in other languages to describe exactly what we’re trying to say. For instance, in English we often borrow the German word “schadenfreude,” which means “pleasure at the misfortune of others”.

Maybe we should consider borrowing a few more foreign words that have no English equivalent. I suggest the following:

Gigil (Filipino):

The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute. (Don’t tell me you’ve never done this to a cute baby or child!)

Age-otori (Japanese):

To look worse after a haircut. (Haven’t we all experienced this?)

Shemomedjamo (Georgian):
You know the experience of being already full, but your meal is just so delicious that you can’t stop eating? The Georgians have a word for it, which means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”

Tartle (Scots):
This word describes that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

Tingo (Pascuense):

From Easter Island, this word means the act of slowly and gradually stealing objects you desire from your neighbour’s house by borrowing them and never returning them.

Pesmenteiro (Portuguese):

A person who shows up at a funeral just for the food. (Maybe the sequel to the movie “Wedding Crashers” could be “Funeral Crashers”?)

Verschlimmbesserung (German):

A supposed improvement that actually makes things worse. (I’ll bet you’ve experienced this at your workplace!)

Pisan Zapra (Malay):

The time needed to eat a banana. (Did they really need a word for this?)

These words are all amusing, but sometimes we have deeply painful experiences that we can’t put in to words. We go through traumatic experiences of grief or loss or betrayal, and we don’t even know what to pray.

Words fail us.

Desperate prayer. Photo by Mathieu Jarry on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fortunately, we have a source of help in the Holy Spirit, who is never at a loss for words. He speaks all languages, especially the language of the heart. When we experience emotions that overwhelm us to the point of speechlessness, the Holy Spirit steps in. He talks to God on our behalf when we don’t even know what to say.

“In the same way the Spirit [comes to us and] helps us in our weakness. We do not know what prayer to offer or how to offer it as we should, but the Spirit Himself [knows our need and at the right time] intercedes on our behalf with sighs and groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

It’s so good to know that our generous God has provided help for us on so many levels. He’s given us the Holy Spirit, who can utter powerful prayers on our behalf. He’s also provided His Word, the Bible, wherein we can find encouragement and comfort in times of need. And of course, there’s Jesus Himself (whom the Gospel of John calls “the Word of God”), who assures us that He’ll never leave us.

If you’re ever in desperate straits, so anguished that you’re bereft of speech, here’s a word to the wise:

The Word will never fail you.

© 2020 Lori J. Cartmell. All rights reserved.

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