Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Our Redding transmitter is offline due to an internet outage at our Shasta Bally site. This outage also impacts our Burney and Dunsmuir translators. We are working with our provider to find a solution. There is currently no estimated time of restoration. We appreciate your patience.

Merriam-Webster asked for words that don't have translation to English. Here are some


The dictionary tweeted the other day. It was the account run by Merriam-Webster, and it asked people to share what they consider to be perfect words from other languages that don't have a direct equivalent in English. Lots of people replied to that tweet, so we asked some of them to tell us more about their favorite non-English words.


JULIE CAFLEY: My name is Julie Cafley. I'm calling from Ottawa, Canada. My favorite word that doesn't exist in English is a word in French - debrouillard. And debrouillard, if you literally translate it, means somebody who removes the fog. The closest thing in English would be the idea of somebody who is resourceful, who's creative, figures a way through the fog or through the confusion and just gets to results, is efficient. It's a quality that I love in people, and it's something that I'm always trying to say in English. And frankly, the word doesn't exist.

RAFA MARTINEZ-AVIAL: Hello. My name is Rafa, and I'm a software engineer based in San Francisco. And today I want to talk about the word estrenar, which is a Spanish word that doesn't really have a translation in English. It could mean to break something in, but it doesn't have to be something you wear. So it could be a new car, a new pair of shoes or even, like, a new partner that you're bringing to a party or a social gathering with you for the first time. In general though, there isn't, like, a general translation, which is funny because I feel like usually I have this problem in the opposite direction where English has so many words that sometimes it's just very hard to find a Spanish word that conveys the same nuance or the same connotations that an English word.

KYLE WARK: My name is Kyle Wark. My Tlingit names are (speaking Tlingit). I'm a health care researcher in Anchorage, Alaska. The word that I shared was haa shagoon, which means our ancestors. But because the Tlingit believe in reincarnation, it's also our descendants - the ancestors who will come back to us. But it also means a lot more than that, too. It means the history of our ancestors codified in places, stories, songs, names, art, customs, etcetera that guide our lives. The concept of haa shagoon is also related to haa kusteeyix, which means our way of life or our culture.

STEPHANIE THOMPSON: My name is Stephanie Thompson. I'm originally from Lebanon. And in Lebanese Arabic, one of my favorite words is soubhiye, which refers to that period of time in the morning when no one else is awake but you and you can have some quiet time to yourself before the household is awake. My mother often used to have a soubhiye by herself or with one of my aunts or friends. And now that I am a mom of two myself and I don't sleep in anymore, I really value that time when you can just gather your thoughts and have that moment to yourself.

CHANG: That was Stephanie Thompson, Kyle Wark, Rafa Martinez-Avial and Julie Cafley with some of their favorite words. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.