5 Unnamed Emotions & Phenomenons In English

Emoji Eggs Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash
Emoji Eggs Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Although I love the flexibility and forgivingness of the English language when it comes to informal communication, I sometimes think the offering of words in English for describing emotion leaves something to be desired. Maybe my vocabulary isn’t as extensive as I believe it is. Still, I’m reasonably confident we English speakers experience nuanced feelings beyond simple joy, fear, sadness, anger, disgust, and various synonyms.

Luckily, other foreign languages (which I cannot pronounce) have developed the perfect words to describe those niche emotions that may have once gone unlabeled. Definitions come courtesy of The Positive Lexicography Project by Dr. Tim Lomas. Based on their speech classification, I will attempt to provide examples of using these foreign words inserted into an English sentence. Please forgive me if I incorrectly use these words; my intent is not to offend any native speakers but to appreciate how these words name emotional phenomenons not given names in English.

1. Gigil (noun) — Tagalog 

the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished

— Definition from The Positive Lexicography Project

When I’m around my Golden Retriever mix dog, I feel overcome by gigil.

2. Yuan bei (noun) — Chinese

Preparation completed; being reunited; full recovery, especially of the physical body; a sense of complete accomplishment

— Definition from The Positive Lexicography Project

I think many people spend their lives in search of yuan bei.

3. Desbundar (verb) — Portuguese

Exceeding one’s limits; shedding one’s inhibitions (e.g., in having fun)

— Definition from The Positive Lexicography Project

Hermione Granger initially struggles to desbundar.

I know technically adding “to” probably doesn’t make sense if you translate desbundar, which is the verb’s infinitive form. When I looked up the conjugation, I realized desbundar was the infinitive and reasoned it translated similar to French infinitives since Portuguese is also a Romance language.

4. Pena ajena — Mexican Spanish

The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation

— Definition from The Positive Lexicography Project

Watching reality TV may evoke feelings of pena ajena.

5. Acedia — Ancient Greek

I could not find a definition to describe this older usage of acedia, which is not synonymous with being a sloth. However, I learned the context for this complex emotion “arose directly out of the spatial and social constrictions that a solitary monastic life necessitates.” This “generate[s] a strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate” and forms “the paradoxical emotion of acedia.”

Many people may be experiencing acedia brought on by the physical isolation of shelter-in-place. They may enjoy how this word might legitimize and validate their feelings of listlessness and anxiety without disregarding others’ worse circumstances.

A petition to please adopt these words into everyday usage

Not being limited to one language in describing emotions may help develop greater emotional self-awareness, and also, these words sound beautiful and perfectly describe shared yet specific emotional experiences. To conclude, I hope that sometime soon, cultural diffusion might bring some of these beautiful words into English speakers’ casual conversations.

Thumbnail Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

  • Do you wish these words were part of everyday conversation?

    • Yes
    • No


What do you think?




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