The word "realia" means something very local, something based on the way of living unique to certain region. As languages were growing, the according words were developed, best suitable for those "realia". Some languages didn't develop any words for certain meanings; this is what linguists call "lacoons".
When there's no word for a certain sense, the sense is most likely to be omitted from people's attention and, as the result, stays as-if unexisting. What most lacks special words are sudden strong, deep feelings which emerge from a complicated background of inner and outer factors. Or specifical, delicate social interactions. Hence the "10 untranslatable words" lists which went in fashion recently. My favourite untranslatable word from these lists is Mamihlapinatapai
, for example.
I wanted to put up a list of Russian untranslatable words for feelings and concepts. However, taking one single word turned out to be enough for a big article and a long travel.Тоска / toska
This one you probably met if you were interested in untranslatable words. My vocabulary gives a good bunch of possible english equivalents. Is it melancholia? But melancholia is softer, lighter, like a veil. Is it sorrow? No, sorrow brings tears. "Toska" is what comes to you in long, cold winter dusk when you look at the way you live and, though everything is seemingly alright, something aches inside and envelopes you in that grey unease. Or maybe not. Because it's a multi-leveled word! Nabokov describes it like this: "On the deepest, most painful level it's a feeling of huge spiritual suffering
without any visible reason. On the less hurting level, it's a vague ache of soul, a sick langour, a desire with the lack of the object of desire. Sometimes it might be a desire of something/someone certain, a nostalgia or langour of love... At the lowest level, toska turns into ennui, a boredom". This latest meaning is rather widely used to describe a long, boring activity, like listening to uninteresting lesson with a teacher trying to load your brain with something you don't want to accept; or a party which you'd never visit again. I guess, for many people it's the only meaning of "toska" they'd use.
If toska is about something, it's often something unreachable or spiritual.
Different languages have different other words which can't be a straight equivalent to this. Instead, they convey other gradations of strong sad feelings. Ukrainian
has at least two similar words, one being "туга/tugha
" and the other "журба/zhurba
", with tuga being stronger and darker and zhurba being more teary and usually invoked by a known object, concept or person. Portuguese
" conveys the nostalgic and missing aspect of saddness. "It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return. ... The recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again." - wiki says. This just looks similar to Japanese
", the description of which often includes the feeling of "everything passes". Unlike "saudade", mono-no aware is invoked by changing world, with some things being swept away by time. It doesn't have a solid object and in my opinion it also requires a certain level of aware consciousness. It's a light, calm feeling.
Mono-no aware easily brings us to the huge set of Japanese beauty viewing terms, one of them being "yugen
" - a hidden beauty which you don't see but experience. The deeper to Asia, the deeper to the core of things, huh? Let's travel West now, throught wiki's "See also" links. It brings us to German Weltschmerz
. These are somewhat more based on intellect and reason. Weltschmerz
, unlike mono-no aware, is depressing, being conscious and somehow disgusted of world's imperfectness. It has an established translation to English as "world-weariness", and to Russian - as "world grief/sorrow". This word's wiki article has a whole burst of aligned concepts linked for further research. Sehnsucht is a word treasured by C. S. Lewis (if you don't know him, remember Narnia)
. Did he understand it as Germans do, or did he use it to cover the lack of words for his own state of mind? Who knows!
But I know one American English word which could embrace all the words and feelings mentioned. It's soulful
- something full of soul.
What can I really add to this? Maybe only one old Slavic word which isn't used with the same meaning in modern Russian anymore. "Уязвленный
", "the one who got a sore", in its modern meaning is translated to English as "stung". If you take its old meaning, you can say how you were "stung" not by satire or mocking but by a feeling which brought you to constant search, and now you know no peace. You can be stung by love, by Weltschmerz
, by toska
on abstract unrealizable "something", by finding yugen
in every possible case, and that would be really soulful