MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

Fingerspitzengefühl – do you have it? January 19, 2018


Fingerspitzengefühl is one of those compound German words where the term means more than the two words separately. Fingerspitzen, finger tips, and gefühl, feeling, literally translate into “the fingertips feeling”. But this word has nothing to do with what you feel at the ends of your fingers.

Instead, it communicates the intuitive flair or instinct that some people just seem to possess. Fingerspitzengefühl describes a situational awareness, a sensitivity to the feeling of others. Some people are just born with the ability to respond appropriately and tactfully, while others (like me!) just end up putting their foot in their mouth. What I would give to have such a sure instinct in a tricky social situation!

Do you know how to do things the right way the first time without instruction? Can you always find the right word at the right moment? Do you understand the finer details of a situation? Now you know that you have fingerspitzengefühl. Find out how to pronounce this word here and impress everyone!

(See the MotherTongues World Words app in the Apple App Store for more untranslatable words.)



Words for book lovers November 10, 2017

Filed under: Untranslatable words — Michelle @ 9:00 am
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Lately, I haven’t gotten around to reading a lot of books. But I keep buying them. Which has led to me having many tsundokus around the house. The one next to my bed is perilously close to falling over. Tsundoku literally means book pile. Do you have some in your house?

If you are a book lover, you will enjoy these untranslatable words. (Some are from this site.)

Tsundoku – Japanese noun. Books left unread in piles around the house.

Vade mecum – Latin noun. A favorite book always carried around.

Mac khach – Vietnamese noun. A person in love with literature.

Librocubicularist – English noun. A person who reads in bed.

I don’t know why we don’t use the word librocubicularist anymore. Maybe because we didn’t read enough in bed to expand our vocabularies? It is time to bring it back – both the word and the action of reading in bed. Let me go read in bed so that I can get rid of the tsundokus!




17 Inspirational Quotes about Culture and Community October 27, 2017

Filed under: Be the change,Culture,Languages — Michelle @ 9:00 am


MotherTongues is a company built around community and the unique parts of our diverse cultures. We are all part of the global community. We also speak different languages and identify with different cultures. MotherTongues tries to show how we can learn from each other, by highlighting the ways that we see community, social justice, relationships.

These 17 quotes demonstrate the beauty of diversity of culture and how we all belong to one global community. There is strength in diversity and in unity.

Quotes about Culture:

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.
– Gandhi

The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.
– Wade Davis

A Senegalese poet said ‘In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.’ We must learn about other cultures in order to understand, in order to love, and in order to preserve our common world heritage.
– Yo Yo Ma

A first grader should understand that her or his culture isn’t a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society…Cultural relativity is defensible, attractive. It’s a source of hope. It means we don’t have to continue this way if we don’t like it.
– Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life.
– Octavio Paz

People can only live fully by helping others to live. When you give life to friends you truly live. Cultures can only realize their further richness by honoring other traditions. And only by respecting natural life can humanity continue to exist.
– Daisaku Ikeda

Embracing diversity is one adventure after another, opening new paths of discovery that connect an understanding to caring, listening, and sharing with others who are different than ourselves.
– April Holland

Quotes about the Global Community:

It is our collective and individual responsibility to protect and nurture the global family, to support its weaker members and to preserve and tend to the environment in which we all live.
– The Dalai Lama

I am a part of all that I have met.
– Alfred Tennyson

This is the duty of our generation as we enter the twenty-first century — solidarity with the weak, the persecuted, the lonely, the sick, and those in despair. It is expressed by the desire to give a noble and humanizing meaning to a community in which all members will define themselves not by their own identity but by that of others.
– Elie Wiesel

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
– George Bernard Shaw

The American city should be a collection of communities where every member has a right to belong. It should be a place where every man feels safe on his streets and in the house of his friends. It should be a place where each individual’s dignity and self-respect is strengthened by the respect and affection of his neighbors. It should be a place where each of us can find the satisfaction and warmth which comes from being a member of the community of man. This is what man sought at the dawn of civilization. It is what we seek today.
– Lyndon B. Johnson

There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.
– M. Scott Peck

In every community there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart there is the power to do it.
– Marianne Williamson

If you were all alone in the universe with no one to talk to, no one with which to share the beauty of the stars, to laugh with, to touch, what would be your purpose in life? It is other life, it is love, which gives your life meaning. This is harmony. We must discover the joy of each other, the joy of challenge, the joy of growth.
– Mitsugi Saotome

Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.
– Rollo May

We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been – a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.
– Starhawk



Joie de vivre October 13, 2017

Filed under: Languages,Untranslatable words — Michelle @ 9:00 am
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This photo of a MotherTongues joie de vivre pillow in my sister’s house in South Africa, makes me happy. We all know this French phrase, but do we all know what it is to feel alive with the joy of living? My hope for you is that you will get to know this feeling. I feel it when I travel, when I watch my children grow up, and when I walk in nature.


Hoppípolla October 6, 2017

Filed under: Languages,Untranslatable words — Michelle @ 9:00 am
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Ubuntu – I am what I am, because we are September 29, 2017

Filed under: Languages,Ubuntu in the news,Untranslatable words — Michelle @ 9:00 am
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I’ve written about Ubuntu before, many, many, many times. It is such a powerful word, that describes an important piece of African culture so beautifully. So when a customer sent me this photo, of her tattoo in the exact same font as the MotherTongues t-shirt, I just had to share it! Please send me your photos: I’d love to see where MotherTongues t-shirts (or tattoos) have traveled!


Love and Relationships September 22, 2017


It may not be Valentine’s Day, but who doesn’t like words describing love and relationships? Love is magical, it doesn’t matter what language you are describing it in. Some of these words are from a wonderful book by Erin McKean: “That’s Amore! The Language of Love for Lovers of Language”. Check it out to find more such words describing love in all its magical ways.

Kilig – Tagalog (Indonesia). The butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling you get when you are in love.

œillade – French. The way that lovers glance at each other.

Mamihlapinatapai – Yagán (Tierra del Fuego area of Argentinia). The moment when two pairs of eyes meet in recognition.

Puszipajtás – Hungarian. Someone you know well enough to kiss in the street. (Here in the USA, we definitely don’t kiss anyone in the street!)

Cwtch – Welsh. A warm cuddle showing love and acceptance.

Koi no yokan – Japanese. Knowing that the person you just met, is destined to be a future partner.

Acaronar – Catalán (Andorra, Spain, Italy, France). Drawing someone closer tenderly.

Akoma Ntoaso – Twi (Ghana). This is a symbol of unity and restored relationships, symbolizing joined hearts.

Hartendief – Dutch (Netherlands). Said with love to someone who stole your heart. Literally, this means “thief of my heart”.

Yuanfen – Chinese. A relationship fated by destiny. The binding force that sustains the relationship.

Anam ċara – Gaelic. The soul mate that offers you honesty and belonging.

Alamnaka – Ulwa (Nicaragua). To meet a kindred soul. To find a relationship unlike any other you’ve had.

Forelskelt – Norwegian, Danish. The euphoria you feel when first feeling in love.

May you experience these words about love!



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