MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

5 untranslatable words about nature January 26, 2012

I’m always keeping my eyes and ears open for unique words. I love “untranslatable” words – words that can’t be translated into only one English word, but that needs a whole phrase or paragraph to explain it. Linguists generally don’t like these words, since they are so difficult to translate, but I don’t have to translate literally when I design MotherTongues t-shirts. I can use poetic license, so I say the more untranslatable, the better!

These are 5 untranslatable words about nature, and our relationship with the earth, that I recently came across:

Tenalach (Irish): A word used in the hills and mountains in the west of Ireland. It points to a relationship one has with the land/air/water, a deep connection that allows one to literally hear the earth sing…

Hear the earth sing

Komorebi (Japanese): The scattered, dappled light effect when sunlight shines through tree leaves.

Gökotta (Swedish): To wake up early in the morning with the purpose of going outside to hear the first birds of spring sing.

Aloha aina (Hawaiian): This phrase means “love of the land.”  Hawaiians are the land, in the sense that the land provides food, water, clothing, and shelter. Showing care for the land, while visiting, is a wonderful way to show care and respect to the people of Hawaii.

Dadirri (Aboriginal Australian): An ancient word that combines contemplation, deep inner listening, and quiet still awareness of creation and the Creator, Dadirri is like a crystal clear water hole that calls us to be replenished and revitalized. To embody Dadirri, is to be at peace with yourself, with others, in nature, and with the Creator. Be patient with yourself, with your neighbor, and wait upon the seasons. Become aware of the sacredness that surrounds you. Hear creation breathe and follow her rhythm.

Do you have any words to add?

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11 Responses to “5 untranslatable words about nature”

  1. Annabelle Says:

    I love words that cannot be translated. My favourite one is saudade in Portuguese.

  2. Gnaana Says:

    In Sanskrit we have a world called “Prakriti”. It translates to “before creation” and the world in essence represents the building blocks of the universe. It is a very complex term, but when talk about the “nature” of something – we use “prakriti.”

  3. […] posted untranslatable words about nature before, and here are some more words describing nature and our interactions with nature, that […]

  4. C Says:

    Tenalach is an invented word and is not an Irish word at all. It even violates Irish spelling rules, kind of like saying “skptnigll” is an English word. It’s a beautiful concept, but we shouldn’t have to spread misinformation to promote the beauty and wonder of nature.

    • Michelle Says:

      Thanks for letting me know! I try to research the words as much as possible, and ask native speakers if possible too, but obviously I make mistakes too!

    • Scooter Says:

      Correct. E is a slender vowel and A is a broad vowel, so “e” n “a” breaks the rule of consonants having either slender or broad vowels before and after, e.g. ene, or ana, but never “ena” It’s also not in one reliable dictionary or source I have.

      • Michelle Says:

        Actually, I may only have the spelling wrong. An Irish speaking person spelled it teannálach, and I’ve had a couple of people comment that it may be an old Irish word. Any more information would be welcomed!

  5. Darla Says:

    Lovely post. As to “tenalach” or the spelling you provided in your comments, the spelling may be up for grabs, but since the late, great Irish poet, mystic, and philosopher John O’Donohue speaks of this concept and word in his audio “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace,” I’m content to receive the word and its deep meaning with an open heart. Blessings!

  6. Robert Greenway Says:

    “Querencia” of course, as we’ve discussed! Rooted in the “moment-of-truth” bullfight, morphed in the center, the “stillpoint”, and from there, into our ecopsychology: the “inside-the-ride” place where the separations of objectivity give way to the sacred intimacy of the intersubjective I-Thou relationship. MUCH easier to just say: “querencia”! (smile)

  7. BrujaHa Says:

    According to An Lon Dubh on the Irish Language Forum, “Tenalach/Tenlach was the Old Irish word for a fireplace, or by extension a household, i.e. those who shared a fireplace. Basically equivalent to the English word hearth. It was a completely normal word with no mystical connections.” Nice thought, though.

  8. Did you mean to use the Irish word teannálach?


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