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They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words & Phrases
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They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words & Phrases

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  273 ratings  ·  50 reviews
They Have a Word for It takes the reader to the far corners of the globe to discover words and phrases for which there are no equivalents in English. From the North Pole to New Guinea, from Easter Island to Tibet, Howard Rheingold explores more than forty familiar and obscure languages to discover genuinely useful (rather than simply odd) words that can open up new ways of ...more
Paperback, 284 pages
Published June 11th 2002 (first published 1988)
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3.86  · 
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 ·  273 ratings  ·  50 reviews

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Jill Hutchinson
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The author starts this book with the statement, "This book is meant to be fun", and he was spot on. Although not a linguist, Rheingold looks at words and phrases from languages other an English and illustrates how English speakers may want to adopt words from other languages that explain situations and states of mind much more clearly than does English. He shows how language shapes culture and how culture shapes language and it is a learned but not dry study of how humans communicate. He divides ...more
Stephanie M
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
The title claims it contains "untranslatable" words, but this is outright lies. The author's stated goal was to share with us words for concepts we're already familiar with -- like family disagreements, political bribes, spirit guides -- in an attempt to get us to think about these things from the perspective of other cultures. Not necessarily a bad idea, but the words selected are random and pedestrian, and the definitions are too brief to give us any fresh insight into the weighty topics the a ...more
Apr 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: word buffs
To quote author Howard Rheingold:

"ho'oponopomo (HO-OH-poh-no-poh-no) Hawaiian, in origin: Solving a problem by talking it out. A social mechanism our culture desperately needs. It is a social gathering and healing process that combines the functions of a religious ceremony, group therapy, family counseling session, town hall meeting, and small claims court. An occasion for this event might be a dispute beteween in-laws, a disagreement between business partners, sexual complications, or a minor t
Aug 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Charming. Short explanations of words from non-English languages not readily translatable into English in one word.

Some examples:
*Schadenfreude--from German: when someone is happy at someone else's misfortune.

*A cute one: Drachenfutter--also from German: when a husband brings home a gift or bouquet to his wife in apology for something he's said or done. [Drachenfutter=dragon fodder]

*Treppenwitz or esprit de l'escalier: when you think of a clever remark when it's too late to say it. 1st is fro
Talia Carner
Oct 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Here, at Goodreads, we are all lovers of words.... This collection of words from other cultures is both entertaining and enlightening.

For all those that think that English is a rich language, comes this fun little book that shows us how other cultures have developed words to express "just that"--a situation, and emotion, and event or a relationship.

It is fun to read and to say, "Oh, yes. I wish we had this word in English." Come to think of it, there are many words in English that have been ad
Jun 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all those interested in cultural differences
Shelves: booksiveread
Language can expand or contract our experience of the world. Rheingold has assembled a collection of words from cultures other than American for which there are no English equivalents. That meaningful look exchanged between two people, for instance, has a word to express it in Tierra del Fuegan. In Sanskrit, there is a word for the confusion between a symbol and the reality it represents.

Learning words for things we have difficulty even describing in English, or for which we lack even concepts,
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was ok

As Stephanie M says, this "lexicon" is *not* of "untranslatable words and phrases." The concepts here are well-known in English, and so are exceedingly translatable. Go like her review now.
Oct 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who really love words
Shelves: to-reread
i'm told the anthropology of this book is crap, and it's a little fruity, but i love words, and it's got some good'n's.
Karen Chung
Jul 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author is not a real linguist, it seems, but this book is very enjoyable - I took notes on all the words in it!
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 29, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
Pretty good overall. Some of the featured words have actually entered mainstream English usage (e.g. "wabi-sabi", "mantra", "zeitgeist", and "schadenfreude") in the ~30 years since this book was written, and it's fun to think that not so long ago they were foreign and novel. Will any of the other words in the book become mainstream in the next ~30 years? I, for one, will be doing my best to use and spread these words: "esprit de l'escalier", the clever remark that come to mind when it is too lat ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it
This is the book that spawned a number of "top ten" style lists on the internet, even though it was written in 1988, when the idea of a BBS had to be carefully explained. Like those top-ten lists, I didn't read this book cover-to-cover. I read the introduction and skimmed the rest. Although there is a nice list of "untranslatable" words, I didn't care enough to read the description and suggested usage for each one.
My favorite is yoin, which is Japanese, and a cousin of "nostalgia", but can be a
Dec 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
a misguided appropriation of words that would have stood alone just fine if rheingold could have presented them with adequate context. instead, he barely explained the words' original meanings and then suggested situations in which americans could make use of these words. if one were to actually do as instructed and use an unfamiliar word to lighten the mood during a tense situation, without any explanation, one would sound like a condescending jerk to one's friends and family. this 'lexicon' un ...more
Kirsty Darbyshire
This is a book full of interesting concepts that can be expressed in other languages using a single word but which we don't have a word for in English. It's a really good browsey type of a read.

It was first published in 1988 and includes a few words that I've learnt since then but I'm not sure how unusualthey were in English in 1988. Schadenfreude was one of thewords that I recognised.

My favourite so far is the Swedish word uffda which is to "ouch!" what"bless you!" is to sneezing. Much better

Sarah Tipper
Dec 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
It’s taken me a year to read this book, not because it wasn’t good, but because it featured some concepts from other cultures that I found truly hard to absorb. It’s written with a North American audience rather than a British audience in mind and this too sometimes made it interesting to me. Some words I don’t think I’ll ever use and some I’m delighted to have found. It’s given me some wonderful words from the German language, such as feierabend, drachenfutter and zwishenraum.
Garrett Lu
Jul 30, 2016 rated it liked it
When I originally began collecting books on "untranslatable words," I swore by this one. In retrospect, it is but one linguistic perspective of a much larger and well-known phenomena of linguistic pluralism--one that is somewhat one-dimensional.

It should still be given credit to its effort in collecting unique vocabulary--although some are very loosely translated and taken out of context, despite the author's good intentions.
Jan 16, 2009 rated it liked it
How not to read this book: check it out from the library and read it straight through. This book begs to be owned allowing for the occasional browse. It was fascinating to see what concepts are important enough to different cultures to be named; in Italy "ponte" is the sick day people manage to wedge between the weekend and a Tuesday or Thursday holiday, creating a four-day weekend; "rasa," a Sanskrit term describes the mood or sentiment evoked by a piece of art. Lovely.
Aug 23, 2011 rated it liked it
It's not a dictionary in any real sense of the word--the terms aren't even alphabetical!--and I agree with the other commenters who said that the anthropology's more than a bit shaky. It's a fun collection of unusual words, though, all of which should be be better known, from "sitike" to "orenda", "mokita" to "biritululo". What do they mean? if you don't'll just have to get a copy of the book.
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
I expected more from this book. The words are usually interesting, but some of the explanations are long-winded (the chapter on dreams is one that I struggled to get through in particular) and some of the words/phrases are translatable, such as earworm (though I guess that became common after the book? But still, it's not the same case as words where you can't even translate the individual parts) and a couple of others where there are translations that work well enough.
Feb 15, 2008 rated it liked it
The Italians have a word for when you take a "sick" day on the Monday between a weekend and a Tuesday holiday... this and many more gems are to be found in this volume. An amusing dip-in-and-chuckle sort of reference work.
Mar 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: The Bright and the Beautiful
Great little reference book to have around. Open to any page to read up on something pretty interesting from another culture and later force your new nugget into a conversation to let everyone know you're a smart cookie.
Aug 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
SO interesting if you like words (i know that sounds silly but i know what i mean). if you like using words that not everybody is aware of, or even just like learning new words, or are just curious, read it!
Mar 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Oh, big fun! As a wordie, I find endless delight in memorizing the entries from this book and flinging them out when the proper occasion arises. Even if you are not the flinging type, these words are too good to be missed, as are Mr. Rheingold's delightful interpretations of their meanings.
Kathleen O'Neal
Jun 30, 2013 rated it did not like it
I recall reading this book and finding many of the translations of words completely inaccurate.
Steven Burgauer
Dec 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book. Very entertaining, very informative, a must-read for folks who love words.
Feb 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A fabulous read. This book lists all kinds of words with no English equivalent, from languages everywhere -- Inuit, Hawaiian, probably Martian if you look hard enough.
Keith Davis
Nov 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
ta (Chinese): To understand things and thus take them lightly. [verb]
What an excellent word.
Kate Davis
Jun 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
I can't wait to use some of these words!
Ellie Vigil
Feb 11, 2008 marked it as to-read
A friend has this book. It is fascinating. I've got to get it.
Jynn Bisharat
Jan 22, 2008 rated it it was ok
Interesting but more of a reference book than anything else.
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Aloha! I'm always excited to interact with readers. I'm new to Goodreads but will do my best to check in from time to time. A great deal of info and resources, articles, videos, can be found on my website, which I will list here.

I'm 65 and live in Marin County, California -- just north of the Golden Gate -- and when I'm not writing (and when weather permits, when I am writing) I'm usually to be f
“ho'oponopono (Hawaiian):
Solving a problem by talking it out. After an invocation of the gods, the aggrieved parties sit down and discuss the issue until it is set right (pono means righteousness).”
a slight inflammation of the throat produced by screaming too much.”
More quotes…