The difficulty of describing depression is one of its most frustrating emotions. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “depression” (derived from the Latin deprime) essentially refers to being forced downward or a low, sunken area.
That’s quite vivid, yet it leaves out many of the feelings associated with sadness, such as loneliness and fear of the abyss. There are many times words for melancholy that do not exist in the English language that are much more accurate to the experience of that emotion.
According to Jennifer Bloomquist, Ph.D., a professor of linguistics at Gettysburg College, “often when a term or expression doesn’t have a one-to-one translation into another language, it’s because the original word or expression is culturally bound.”
When translations take place, it commonly happens that they are not accurate and some of the original meaning is lost. This is due to the fact that the original was produced by a culture that felt the need to specifically encode the meaning of the word or expression.
Understanding how words are used and what they are used to describe can be influenced by a person’s cultural background in especially when it comes to emotions. Melancholia, a state of extreme melancholy and withdrawal, was the term used for centuries to describe depression and its symptoms (as well as an excellent Lars von Trier film). However, if you venture outside of English — and Latin — you will discover that other tongues have terms that may potently conjure the actual, lived experience of depression.
It’s intriguing to learn about “untranslatable” terms in other languages, which refer to highly specific sentiments or circumstances that are difficult to comprehend outside of the language’s native context. Beyond the untranslatables, however, world languages have the potential to increase our understanding of emotions. When it comes to depressing adjectives, English isn’t lacking — you can be distraught, gloomy, woebegone, crestfallen, wretched, and rueful — but occasionally, other languages catch up on things for which we just lack the words.
Is it unrealistic to think that some of these words will eventually be used in standard English? It has happened before; now, the German word schadenfreude, which means enjoyment derived from another person’s suffering, is frequently employed in English. And if you could say, “Yeah, I’m feeling very lebensmüde, with just a tinge of hi fun koi gai,” it would be much simpler to convey your specific experience of grief.
These 15 terms for sadness and depression lack direct English translations.
Top 15 Terms for Sadness & Depression
1. Mono No Aware (Japanese)
This expression captures a certain grief or sensitivity in relation to the passing of time and the impermanence of life. Being touched by the transient nature of particular things (love, experiences, sandwiches) and becoming nostalgic or thoughtful about the reality that everything must come to an end are examples of experiencing this grief.
2. Hi Fun Kwai Kou (Japanese)
This Japanese expression describes a form of justifiable, pitiful rage, irritation, and despair about a dreadful circumstance that is unavoidably present, such as governmental corruption or unjust treatment of a friend.
3. Dépite (French)
This French term defines the (on a small scale) feeling of itchiness, annoyance, or rage that occurs when you’re disappointed by something, such as being rejected in love or losing a contest.
4. Koev li halev (Hebrew)
This refers to a certain form of empathy. This is the phrase for you if you are unable to see somebody go through agony or misery, especially if you love them, since you feel it so intensely that it causes you severe physical pain.
5. Ghoseh, grief 8. (Farsi)
Ghoseh, which roughly translates to “sad,” has a much more visceral connotation in Farsi. It is described as “having emptiness” or “practising retaining melancholy” by a buddy who speaks Farsi. This is the ideal phrase to use when you feel like you need to carry your sorrow rather than bury it inside of you.
6. Pitjantjatjara Watjilpa
According to a 2012 Australian study on depression in Aboriginal men, there is no precise terminology to define the clinical signs and symptoms of depression. However, it was discovered through subject interviews that the idea was similar to kulini-kulini, a word that means “excessive, invasive, and recurrent worry,” “too much pondering,” and “too much worry.” Pitjantjatjara word “watjilpa” also refers to feeling cut off from one’s family or other social groups. Much more intense than homesickness, but similar.
7. Lebensmüde (German)
The global perception of Germans as coldly efficient and emotionless is completely destroyed by the abundance of evocative terms for emotions in German. Lebensmüde literally translates to “life-tired” (many German words simply combine two or three words to create another), and it either denotes that you engage in risky behaviour that makes it obvious that you don’t care about your own safety or that you’ve reached a profound physical state of indifference.
Person A: WSG bro? Is everything alright?
Person B: Ahh man, life is being sick these days.
8. Mooseelinallein (German)
Once more in German, and this time it’s dreadful. It literally means that your mother’s spirit has left you and is designed to convey feeling abandoned by everyone you love. It is loneliness, but it hits you much more than that. Hardcore.
9. The nostalgic Natsukashii (Japanese)
This lovely Japanese phrase describes the sentiment of evocative nostalgia for something that has passed; nostalgia that is also quite depressing because it serves as a reminder that the thing you are remembering will never happen again.
10. Tntè, worried (Chinese)
This Chinese phrase describes a persistent feeling of tension or anxiety in which your senses are so alert that you can feel your own heartbeat.
11. Toska (Russian)
If you read Vladimir Nabokov’s description of the Russian term toska, the author of Lolita, you will see that it contains a wide range of emotional registers: “No one word in English represents all the shades of toska. It is a feeling of immense spiritual suffering that is most intense and terrible, frequently without any known cause. It is a slow aching in the soul, a longing without anything to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental convulsions, and yearning at less morbid levels. In specific circumstances, it could be a longing for a certain person, nostalgia, or love-sickness. It falls under the lowest category of ennui, or dullness.
12. World Pain (German)
This one is perhaps more critical because it borders on being an accusation. It’s a particular type of ennui, which is a French word that, incidentally, means extreme listlessness or boredom and can be translated as “world-pain.” In essence, it refers to the depression that results from thinking that the injustice and harshness of the outside world are to blame for all of your difficulties. (These days, more charitably speaking, it can just signify melancholy about how miserable and awful the current world is.)
13. Sielvartas (Lithuanian)
Sielvartas is described as “soul tumbling” on the untranslatable terms website Eunoia, which also adds that it is used in situations of sadness or hatred. It is translated as misery, woe, or pain in other sources on Lithuanian.
14. Viraag, Virag (Hindi)
This Hindi word means dispassion, but a blogger at Better Than English points out that it can also refer to a specific type of emotional pain, such as sadness or depression brought on by being separated from a loved one.
15. Stenachória, (Greek)
Stenachória, according to a Greek native speaker, “may signify concern, anguish, or upset. It is adaptable. The word refers to the sensation of being in a confined place where the darkness of the corners is unavoidable. It is derived from the words for “narrow” and “room,” but etymologically connected to “close” and “chorus.” The same person advised me to seek for “v” (stenachóriemai), which is a more sensual encounter. She explains, ” may possibly be rendered as ‘I’m choked up. It is a real physical reaction to bereavement.
We hope you’re now familiar with the other words used for depressions in other languages etc. with their meanings. These words can often used as a slang terms and acronyms in today’s era such as KMS, SIGH, SFD etc.
If there’s any confusions in this article, feel free to let us know in the comment section.