The belief that Eskimos have 50 words for snow may be a cliché, but it does underscore how cultural differences and geographical prevalence can lead to the coinage of words for which there are no English equivalents. For instance, in countries where rice is the staple food most languages have a different word for raw rice and cooked rice, unlike in English.
Never mind snow and rice, though. For all its bountiful treasury of words (at last count the Oxford English Dictionary contained full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words), the English language still lacks words to define commonplace and everyday situations, emotions and relationships.
In Hindi single words exist that define an older or younger brother or sister, a paternal or maternal grandfather or grandmother, and every variety of brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt and uncle. There is even a word that asks what rank a person holds in the order among his or her siblings.
Here are some useful words that English could do with in translation:
Antier/Anteayer (Spanish) – “the day before yesterday”, abbreviated from “antes de ayer”, meaning just that. We don’t have a word for “day after tomorrow”, either.
Upachara (from Sanskrit, now in several Indian languages) – originally meant ‘flattery’, with reference to elaborate rituals in worship, but in common parlance used to denote excessive formality, fussiness, coaxing and insistence in the way one serves or treats a guest.
Tartle (Scots) – As defined online, the nearly onomatopoeic word (almost ‘startle’) for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember.
Shemomedjamo (Georgian) – the act of continuing to eat or overeat even after you’re full, because the meal is too good to resist!
Aşermek (Turkish) – the experience of craving certain foods or abnormal substances such as clay or chalk, while pregnant.
Obstetricians do use the word ‘pica’ to denote this, but that’s itself a loanword from the Latin for magpie, a bird known for its omnivorous feeding habits.
And, finally, one to leave you pondering: Pana po’o (Hawaiian) – the act of scratching one’s head in order to remember the location of a misplaced object.