A depiction of hell by an unknown 16th century Portuguese master; almost certainly the kind of place envisaged by the Mexican word 'Chingada'Wikipedia: José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro

With Week Five gone but still in our memory, it seems only natural that the theme of this week’s untranslatable words is hatred. Whether it’s for others, for the way life is, or simply a feeling that exists for no particular reason – the world’s languages seem to be able to express this precise sentiment particularly well.

“‘Zhaghzhagh’ refers to the chattering of teeth from rage, or from the cold”

The first word that expresses hatred, or at least, something close to it, happens to be the classic that springs to mind when people think of untranslatable words from other languages: the German ‘Schadenfreude’. This word refers to the feeling of joy or pleasure that we experience as a result of someone else’s failure or suffering, and is so widely held as untranslatable that it even exists in English as a word in its own right. The OED records its first usage as an English word as early as the 19th century. ‘Schadenfreude’ is something that sounds awful at first, and which many people try to deny ever feeling – but really, no one who has ever laughed at a friend as they accidentally walk into a wall, or allowed themselves even the tiniest giggle at anything on You’ve Been Framed! can actually claim that.

The closest English equivalent that we have is ‘sadism’, though this is a much more sinister term which refers specifically to taking pleasure in torturing and bringing pain to others (often in a sexual way), rather than simply being amused at someone else’s expense. To relate it more closely to the topic of hatred, it can also refer to the particular feeling of pleasure you experience when you see someone who’s wronged you suffer in some way – it’s that tinge of joy you can’t quite suppress when you see the girl who broke your brother’s heart walking around town with a broken collarbone.

German also possesses the beautifully specific ‘Backpfeifengesicht’, which translates best into English as ‘a face badly in need of a fist’. There are definitely too many times where I’ve longed for such a word in my everyday vocabulary – for that one person who brags about doing no revision for an exam but manages to ‘scrape’ a First anyway, for the people who cheat on their significant other and don’t have the decency to ever come clean, for the people who enjoy their luxurious lifestyles all the more when they realise that others will never have quite the same privileges in life. Sadly, the list could go on, and on, and on, but I’ll limit it to those particular kinds of people for now.

“‘Chingada’ refers to an hellish place, where you send anyone and everyone who annoys you”

Czech is the next language we’ll look at, with the charming sensation conveyed by its word ‘litost’. ‘Litost’ refers to a state of agony and torment which is created by the sudden sight of your own misery. It’s not exactly self-hatred – more like pain you feel because of how wretched you perceive your own state of being to be. For my friend (who has kindly allowed me to use this example as long as he remains nameless), it was the moment in exam term when he realised that he hadn’t actually left the grounds of his college for the last week straight. The college in question was sadly not one of the larger ones. We’ve agreed that the only way to describe his worry and pain upon hearing this is as ‘litost’.

Persian, on the other hand, seeks more to describe the physical symptoms that hatred can have on the body. ‘Zhaghzhagh’ (which I have unfortunately been unable to find in the original Persian script) refers to the chattering of teeth from rage, or from the cold. Although English, too, has a word to describe the ‘chattering’ action of the teeth, the fact that this single word specifically refers to the action of being so angry (or cold) that your teeth physically chatter is really spectacular.

Next, we arrive in North America to look at the Mexican dialect of Spanish, and the word ‘chingada’, which only seems to exist in this particular variety. ‘Chingada’ refers to an hellish, imaginary, faraway place, where you send anyone and everyone who annoys you. Think of the most horrible place you can imagine – and reserve it in your mind for all those you hate.


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We finally touch down with Japanese – this language may have featured heavily in my column about beauty, but let me assure you, it has a lovely word for hatred to counteract this. The word is ‘悲憤慷慨’, pronounced ‘Hi fun kou gai’, and refers to the anger, frustration and despair you feel about a situation which seems awful to you, but cannot be changed. The Japanese word is made up of four smaller ones: ‘悲’ meaning ‘sadness’, ‘憤’ meaning ‘indignation’, the particle ‘慷’, and ‘慨’ meaning ‘extensive’. These combine to convey the extensive sadness (despair) and indignation you feel at such situations. It’s the feeling a woman gets when she realises that she will be paid less than a man doing exactly the same job as her, and although there are campaigns, change is still a long, long way off. ‘悲憤慷慨’ is the only way to describe the acute despair such situations cause.

As this week’s meander through the world’s languages comes to a close, what have we learnt? That it’s not unheard of to be amused at another’s failure or suffering – that it’s possible to be so angry that your teeth physically chatter and you wish to send the object of your anger to the worst place imaginable – and that sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to combat the utter despair that some situations give rise to

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