A “lexical gap” is the absence of a word in a language. For example, individuals who have never engaged in intercourse are referred to as “virgins” but there is no word in English for someone who is not a virgin.
When we come across a concept that has no word, we must work around it either by describing it using the words we have (like saying “not a virgin”) or we may steal a word from a different language that has a such a word (like when English speakers use the word “schadenfreude”).
Here are some fun/interesting lexical gaps:
1. Schadenfreude. This is a German word and it refers to “pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.” We English speakers have conscripted this word because even though this is a common feeling, we have no word for it. Here’s a great article from the Guardian about the joys of schadenfreude.
2. Zeitgeist. Staying with words conscripted from German: the word Zeitgeist, which according to Wikipedia means “spirit of the age; it refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch in world history” is commonly used by English speakers.
3. Hygge. This is a Danish word which according to Dictionary.com means “the feeling of coziness and contentment evoked by simple comforts, as being wrapped in a blanket, having good conversations, enjoying food, etc.” What a nice concept. I’m going to start using this word.
4. What do you call the circular mark of liquid that is left on a table by a cold glass? In Italian it is called Cualacino. We don’t have a direct word for it in English.
5. You know when you are about to sneeze but maybe not 100% sure you’re going to sneeze? There’s no word for that. I think there should be.
6. How about when you are tipped back in a chair and all of the sudden you feel like you are going to fall over and struggle to catch yourself? There’s no word for that feeling of being about to fall but maybe being able to save yourself from falling. It would be a useful word to describe other situations like when you think you might be in a traffic accident but then avoid the other car or when you think you are about to trip and fall but try to catch yourself from falling.
7. Vbyafnout is a Czech word that means jumping out to scare someone. Here’s how it would work in a sentence: “Over the past 18 years, Ty has vbyanouted Liz so many times that I bet he’s taken years off her life.”
6. Boketto is a Japanese word that means to gaze vacantly off into the distance without thinking about anything in particular.
8. Back to German — the word Kummerspeck refers to the excess weight gained by emotional overeating. It’s literal meaning in German is “grief bacon.” Awesome.
9. What do you call a person who asks a lot of questions — maybe too many questions? In Russian that person is a pochemuchka. In law school that person is a “gunner.” Outside of law school there is no word in English for such a person.
10. Tsundoku is a Japanese word that means “a pile of books waiting to be read.” What a lovely concept. I can’t believe that we don’t have a word for that in English, but we don’t. Nassim Taleb, in his book The Black Swan, talks about the value of unread books and refers to a library of unread books as an “antilibrary.” Here’s Maria Popova’s beautiful post about Taleb’s concept of an antilibrary.