Does English have Enough Words?

How many words are there in the English language? I’ve seen estimates ranging from 400,000 to as many as a million if you count all the scientific and technical terms, although a quick Google search says the Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use (

No matter who is counting, a case can be made that no matter how many words we know, it’s not enough. For example, I’ve just found an article entitled “38 Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent” by Bill DeMain. Here are some (slightly edited) descriptions of words from other languages that we might find useful —

1. Kummerspeck (German)
Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, grief bacon.

2. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
When you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it — “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”

3. Tartle (Scots)
A word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

6. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)
The feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone to show up at your house and you keep going outside to see if they’re there yet.

7. Pelinti (Buli, Ghana)
Your friend bites into a piece of hot pizza, then opens his mouth and sort of tilts his head around while making an “aaaarrrahh” noise — “to move hot food around in your mouth.”

9. Mencolek (Indonesian)
The old trick where you tap someone lightly on the opposite shoulder from behind to fool them. (I thought I was the only one who did that.)

12. Yuputka (Ulwa)
A word made for walking in the woods at night — the phantom sensation of something crawling on your skin.

13. Zhaghzhagh (Persian)
The chattering of teeth from the cold or from rage.

16. Lagom (Swedish)
A “Goldilocks” word that means something like “Not too much, and not too little, but just right.”

19. Bakku-shan (Japanese)
A Japanese slang term describing the experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front.

20. Seigneur-terraces (French)
Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money.

22. Pana Po’o (Hawaiian)
“Hmm, now where did I leave those keys?” — to scratch your head in order to help you remember something you’ve forgotten.

23. Slampadato (Italian)
Addicted to the UV glow of tanning salons.

26. Koi No Yokan (Japanese)
The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love.

27. Kaelling (Danish)
A woman who stands cursing at her children.

29. L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit — a too-late retort thought of only after departure.

32. Hygge (Danish)
The pleasant, genial, and intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends.

33. Cavoli Riscaldati (Italian)
The result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship — “reheated cabbage.”

34. Bilita Mpash (Bantu)
An amazing dream. Not just a “good” dream; the opposite of a nightmare.

To see the complete, unedited list, go to

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