My vocabulary is beginning to improve. I treasure each acquisition, remembering the exact circumstances—time, place, company—under which it was made. English is a trust fund, an unearned inheritance, but I’ve worked for every bit of French I’ve banked…
Schnapsidee—the way a German would describe a plan he’d hatched under the influence of alcohol. Pilkunnussija—Finnish for “comma fucker,” a grammar pedant. In Mundari, ribuy-tibuy refers to the sight, sound, and motion of a fat person’s buttocks. Jayus, in Indonesian, denotes a joke told so poorly that people can’t help but laugh. Knullrufs is Swedish for “post-sex hair.” Gümüş servi means “moonlight shining on the water” in Turkish. Culaccino is the Italian word for the mark left on a table by a cold glass.
Words like these are marvellous. We make lists of them, compile them into treasuries, trade them over any dinner table at which holders of various passports have convened. (The German, armed with Kummerspeck—“grief bacon”—will always win the day.) They’re fun to say. They’re funny to think about, in their Seinfeldian particularity. They expand and concentrate the world, making it bigger-spirited while at the same time more specific. In Russian, you can’t call the sky “blue.” The language obliges its speakers to make a distinction between siniy (dark blue) and goluboy (light blue), so that what is in English one color becomes in Russian two.
— from Lauren Collins, Love In Translation. Go and read the whole thing; it’s very much worth the investment.