Lexical gaps haunt the English language


Melanie Marino, writer

Have you ever searched your brain for a word to describe what you are trying to express, but you just couldn’t find one? Maybe it’s because there’s not a word for it at all.

In the English language, there is a name for such words: lexical gaps. A lexical gap, also known as a “lacuna” or “accidental gap,” is a word in a language that could exist because it follows the grammatical rules of the language but is nonexistent. In addition, the word missing from one language may often be present in another.

For example, the Indonesian word mencolek describes the trick of tapping from behind on the opposite shoulder of another person to confuse them. Sadly, there is no English equivalent for the word, so we must instead resort to using a long string of words.

Here are 10 of the most well-known lexical gaps in the English language.

  1. The act of jumping out to scare someone (vbyafnout in Czech)
  2. The extra weight people gain from emotional binge eating (kummerspeck, German)
  3. If someone loses a spouse, they’re a widow; if someone loses a parent, they’re an orphan; but there is no word for a parent who loses a child.
  4. The act of gazing in to the distance (boketto, Japanese)
  5. There is no word for someone who is not a virgin.
  6. The act of scratching the head to help remember something (pana po’o, Hawaiian)
  7. There is no word for to not look.
  8. When teeth chatter from the cold or from anger (zhaghzhagh, Persian)
  9. The squeaking/kissing sound made by sucking air past lips to gain the attention of a dog or child (faamiti, Somoan)
  10. A person who asks a LOT of questions (pochemuchka, German)