Body parts "fall asleep" in English. What about in other languages?
March 22, 2016 2:11 PM   Subscribe

English also has "pins and needles" to describe the sensation. What is it called in other languages? The only things I was able to find on the web is that it is called "ant running" in Hindi and that in Italian it is called "feeling ants." I find this super interesting!
posted by LKWorking to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Spanish "hormigueo", Portuguese "formigamento", French "fourmillements" all refer to this sensation, and are all related to those languages' words for "ant" ("hormiga", "formiga", "fourmi" respectively).
posted by pmdboi at 2:30 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

I know this is "shibireru" in Japanese (somehow, it comes up a lot in tea ceremony lessons...) but I just looked it up and apparently another meaning of the word is "to be excited, to be titillated, to be mesmerized" - the exact opposite of the English phrase. Hopefully someone with a better command of Japanese will chime in, but that's pretty darn funny.
posted by sunset in snow country at 2:42 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Korean: "저리다" - pronounced 'jeorida'.
posted by suedehead at 2:44 PM on March 22, 2016

There is a difference between obdormition (the initial numbness) and the subsequent paraesthesia (the tingling sensation).

In German obdormition is described the way it is in English: a limb falls asleep. Idiomatically the paraesthesia is described as Ameisenlaufen ("ants running") or pelziges Haut ("furry skin"), but there is another word (kribbeln) that simply means tingling or prickling.
posted by jedicus at 2:52 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also in Spanish: entumir.
"See me entumió la pierna."
posted by pantufla_milagrosa at 2:53 PM on March 22, 2016

I know this is "shibireru" in Japanese (somehow, it comes up a lot in tea ceremony lessons...)

Understandable. I'd never sat in seiza before participating in a tea ceremony. When it was over, I was warned to be careful standing, but I paid no heed. Once I had stood up, I realized that my legs no longer existed below the knees, and I collapsed to the tatami.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Portuguese - it depends, pmdboi mentioned formigamento, which is true related to pins and needles, but before pins and needles to happen, the specific place (say, a leg), "falls asleep" - Example: Minha perna dormiu. :)
posted by dragonbaby07 at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2016

I know this is "shibireru" in Japanese (somehow, it comes up a lot in tea ceremony lessons...) but I just looked it up and apparently another meaning of the word is "to be excited, to be titillated, to be mesmerized" - the exact opposite of the English phrase.

It means to "go numb" when used with extremities. The secondary meaning means to become mesmerized, entranced or "zombified." Which sort of makes sense when talking about a numb leg, doesn't it?
posted by My Dad at 3:12 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

In French "Avoir des fourmis dans les jambes" is used to describe when legs fall asleep (translates to having ants in your legs.)
posted by exolstice at 3:40 PM on March 22, 2016

Best answer: In icelandic, you can get "stjörnur í skónum" or stars in your shoes.
posted by Nothing at 4:08 PM on March 22, 2016 [39 favorites]

In Russian, limbs too fall asleep. Funny.
posted by tatiana131 at 4:11 PM on March 22, 2016

In the part of Cote d'Ivoire I worked in, it's referred to as getting army ants in your feet - specifically magnan rather than fourmis.

(my favorite phrase in the local language is the word for "the feeling that you get when you have pineapple stuck between your teeth)
posted by ChuraChura at 4:13 PM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

In medical terms it might be "Pedal Transient Paresthesia". (Or maybe not considering the source...)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:13 PM on March 22, 2016

At least in Mexico, we also use "fall asleep": Se me durmió la pierna. This is way more common here than hormigueo or entumecimiento.
posted by clearlydemon at 5:44 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The idiomatic expressions are what I was hoping to discover. I love that the tea ceremony is linked to the phrase! Also "stars in my shoes" is amazing! Wonder how ants came to be the insects of choice for this.
posted by LKWorking at 6:05 AM on March 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

In Turkish it's karıncalanma, which also basically means "crawling with ants" (literally something more like "to be ant-ified").
posted by karayel at 3:11 PM on March 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

English also has "ants in your pants".
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:45 PM on March 23, 2016

"Ants in your pants" is about impatience or being agitated, not about that pins and needles feeling you get when your limb is waking up.
posted by Michele in California at 3:50 PM on March 23, 2016

In Italian, body parts still 'fall asleep' by the way-- what you're referring to, formicolio, (ant-like-feeling/feeling ants) is more describing the aftermath tingling sensation associated with pins and needles, or numbness of extremities. You wouldn't necessarily use it to solely refer to your limbs falling asleep, since it's also used to describe any numbness or tingling sensation in Italian. For example; "formicolio alla testa" would be 'tingling sensation on the head', etc.

For body parts falling asleep, it's literally the same as most of the others-- 'my foot fell asleep,' -- So you could say; "Se addormentato il piede, e ho il formicolio', (My foot fell asleep and I am feeling ants.)
posted by Dimes at 12:05 PM on April 9, 2016

It's ants in Malay too: semut-semut, in the delightful reduplication common in the language, from the word semut meaning ant.
posted by BinGregory at 8:46 PM on April 28, 2016

In Finnish, becoming numb is puutua, which looks to me like it can be analyzed to mean "to become wooden." Puu is the Finnish word for a tree or wood. There are numerous other verbs with the pattern X-tua (or X-tyä with front vowel harmony), where X is a noun or an adjective, that have similar meanings both literal and figurative. For example, to ossify is derived from the word for bone, luu, and is luutua.

The tingling sensation is called kihelmöinti (and kihelmöidä is the related verb, to tingle). It can also be used for the after-sensations of being struck or burned lightly, as well as figuratively for anticipating something (a little like the English phrase "itching for"). I am not aware of any idiomatic Finnish phrases for the sensation.

You could translate common phrases using these verbs into English literally as "my leg (foot, arm etc.) is becoming wooden" and "my leg is tingling."
posted by primal at 4:23 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I asked my mother, and she told me there is an idiom for the tingly or prickly feeling. I had not heard of it before myself, but a Google search reveals people do use the phrase occasionally on the Internet. It could be a regional thing. They say ämmänneulat pistelevät when referring to the sensation, or sometimes just call it ämmänneulat.

There are three words here. Ämmä means a woman or a wife (or the letter M, but not in this context). It is an archaic meaning and the word by itself is derogatory in modern Finnish. Neulat is needles, and pistelevät means they are pricking. Since ämmänneulat is a compound word, it doesn't have be interpreted literally, but if you do so, the phrase means "the woman's needles are pricking me."

Many older Finnish names for things and places have the ämmä- or ämmän- prefix if they are somehow associated with women. I cannot guess what the association with this feeling and women might have been.

(The difference between ämmä and ämmän is that the first is in the nominative singular and the latter in the genitive singular. Both forms are used to form compound words.)
posted by primal at 6:07 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

i've never thought of the pins-and-needles-and/or-ants sensation as the body part falling asleep; to me asleep was always the numbness, and the tingling was "waking up".
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 1:35 PM on April 29, 2016

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