40 Fascinatingly Curious Foreign Words With No English Equivalent

Undoubtedly, the English language is incredibly rich and versatile. However, having in mind that there are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world, we cannot dismiss the fact that there are words with no English equivalent.

Sometimes it takes a whole sentence in English to describe a single word in another language.

Here are 40 dazzling and curious foreign words you may not know about.

1. Backpfeifengesicht (German)

A face badly in need of a fist or a slappable face. You just thought of someone, didn’t you?

2. Bakku-shan (Japanese)

The experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front. Something similar to the phrase ‘a full-on Monet’, but in a different aspect.

3. Bilita Mpash (Bantu)

A wonderful dream; exactly the opposite of a nightmare.

4. Boketto (Japanese)

Gazing into the distance without thinking. Just like what teens do when their parents are trying to lecture them.

5. Cafune (Brazilian Portuguese)

Oh, if this isn’t the most romantic word ever! It means ‘tenderly running your fingers through your lover’s hair’.

6. Cavoli Riscaldati (Italian)

Literally it translates ‘reheated cabbage’. However, it represents the result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship. Does it make sense now?

7. Cotisuelto (Caribbean Spanish)

This word stands for the prevailing fashion trend among American men under the age of 40. It describes someone who wears his shirttail outside of his pants.

8. Eunoia (Greek)

A pure and well-balanced mind. It could also stand for ‘beautiful thinking’.

9. Faamiti (Samoan)

That’s the squeaking sound someone makes by sucking air past the lips in order to gain the attention of a dog or child.

10. Fremdschämen (German); Myötähäpeä (Finnish)

Both these words mean vicarious embarrassment. 

11. Gigil (Filipino)

Do you know that feeling when you see an incredibly adorable puppy and you just want to squish it because it’s so darn sweet? That’s ‘gigil’ –  the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute.

12. Greng-jai (Thai)

That feeling you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a burden for them.

13. Hygge (Danish)

Some moments in our lives are simply brimming with happiness, comfort, love, and warmth. Danish people call these touching moments ‘hygge’.

14. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)

The feeling of anticipation that leads to keep looking outside to see if someone’s coming.

15. Koi No Yokan (Japanese)

Another lovely romantic term. It represents the sense upon first meeting a person that you are going to fall in love with.

16. Komorebi (Japanese)

Sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees.

17. Kummerspeck (German)

The literal translation of this word is ‘grief bacon’, and it stands for the excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Do you find this relatable? 

18. L’esprit de l’escalier (French)

The predicament of thinking of the perfect reply too late. Just like when your siblings roast you, but you come up with the perfect burn when the moment has already passed.

19. Lagom (Swedish)

Not too much, not too little, but just the right amount of something.

20. Litost (Czech)

A state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery. Basically, regretting your own shameful mistakes.

21. Luftmensch (Yiddish)

This word describes most of us in our 20’s. It means ‘an impractical dreamer with no business sense’.

22. Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego)

That special, or a little awkward look, that two people share when both are wishing that the other would do something that they both want, but neither want to do. How come we don’t have a word for such a common look? If we do, please let us know in the comments.

23. Mencolek (Indonesian)

You know when a friend is just sitting comfortably and you wanna tease them a little, so you tap them lightly on the opposite shoulder from behind to fool them? The Indonesians were bright enough to come up with a word for that.

24. Meraki (Greek)

This is a word that modern Greeks often use to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put ‘something of yourself’ into what you’re doing, whatever it may be.

25. Packesel (German)

That’s the person who’s stuck carrying everyone else’s bags on a trip. Literally, a burro.

26. Pålegg (Norwegian)

Whatever you decide to put in a sandwich, Norwegians call a ‘pålegg’. It could be anything – ham, cheese, jam, Nutella, pickles, Doritos, you name it, as long as you’re about to put it in a sandwich.

27. Pana Po’o (Hawaiian)

Scratching your head in order to help yourself remember something you’ve forgotten.

28. Pelinti (Buli, Ghana)

Moving hot food around in your mouth in an attempt to cool it off. It’s accompanied by that ‘hasafashafsas’ sound you make after you bite on a hot piece of pizza. 

29. Schlemiel and schlimazel (Yiddish)

Someone who is chronically unlucky.

30. Seigneur-terraces (French)

If you’ve ever been a waiter or a bartender, you definitely know what this is about. This phrase stands for coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money, therefore, little to no tips.

31. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)

Literally it means ‘I accidentally ate the whole thing’. That’s the feeling when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, so you can’t stop eating it.

32. Slampadato (Italian)

This word describes someone addicted to the UV glow of tanning salons.

33. Tartle (Scots)

The nearly onomatopoeic word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you cannot recall.

34. Uffda (Swedish)

This sympathetic word is typically used when someone else is in pain. Pronounced ‘OOF-dah’, it’s like a mix between ‘Ouch for you’ and ‘I’m sorry you hurt yourself!’

35. Vybafnout (Czech)

A word tailor-made for annoying older brothers—it means to jump out and say boo.

36. Weltschmerz (German)

A romanticized and weary sadness that is experienced by the most privileged of the youth. Translates literally to ‘world-grief’, which is quite similar to the term ‘first world problems’.

37. Ya’arburnee (Arabic)

This word has a touching, yet heartbreaking meaning. It stands for the hopeful declaration that you will die before someone you love deeply, because you cannot stand to live without them. Its literal translation is ‘may you bury me’. 

38. Yuputka (Ulwa)

This could mean walking in the woods at night, or the phantom sensation of something crawling on your skin.

39. Zeg (Georgian)

This short Georgian word stands for ‘the day after tomorrow’. Yes, there is an English word for that, ‘overmorrow’, but when was the last time you used it in a sentence?

40. Zhaghzhagh (Persian)

The chattering of teeth from the cold or from rage.

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