Have you ever found yourself struggling to find the perfect word? You have an experience that feels so…so…but no words exist. You want to insult someone but can’t find a word vicious enough. You want to speak words of tender affection to your partner but no such words exist in the English language.
Thankfully, there are other languages we can turn to in our time of need. Here are 25 amazing foreign words that don’t exist in English. Use these words when English fails you.
We’re going to start with our favorite Spanish words and then move onto other countries.
You know that delicious moment when you’re eating dinner and all the food is gone but the conversation (and probably the wine) is still flowing? That, my friends, it sobremesa. It’s that sedated, drowsy, happy conversation that results from full stomachs, a few bottles of wine, and good friends.
You know that feeling when you wear something the first time? Maybe it fits you like a glove. Maybe it’s too scratch or tight on the shoulders. Maybe you feel so swag you can’t help but strut.
The experience of wearing something for the first time is estrenar.
Pena Ajena/Verguenza Ajena (Spanish)
It’s that feeling when someone completely bites it in front of a crowd of people. When the singer totally botches the national anthem. When your kid totally chokes at their piano recital. It’s that feeling of embarrassment on behalf of someone else.
When the waiter dumps hot soup on your boss and you’re mortified for the waiter? That’s Pena Ajena.
Can we all agree that saying, “The day before yesterday,” is a complete waste of words? So many words for such a simple concept. Those who speak Spanish have a much simpler version: “Antier”.
When did you last talk to your mom? Antier.
Insomnia. The tossing. The turning. The inability to fall asleep. That feeling of being sleep deprived is called “desvelado” in Spanish. It’s that feeling of exhaustion that comes after a terrible night’s sleep.
You need five cups of coffee. Why? Because desvelado.
What do you call a man with one eye who isn’t also a pirate? Tuerto. It seems like this word would have rather limited usage unless you work in a BB gun factory or something.
But you do have to admit, have a single word to describe someone with one eye is pretty fantastic.
You walk outside and immediately feel freezing cold even though it’s a balmy 60 degrees. You layer up Summer nights because you can’t handle the chill. You get seriously chilled just from eating a bowl of ice cream. You, my friend, are friolento, a person who is extremely sensitive to the cold.
This word could also work well as an insult if necessary.
Te quiero (Spanish)
It’s that awkward stage in a relationship when you really like a person but aren’t quite ready to tell them you love them. Or, perhaps, when that friend asks you out on a date and you don’t feel the same way about him. That awkward situation is te quiero.
Frankly, I can’t understand why we don’t have an English version of this word. It would be perfect for turning people down online as well.
We have brunch for the meal between breakfast and lunch, but what about in the afternoon? You could call it, “Linner” but that just sounds stupid. Spanish speakers figured this out and came up with a word for it: merendar.
Granted, most of us don’t have the free time to hang with friends in the afternoon but it’s a good word to have in your back pocket nevertheless.
This is how you greet one of your close buds. It means to greet someone informally, like you’re close to them. Perhaps an English equivalent would be something like, “Yo,” or, “What’s up?”
This is NOT how you greet your grandmother.
You suddenly discover that you have a long-lost brother. After a series of feverish phone calls, he agrees to meet you at your house. You’re so excited that you’re lips are numb and your palms are sweating.
Because of your excitement, you keep going outside to see if he’s arrived. That act of going outside is iktsuarpok. It could also be used when you’re really excited for the pizza guy to arrive.
Have you ever known someone who has that weird ability to make a loud whistling noise by sucking air past their lips? They usually use it to get people’s attention or to call their dog. It ear piercing and incredibly effective.
It’s also called faamiti.
Pelinti (Buli, Ghana)
Literally translated, “to move hot food around in your mouth,” this is the experience of biting into something only to discover that it’s approximately 1,000 degrees. As the skin in your mouth melts, you let out a loud scream, drop the food, and curse the day you were born.
Okay, that may be a bit extreme, but you get the point. That’s pelinti.
Have you ever asked someone to help you move? You feel bad for asking them and don’t really want them to do it because it will be pain for them. You really don’t want to ask them to help you move, especially since you have a vast weight collection.
That feeling of not wanting to ask is Greng-jai.
Literally translated “grief bacon,” this word describes the extra pounds you put on from overeating. You know what we’re talking about. Stress eating, grief eating, trying to eat your feelings. You know it’s not healthy but it’s the only way you have to cope with all the rampant feelings.
It’s that pint of ice cream after work, that entire pizza you ate for breakfast, that sheet cake that you really didn’t need to eat (at least not all of it). The next time you’re in the midst of an emotional eating binge, you can simply say, “This is my kummerspeck!!!”
Literally translated, “I accidentally ate the whole thing,” this is what happens to you on Thanksgiving. You’re full, really, really full, but you don’t stop eating. You go for that fourth slice of piece, that third serving of stuffing, that extra scoop of gravy.
When someone says, “Should you really have more?” you can respond with, “Leave me alone! I’m shemomedjamo!”. That will shut anyone down.
You know that awful feeling you have when you need to introduce someone but can’t remember their name? You mumble and bumble, then finally say something lame like, “Yes, this is my…friend.” Then you feel like a moron. That experience is tartle.
In English, we call this, “Looking like a fool.”
Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego)
Picture this: you and your significant other are sitting on the couch, watching your favorite Netflix show. You suddenly remember that tomorrow is trash day and that you haven’t put the cans by the curb. “The trash needs to go out,” you say, desperately hoping she’ll volunteer.
You lock eyes, and in that moment something passes between you that says, “I’m really comfortable, please volunteer to take out the trash.” That look, where two people want something but neither will do it, is mamihlapinatapai.
What do these three situations have in common?
- A bully knocks you over on the playground and taunts you for your bad acne.
- Your boss asks you to work over the weekend to file the TPS reports.
- A guy cuts you off in traffic, causing you to swerve to the side and smash against the guardrail.
In each of these situations, someone needs a backpfeifengesicht – a fist to the face.
Remember in junior high school (or now depending on your maturity level) when you would tap someone on the opposite shoulder to get them to look the wrong way? Believe it or not, that Indonesians actually have a word for that: mencolek.
It turns out that your main junior high strategy for getting girls was using the ol’ mencolek technique. No wonder you didn’t have much luck!
Your grandmother did it all the time and it drove you crazy. She would grab your cheek, pinch it tightly, and tell you that you were the cutest thing to walk the face of the earth. You dreaded seeing your grandmother because you knew that the cheek torture was coming your way.
The act of wanting to pinch something irresistibly cute is called gigil. In English we call it “annoying torture that drives people insane.”
If you’ve ever camped or walked through the woods at night, you’ve experienced yuputka. It’s the awful, terrifying phantom feeling of something crawling across your skin. It’s that feeling that makes you swat furiously at your arms and scream, “Get it off!” while dancing about like a madman.
Of course, sometimes it’s not a phantom sensation. Sometimes something really is on you. This experience is called, “Having the living daylights scared out of you.”
Have you ever jumped into incredibly cold water, gotten out, and then found your teeth were chattering. Or have you ever been so angry that your jaw started trembling, causing your teeth to chatter? This rattling of the teeth from cold or rage is zhaghzhagh.
Pro tip: don’t get into situations that will cause you to zhaghzhagh. You’ll be much happier.
If you have older siblings, you’ve undoubtedly experienced vybafnout. It means to jump out at someone and say, “Boo!”. Of course, when that happens, you can’t be held responsible for your actions. You might find yourself resorting to backpfeifengesicht (a fist to the face).
Fremdschämen (German); Myötähäpeä (Finnish)
Meaning something close to “vicarious embarrassment”, this is what you feel when someone makes a complete fool of themselves in front of a large crowd. This is that kid farting loudly at the school party, that girl slipping and falling at her graduation, that best man who freezes while giving the toast at the wedding.
Meaning something like “just right,” this what you feel when something is not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Or when you get a massage and it’s not too hard, not too soft, but just the right amount of pressure. It’s the experience of something being the perfect middle ground.
If you’re a sandwich lover or sandwich artist, this word was created for you. It’s a non-specific word that describes anything you might put on a sandwich. If you’re one of those people who like loading up your sandwiches with all sorts of strange ingredients, you can simply reference this word.
“Hey! It’s not gross that I’m putting fish oil on my sandwich! It’s pålegg!”
Have you ever seen someone who looks gorgeous at a distance but as they get closer, you realize that they’re actually quite…well, unattractive or messy? That’s close to what layogenic means. It’s the experience of seeing something that looks good far away but really bad close up.
That internal shudder you feel when you get close is because it’s layogenic. If someone asks you if they look attractive, you can simply say, “You look layogenic!”
This Japanese word is similar to layogenic. It means seeing a woman who looks beautiful from behind, but not from the front. Every guy has had this experience. You see someone who, from behind, looks like a supermodel. When she turns around, she looks like the poster child for an anti-smoking campaign.
These are the coffee shop mooches who spend hours at the tables but only spend a few dollars. They monopolize the space, the wifi, and the outlets, all while only purchasing a single drink. These are the folks who watch hours of Netflix in a coffee shop or play Candy Crush for a full day.
We call these “coffee shop squatters”. We also call these people “annoying”.
Literally translated, “May you bury me,” this intense word is a declaration that you wish to die before someone else because you love them so much and can’t stand to live without them. This is pretty serious stuff.
It seems that if you use this word regularly in conversation with your loved ones, you may have a bit of a problem. Also, this probably isn’t the best pickup line.
Pana Po’o (Hawaiian)
You know that old cliche of scratching your head to help you remember something? That Hawaiians call that pana po’o. But does anyone really do that? Isn’t that just something people do in cartoons? Did they really need a specific word for that?
Perhaps the Hawaiians are very forgetful people and regularly find themselves in situations where they need to pana po’o.
Have you ever met someone who looks unnaturally tan and orange from spending way too much time in tanning salons? Apparently this is a regular occurrence in Italy, because the Italians have a word for it: slampadato.
Is Donald Trump slampadato? He doesn’t look tan so much as orange, so perhaps there’s another word for that.
Why don’t we have an English version of this word? Meaning “day after tomorrow”, it would be useful in thousands of different conversations. Actually, we do have the word “overmorrow”, which sounds like something out of Elizabethan times. We need a new, updated word. Perhaps we should just start using Zeg?
Cafune (Brazilian Portuguese)
Translated, “Tenderly running your fingers through your lover’s hair,” this word was designed for those couples who still get butterflies when they see each other. It doesn’t sound the same to say, “Could you please tenderly run your fingers through my hair.”
If you said that, your partner would probably laugh at you and then give you a playful punch on the shoulder.