Thought Catalog
November 18, 2014

23 Untranslatable Foreign Words That Describe Love Better Than You Ever Thought

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Language is so beautiful to me. I love learning words from other cultures and discovering how we share our thoughts and emotions. Every time I stumble upon a foreign word or phrase untranslatable in English I save it in a special document to look back on when I want to feel inspired.

I think one of my favorite phrases I learned was when I spent time in Costa Rica. The Ticos often call their significant other “media naranja” which means “the other half of their orange.” I really love that. It’s so endearing. Way better than just calling someone your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife.

I was going through my document of foreign words last night and I thought how lovely it is the way we can express and communicate the same universal feeling of love in so many different ways. Love is a complex emotion that has many subtleties. We have several words to describe love in English yet still, there are some shades within the spectrum of that emotion we haven’t been able to capture in our own language.

The words I’ve shared with you today touch on a variety of experiences we deal with – having a crush, lost love, yearning for someone, friendship, sex, heartbreak. These experiences are all so different yet are based on similar themes of needing human connection and attempting to understand the world around us. Some of these have to do with the love of another person while others are more abstract. I included some extra notes about certain words at the bottom. Are there other foreign phrases or words I haven’t listed that have stayed with you? Let me know in the comments.

1. Saudade – Portuguese

The feeling of intense longing for a person or place you love but is now lost. A haunting desire for what is gone.

2. Mamihlapinatapei – Yagan

A wordless, yet meaningful look between two people who both desire to initiate something, but both are too scared to initiate themselves.

3. Koi No Yokan – Japanese

The sudden knowledge upon meeting someone that the two of you are destined to fall in love.

4. Gigil – Filipino

The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute.

5. La douleur exquise – French

The heartbreaking pain of wanting someone you can’t have.

6. Ya’aburnee – Arabic

This phrase translates to “you bury me.” This is the hope that the person you love will outlive you so you can spare the pain of living without them.

7. Forelsket – Norwegian

That overwhelming euphoric feeling you experience when you’re falling in love with someone.

8. Onsra – Boro language of India

Loving for the last time; that bittersweet feeling you get when you know a love won’t last.

9. Queesting – Dutch

When you invite someone into your bed for some pillow talk.

10. Kilig – Tagalog 

The heady-sublime rush you experience right after after something good happens, particularly in love/dating. Like running into your crush, kissing someone for the first time, hearing someone you love tell you they love you too for the first time.

11. Cavoli riscaldati – Italian

This literally means “reheated cabbage” but the phase describes the moment when you attempt to start up a failed relationship or love affair.

12. Iktsuarpok – Inuit

The anticipation you feel when you’re waiting for someone to come over to your house.

13. Kara sevde – Turkish

Meaning “black love” this is a lovesick term for when you feel that passionate, blinding love for another person.

14. Ilunga – Bantu

A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.

15. Viraag – Hindi

The emotional pain of being separated from a loved one.

16. Fensterln – German

When you have to climb through someone’s window in order to have sex with them without their parents knowing about it.

17. L’esprit de escalier – French

The inescapable feeling you get when you leave a conversation then think about all the things you should have said.

18. Meraki – Greek

Doing something with soul, creativity, or love.

19. Fernweh – German

Feeling homesick for a place you have never been to.

20. Yuanfen – Chinese

A relationship by fate or destiny.

21. Wabi-Sabi – Japanese

This concept has been written about and discussed a lot but essentially this means, “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.”

22. Prozvonit – Czech

This word describes the experience of calling a phone and letting it ring just once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish, the phrase for this word is “dar un toque,” or, “to give a touch.”

23. Razbliuto  – Russian

The sentimental feeling you can often feel towards someone you used to loved but no longer do. TC mark


[3] Unlike the phrase “love at first sight” Koi No Yokan doesn’t mean that the feeling of love is already there when meeting someone, rather this describes the concept of feeling like love is inevitable. It’s looking at someone and feeling those sparks that a deeper romantic connection is possible.
[5] La douleur exquise is not the same as unrequited love – the state of one desiring another they can’t have. This phrase is meant to describe the emotional experience and heartbreak of being the person whose feelings and desires aren’t returned.
[14] In 2004, Iiunga won the award for being the most difficult to translate. While some would see this being equal to the English meaning of “three strikes and you’re out” this word is meant to describe the complexity of relationships and marriage and to display the subtlety of growing intolerant of your partner’s behavior.
[20] In common usage yuanfen means “the binding force” that connects two people but it’s an ambiguous term. Although it’s can be a complex concept, it essentially draws upon the principles of predetermination in Chinese culture that dictates relationships, particularly in love, friendship, and business. It is the idea of bringing two people together that were destined to meet.

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