Although there are plenty of beautiful words in the English language, there are so many other words in foreign languages we don’t have any direct translation for – words that nicely sum up a universal experience we’ve all known one time or another. If you’re interested in reading other words we don’t have translations for check out one of my favorite books The Meaning of Tingo: and Other Extraordinary Words From Around the World. In the meantime here are 21 wonderful untranslatable foreign words.
1. Depaysement (French)
The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country
2. Waldeiensamkeit (German)
The feeling of being alone in the woods.
3. Hyggelig (Danish)
The ‘literal’ translation into English gives connotations of a warm, cozy and friendly demeanor, but it’s more likely it’s something that must be experienced to be known. Think cuddling up with blankets, a good book, and a cup of hot cocoa or hanging out next to a fire with your best friends on a winter night.
4. Uitwaaien (Dutch)
Literally, this word means to walk in the wind, but in the more figurative sense, it means to take a short break in the countryside to clear one’s head.
5. Mamihlapinatapai (Yagan)
The wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.
6. Jayus (Indonesian)
A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.
7. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)
The anticipation someone has arrived // to go outside to check to see if anyone is coming.
8. Toska (Russian)
Vladmir Nabokov had the best description for this word – “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
9. Tingo (Pascuense – Easter Island)
The act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.”
10. Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese)
“The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.”
11. Alharaca (Spanish)
Defined as an excessive, borderline violent, demonstration of emotion surfacing from a small issue or incident. Derivative from the Arabic word الحركة (al-haraka), meaning movement, alharaca describes the overwhelming sensation of becoming agitated or “making a fuss.”
For example: moving your hands ferociously, displaying extreme hurt or involuntary passion, or a surge of impulsion to convey the sting of pain or the eruption of excitement.
12. Tartle (Scots)
The act of hesitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten his or her name.
13. Mokita (New Guinea)
Describing the truth everyone knows but nobody says.
14. Geborgenheit (German)
To feel completely safe as though nothing could ever harm you. This is usually connected to a particular place or person.
15. Gunnen (Dutch)
To allow someone to have a positive experience, especially if that means you won’t have it (always with an element of sympathy).
16. Backpfeifengesicht (German)
A face badly in need of a fist.
17. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
The act of overeating, even after you are full, because the food is just simply too delicious to stop.
18. Orenda (Huron)
The invocation of the power of human will to change the world around us. It is set up to be the opposing force to fate or destiny.
19. Greng-jai (Thai)
That feeling you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a pain for them.
20. Gumusservi (Turkish)
Moonlight shining on water.
21. Koi No Yokan (Japanese)
The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love.