By Alan Graner
Sometimes the precise word you want to use, with the exact shade of meaning…does not exist in English.
But that doesn’t mean the word doesn’t exist in another language.
The following are some foreign words with no English equivalent that we wish existed in our own tongue.
Since I am an American and, therefore, by definition speak only one language, I’ve reached out to the Internet for examples.. Here are but a few of them along with the websites where they (and others) can be found.
The experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front.
Glas wen (Welsh)
A smile that is insincere or mocking. Literally, a blue smile.
You know that feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone to show up at your house and you keep going outside to see if they’re here yet? This is the word for it.
There are several Yiddish words to describe social misfits. This one is for an impractical dreamer with no business sense. Literally, air person.
Pana Po’o (Hawaiian)
“Hmm, now where did I leave those keys?” he said, pana po’oing. It means to scratch your head in order to help you remember something you’ve forgotten.
Maybe Goldilocks was Swedish? This slippery little word is hard to define, but means something like, “Not too much, and not too little, but juuuuust right.”
Pelinti (Buli language, Ghana)
Your friend bites into a piece of piping hot pizza, then opens his mouth and sort of tilts his head around while making an “aaaarrrahh” noise. The Ghanaians have a word for that. More specifically, it means “to move hot food around in your mouth.”
Shemomedjamo (Georgian—the one in Asia, not the southern U.S.)
You know when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it? The Georgians feel your pain. This word means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”
It means “the day after tomorrow.” Seriously, why don’t we have a word for that in English?
Cavoli Riscaldati (Italian)
The result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship. Literally, reheated cabbage.
L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort you finally think of…after everyone’s left.
Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money.
20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world
Ilunga (Tshiluba—Southwest Congo)
A word famous for its untranslatability; most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”
A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.
Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan—indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego)
The wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.”
The act of hesitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.
Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.”
25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In English
To look worse after a haircut
The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love
Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish)
The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation
A person who asks a lot of questions
Any others you’d like to contribute?
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA based marketing communications firm. For a PR campaign with just the right words, email Jeffrey Swartz at email@example.com.