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Untranslatable Words From Around the World: Words and Phrases English Doesn't Have

Updated on January 11, 2015

The English language is one of long-winded explanations, connotations, miss-used phrases and occasionally, lackluster words that don't even convey exactly it is you want to say. Have you ever thought, "man, they should have a word for this"? I can assure you, this has happened to all of us in situations when we just couldn't find the right word. You know that terribly awkward moment when you're forced to make an introduction yet you've forgotten the person's name. Well there's a Scottish word for that moment of brief hesitation. How about the German word Torschlusspanik? I can guarantee you've thought about this before and been unable to find an English word or phrase to express it. Check out these neat words and phrases in various languages that you'll soon wish the English language had.

I'm feeling...

These foreign words and phrases convey varying emotions that you may be feeling at this exact moment.

  • Ei viitsi (Estonian) - The feeling of nothingness or simple laziness when you don't want to do anything or go out anywhere.
  • Ti voglio bene (Italian) - The bond between animals, family and friends
  • Mangata (Swedish) - The path of moonlight that reflects upon the water
  • Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese) - "The act of tenderly running one's fingers through someones hair" (
  • Taarradhin (Arabic) - In English we may say "I win, you win. We both win." Something of a compromise where neither party loses.
  • Waldeinsamkeit (German) - The sudden feeling of being alone in the wood
  • Tartle (Scottish) - The moment of hesitation before introducing someone because you have forgotten their name
  • Cualacino (Italian) - The circular mark left on the table from a cold glass
  • Ilunga (Southwest Congo) - someone "who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.” (


Foreign Phrases You Didn't Want Until Now

  • Prozvonit (Czech) - To call someone simply to let them know you want to talk. By letting the phone ring a few times and then hanging up saves the caller money when the person calls back.
  • Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan) - “The wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.” (
  • Iktsuarpok (Inuit) - That anxious feeling of anticipation you get when waiting for someone to arrive, causing you to look outside the window.
  • Toska (Russian) - A feeling of longing, anguish, love-sickness or yearning that may be caused by no particular reason
  • Komorebi (Japanese) - Sunlight that shines through tree leaves
  • Jayus (Indonesian) - A pity laugh; a bad joke so bad that it makes one laugh
  • Chai-pani (Hindu-Urdu) - The English version of "greasing ones palm"; essentially, giving money to a worker or someone of interest in return for a favor
  • Backpfeifengesicht (German) - A face that deserves a beating, or "a face badly in need of a fist"
  • Pochemuchka (Russian) - Someone who asks a lot of questions
  • Yoko meshi (Japanese) - The stress experienced when not speaking your native language (or more specifically, a foreign language)
  • Litost (Czech) - A sudden state of agony at the sight of one's own misery
  • Pena ajena (Spanish) - In English, second-hand embarrassment
  • Kyoikumama (Japanese) - A mother that pushes her child toward academic success
  • Drachenfutter (German) - A sort of apology gift a husband gives his wife when he has done something wrong
  • Gigil (Filipino) - The instinctive, irresistible urge to squeeze something (or someone) that is cute
  • Snorker (Early English) - A nosy person that can't mind their own business.
  • Sobremesa (Spanish) - The time after you have finished eating when you talk to your friends and family whom you shared the meal with
  • L’esprit de l’escalier (French) - Thinking of a witty comeback after it is too late to even use ot
  • Torschlusspanik (German) - “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.” (
  • Dépaysement (French) - The feeling that comes from not being in one's own country
  • Goya (Hundi-Urdu) - suspension of disbelief
  • Schadenfreude (German) - Pleasure as a result from seeing another's misfortunes
  • L'appel du vide (French) - The urge to jump from high places
  • Age-otori (Japanese) - To look even worse after a haircut
  • Forelsket (Norwegian) - The feeling you experience when you first fall in love


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    • alyssagoesgreen profile image

      Alyssa S. 4 years ago from USA

      Thank you! There's a whole bunch of words out there that English doesn't have. Some websites have more, it's quite a fun thing to look into.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 4 years ago from SW England

      Very interesting list; it's fun to look at such things and think about the words.

      There is a Sussex word - 'twitten' - which means a narrow pedestrian passage but specifically one which is usually of earth or grass and goes between two sites (buildings or open, fenced places). Don't know whether that's from Old English or Saxon or anything else but it's a word I love and which I used a lot as a child. Ann

    • Danida profile image

      Danida 4 years ago from London

      Haha! "Backpfeifengesicht - A face that deserves a beating"! If I were German I think I'd use that one a lot!

      I certainly experience Yoko meshi, and Forelsket is such a lovely word!

      We have a word in Bulgarian called "чар", which is basically a physical feature of someone which is a gift or characterizes them, even if it may not be considered generally attractive. So, a birthmark. Or a slightly larger nose.

      Great hub!

    • alyssagoesgreen profile image

      Alyssa S. 4 years ago from USA

      It is quite interesting, the tartle thing is quite terrible, you're right!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      Fun stuff. :) Words are such an interesting thing and I wish I knew the all! I suppose that in a sense we do…take that tartle thing, for instance. Though I didn't know what is was called, I've always hated it!