Language is a beautiful thing and often filled with nuances and flair that only native speakers can hope to truly grasp. While English stands as the largest language in the world - if including non-native as well as native speakers - it sometimes pales in poetic comparison to other tongues. Sure, it's direct, one of the easier languages to learn, and the Brit's use of slang is often hilarious, but it's still missing a certain je ne sais quoi.
Below we've traveled the world over to find some of the best words with no English equivalent in order to present to you, dear reader, a glossary of fantastic expressions. Let's begin!
1. Natsukashii - (Japanese)
Trust Japan to have this beautiful nostalgic word. Natsukashii can be used when something evokes a fond memory from your past. Remember that next time you listen to your favorite album.
2. Forelsket - (Norwegian)
A sweet one now. Forelsket is a word used to describe when you are falling for someone or, in other words, you have a crush or infatuation with another.
3. Tartle - (Scottish)
We've all been here. This word is for when you hesitate in recognizing a person or thing. Sorry for my tartle!
4. Ya'aburnee - (Arabic)
This one is dramatic yet beautiful. It's a declaration of one's hope that they'll die before a loved one because of how unbearable it would be to live without them. Grab the tissues!
5. Mamihlapinatapai - (Yaghan)
"Looking at each other, hoping that either will offer to do something which both parties desire but are unwilling to do." Specific, but relatable.
6. Vergüenza Ajena - (Spanish)
Second-hand embarrassment for someone else. In the internet age, this is a keeper.
7. Schlemiel - (Yiddish)
An incompetent person or fool - often a clumsy one. Add that to your insult vocabulary.
8. Chabuduo (差不多 chà bu duō) - (Chinese)
This roughly translates as 'good enough' and, in a professional environment, is usually seen as a negative, highlighting substandard work or manufacture. However, in personal cases, it can be an expression of forgiveness and acceptance.
9. Schadenfreude - (German)
Probably the most famous word on this list. The joyful sensation you get when someone else fails, or misfortune befalls them. A shameful joy.
10. Pålegg - (Norwegian)
A great one for you sandwich lovers. While it translates as 'in addition to' in everyday speech, it's most often used to refer to the toppings of any open-faced sandwiches. Can the food be used in a sandwich? If yes, it's pålegg!
11. Greng Jai - (Thai)
This is a feeling of consideration for others, not wanting to hurt another person's feelings or make them feel hassled.
12. a dărui - (Romanian)
To bestow a gift or devote oneself to another. A beautiful verb, no doubt there.
13. Tsundoku - (Japanese)
Do you have a stack of books you've bought but not read? Yes? There's a word for that. Tsundoku is the act of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in your home.
14. Hygge - (Danish / Norwegian)
A word born from cold climates. Hygge is a term for a mood of coziness and comfortability with a whole culture around it. Think warming blankets, hot chocolate, and candles. Bliss basically. It's also used in English-speaking countries, you can confidently play it in Words With Friends but not in Scrabble yet.
15. Litost - (Czech)
'A state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s misery.' How very existential.
16. Estrenar - (Spanish)
The AMAZING feeling of trying on something for the first time and feeling great with how you look.
17. Iktsuarpok - (Inuit)
The (often unbearable) feeling of anticipation while waiting for someone to arrive, often leading to intermittently going outside to check for them. Think of waiting for your delivery driver.
18. Wabi-Sabi - (Japanese)
Broken can be beautiful with this wonderful expression. Wabi-sabi is a worldview where you accept and appreciate the imperfections within life.
19. Fargin - (Yiddish)
A term for those with gold hearts. Fargin is a verb that means to 'wholeheartedly appreciate the success of others.'
20. Cariñoso - (Spanish)
One for the lovers. This means 'to show love and affection through delicate and tender physical gestures and contact.'
21. Kalsarikännit - (Finnish)
The oh so relaxed feeling you get when you are about to get drunk home alone in your underwear. A perfect word for 2020!
22. Mångata - (Swedish)
This refers to ‘the glimmering, roadlike reflection that the moon creates on water.’ How poetic!
23. Waldeinsamkeit - (German)
This describes the feeling of solitude you get when you're alone in the woods and feel connected to nature. Germany once again showing they have the best expressions.
24. Hanyauku - (Kwangali)
You know when you run across hot sand on your tiptoes at the beach? Here's the word for that pain.
25. Pochemuchka (Russian)
‘A person who asks too many questions.’ We've all met one, and we'll all meet some more.
26. Viitsima - (Estonian)
That feeling of slight laziness when you can't be bothered to do anything, no matter how easy.
27. Naamgenoot - (Dutch)
When there are people with the same name.
28. Zalatwic - (Polish)
When you use your friends, a bribe, charm, or connections to achieve something.
29. Tingo - (Easter Island)
This refers to when a friend borrows thing after thing from your home until there is nothing left!
30. Cafuné - (Brazilian Portuguese)
‘The act of tenderly running one's fingers through someone's hair.’
31. Empêchement - (French)
When there is an unexpected last-minute change of plans. In other words, a great excuse without having to be specific.
32. Glas wen - (Welsh)
Literally 'a blue smile.' A smile that comes from an insincere or mocking place.
33. Vybafnout - (Czech)
The perfect word for you pranksters out there. It means 'to jump out and say boo.'
34. Pana Po'o - (Hawaiian)
When you scratch your head to help you remember something.
35. Komorebi - (Japanese)
Nature-lovers should add this to their vocabulary. A word for when ‘sunlight filters through the trees - the interplay between the light and the leaves.’
About the Author
Sam Walker-Smart is a British culture journalist currently based in Bristol. His work has appeared in CLASH, The Huffington Post, Vinyl Me Please, Barcelona Metropolitan, Little White Lies, and many other outlets. He enjoys weird folklore, sad songs, and good beer.