Booze, Dating and Relationships, Laughter, Scotch, Sex

28 Words That Don’t Exist in the English Language

16 Comments 12 January 2011

I love to take the time to choose the ideal words when I’m writing something, but sometimes the perfect word to describe something doesn’t exist in the English language.

The following 28 words do not have direct equivalents in English. Some of them would definitely be useful if they existed in English.


Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut


Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude

Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist



Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind

Desenrascanco (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it)

Duende (Spanish): a climactic show of spirit in a performance or work of art, which might be fulfilled in flamenco dancing, or bull-fighting, etc.



Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love



Gigil (pronounced Gheegle; Filipino): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute


Guanxi (Mandarin): in traditional Chinese society, you would build up good guanxi by giving gifts to people, taking them to dinner, or doing them a favor, but you can also use up your gianxi by asking for a favor to be repaid

Ilunga (Tshiluba, Congo): A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time

L’esprit de l’escalier (or l’esprit d’escalier): usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it

Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery



Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan): A look between two people that suggests an unspoken, shared desire


Manja (Malay): “to pamper”, it describes gooey, childlike and coquettish behavior by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men. “His girlfriend is a damn manja. Hearing her speak can cause diabetes.”

Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee; Greek): Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing

Nunchi (Korean): the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood. In Western culture, nunchi could be described as the concept of emotional intelligence. Knowing what to say or do, or what not to say or do, in a given situation. A socially clumsy person can be described as ‘nunchi eoptta’, meaning “absent of nunchi”

Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation

Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions

Schadenfreude (German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain

Sgiomlaireachd (Scottish Gaelic): When people interrupt you at mealtime


Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky

Shlimazl (Yiddish): Somebody who has nothing but bad luck

Stam (Hebrew): An agreement out of amusement and frustration that something doesn’t have a satisfactory answer among those talking

Taarradhin (Arabic): implies a happy solution for everyone, or “I win. You win.” It’s a way of reconciling without anyone losing face. Arabic has no word for “compromise,” in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement


Tatemae and Honne (Japanese): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively

Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island): to borrow objects one by one from a neighbor’s house until there is nothing left

Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods

Yoko meshi (Japanese): literally ‘a meal eaten sideways,’ referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language



Sources:

theantidote.tumblr.com
9gag.com
timesonline.co.uk
cracked.com
soupsoup.tumblr.com
recluse.me
andeventhis.tumblr.com
wikipedia.org
The Coxford Singlish Dictionary

Your Comments

16 Comments so far

  1. Jeff says:

    Great Post! And, actually, I love your template too.

    Good to know that Pena ajena is an actual phrase, b/c I have an intense fear of it… I can’t watch George-centric eps of Seinfeld for that very reason.

  2. fraser says:

    GuanXi is being explained wrongly. its actually relation/relationship depending on context used and that being explained, i dont see how one can use up relation/relationship(refer to given explanation above).

    i am a Chinese whose second language is Mandarin and have been speaking it since birth, studied it for more then half my life.

  3. Anatole says:

    Eaven if you look at one language as ex. French or Bulgarian, you can find above the 28 words that are often used but doesn’t exist in English.

  4. Dave says:

    Hi! Being a Mexican Spanish speaker… we have adapted the phrase to “Penita ajena” (turning Pena into Penita) which, even meaning that it’s a “smaller” embarrassment, it’s said to expose a HUGE embarrassment!

    Nice article…

  5. pauline says:

    Hey! :)

    There’s this word, “Hygge”, here in Denmark which is used to describe a feeling. It can be when you’re at a café, having a good time, or when you’re at home. It can’t really be described (guess why!) but I know Lonely Planet described it. It’s kinda like a mix between something cosy and having a good time, except it’s used almost everywhere. At the same time it’s also the atmosphere. Well, it’s hard to explain! ;D

    And forelskelse is also a Danish word. It’s the same :)

    Source: I’m Danish :)

  6. pauline says:

    sorry I forgot… Forelsket it is…. it’s the form where you put “I am” in front of it. You can put “a” in front of Forelskelse… but the word and the meaning is the same :)

  7. Johannes says:

    Hi, i’m from Germany and there is no word like “Waldeinsamkeit”. I never heard this before.

  8. Mariel says:

    Hey, there is a word in spanish, “TOSCA” which is used to describe a person’s features and means that they are very think, large, and harsh. It is the opposite of delicate, and typically has a negative connotation.

  9. nachillo says:

    Pena ajena is not “mexican” Spanish, it is used in several other Spanish speaking countries.

    Source: a tico! (costarrican)

  10. Ford says:

    There is an English equivalent to Pena ajena… douche chills

  11. Maria says:

    Pena ajena is used as “vergüenza ajena” (same meaning, great phrase) in the Spanish spoken in Spain. :-)

  12. phil says:

    Where is Doch??? It’s German, and is used to mean something like “On the contrary”. It’s awesome, and it avoids the confusion we suffer in English when responding to a negative question – e.g. “Weren’t you at home last night?”. In English, we can only say Yes or No, but, responding “Yes” to the question is ambiguous – are you saying “Yes I wasn’t at home” or “Yes I was at home”. In German, you just ‘doch’ it. “Were you not at home?” – “Doch, I was”.
    It’s also used to reassert a statement that someone has just contradicted. So instead of a disagreement being reduced to “No it isn’t”, “Yes it is”, “No it isn’t”, “Yes it is”, it instead gets reduced to “No it isn’t”, “Doch!”, “It ISN’T!”, “DOCH!!!”. Clearly the person saying Doch is winning the argument ;-)

  13. David Guy says:

    And of course (American) English is now peppered with a number of Yiddish words that have no good English equivalent.

  14. Chas says:

    Fascinating list, thanks. Actually “Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love” does exist in English as “limerance.”

  15. Tina in Brooklyn says:

    There is a word for “compromise” in Arabic – it’s tiswiah تسوية- where do you get your source material?


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