Words We Don’t Have in English



One of the best things about learning other languages is identifying words that don’t exist in English. My mother teaches English as a foreign language and always has fun exercises for her students on this theme.  This blog post inspired us at Tea last month to start thinking about and collecting our favorite words that exist in other languages, but that don’t have  direct English translations.

Some of our favorites:

Espirit d’escalier (French) Having the perfect comeback (too late).

Pisan zapra: (Malay) The time needed to eat a banana.

Chantepleurer (French) singing at the same time as crying.

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

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

Gezellig (Dutch) warm, friendly, happy, cozy, in relation to a place.

Meraki (Greek) doing something with soul, creativity, or love

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

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 favour, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude.

Nito-onna: (Japanese) for a woman so dedicated to her career that she has no time to iron blouses and so resorts to dressing only in knitted tops.

Katy has this story:

My aunt always uses the word: “genare“, an Italian word that technically means “to bring forth”. She uses it to mean “to use something for the first time.” My Italian Uncle’s family always used it that way. I always thought that was a cute word. She doesn’t like “genaring” things and lets them sit in her closet for a long time before using them.

What are your favorite words in other languages that don’t exist in English? Share in the comments below!

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10 years ago

Hungarian – megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért

This word is commonly referred to as the longest word in Hungarian. Depending who you ask, it’s translated as ““For your (plural) acts of putting something in the state of being impossible to desecrate” or “for your [plural] repeated pretending to be indesecratable”.

I love “Pisan zapra: (Malay) The time needed to eat a banana” from the list above. I wonder if there are words/expressions used for the time it takes to consume, say, a mango. 🙂

10 years ago

I love this! I forgot to give you a couple of Yiddish ones, most of which are not only hard to translate, but impossible to spell. Ongepatshket, pronounced kind of like “ongapatched” by Michael Kors who used in this season on Project Runway. It sort of translates into overly-done, as in their house/that dress is so tacky, with so many tchotchkes, it’s ongepatshket. I’m schvitzing just thinking about it.