51 Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent

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FabrikaCr/iStock via Getty Images

Sometimes we must turn to other languages to find le mot juste. Here's a bunch of foreign words with no direct English equivalent.

1. Backpfeifengesicht (German)

Portrait of a man being punched in the face
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A face badly in need of a fist.

2. Bakku-shan (Japanese)

Woman walking alone in The Shambles in York, England
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This Japanese slang term describes the experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front.

3. Bilita Mpash (Bantu)

Young woman enjoying a wonderful dream
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An amazing dream. Not just a "good" dream; the opposite of a nightmare.

4. Boketto (Japanese)

Young man staring off into the distance
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It’s nice to know that the Japanese think enough of the act of gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking to give it a name.

5. Cafune (Brazilian Portuguese)

Young man runs his fingers through girlfriend's hair as they sit on sofa
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Leave it to the Brazilians to come up with a word for “tenderly running your fingers through your lover’s hair.”

6. Cavoli Riscaldati (Italian)

Couple fighting during a date
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The result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship. Translates to "reheated cabbage."

7. Cotisuelto (Caribbean Spanish)

Man takes photos of two young businessmen whose shirts are untucked
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A word that would aptly describe the prevailing fashion trend among American men under 40, it means one who wears the shirt tail outside of his trousers.

8. Faamiti (Samoan)

Happy looking dog running down a walkway
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To make a squeaking sound by sucking air past the lips in order to gain the attention of a dog or child.

9. Fernweh (German)

Young woman uses a map to plan a vacation
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A longing for distant places—and while the English word wanderlust comes close, fernweh can also refer to a longing for a place you’ve never even been.

10. Fisselig (German)

Flustered young woman hides her head in her shirt
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Ever been flustered to the point where you can’t function or finish what you were doing? That’s fisselig.

11. and 12. Fremdschämen (German) and Myötähäpeä (Finnish)

Close-up photo of embarrassed young woman
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The kinder, gentler cousins of Schadenfreude, both these words mean something akin to "vicarious embarrassment.”

13. Frühjahrsmüdigkeit (German)

Young woman sits on bench and stares into the distance
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Frühjahr is "springtime," while Müdigkeit means "tiredness." Together, it refers to a sort of reverse seasonal affective disorder—when people become depressed or lethargic at the onset of spring.

14. Gigil (Filipino)

Young girl squeezes her adorable pet cat
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The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute.

15. Greng-jai (Thai)

Woman refuses envelope with money
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That feeling you get when you don't want someone to do something for you because it would be a pain for them.

16. Honigkuchenpferd (German)

Young boy with a big grin on his face
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Taken literally, this word means “horse-shaped honey cake.” But it’s a turn of phrase, somewhat equivalent to the English idiom “grinning like a Cheshire cat.” It’s talking about a big grin the wearer just can’t wipe off of their face.

17. Hygge (Danish)

Book and cup of tea by a cozy fire
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Denmark’s mantra, hygge is the pleasant, genial, and intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends.

18. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)

Happy woman waves from her front door
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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 there yet? This is the word for it.

19. Kaelling (Danish)

Angry mother scolds disobedient child at store
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You know that woman who stands on her doorstep (or in line at the supermarket, or at the park, or in a restaurant) cursing at her children? The Danes know her, too.

20. Koi No Yokan (Japanese)

Love at first sight between two people in the park
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The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love.

21. Kummerspeck (German)

Young woman eating a bacon sandwich
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Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, "grief bacon."

22. Lagom (Swedish)

Young woman stands in front of three bowls, one of which is "just right"
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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.”

23. Layogenic (Tagalog)

Alicia Silverstone and Brittany Murphy in Clueless (1995)
Alicia Silverstone and Brittany Murphy in Clueless (1995).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Remember in Clueless when Cher describes someone as “a full-on Monet … from far away, it’s OK, but up close it’s a big old mess”? That’s exactly what this word means.

24. L’esprit de l’escalier (French)

Young man makes fun of his colleague
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Literally, "stairwell wit"—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.

25. Litost (Czech)

Young woman is dealing with her own misery
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Milan Kundera described the emotion as “a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.”

26. Luftmensch (Yiddish)

Overworked man at work
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There are several Yiddish words to describe social misfits. This one is for an impractical dreamer with no business sense.

27. Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego)

Man and woman share a suspicious glance
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This word captures that special look shared between two people, when both are wishing that the other would do something that they both want, but neither want to do.

28. Mencolek (Indonesian)

Man touches female colleague's shoulder
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You know that old trick where you tap someone lightly on the opposite shoulder from behind to fool them? The Indonesians have a word for it.

29. Packesel (German)

Man carrying several suitcases
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A packesel is the person who’s stuck carrying everyone else’s bags on a trip. Literally, a burro.

30. Pålegg (Norwegian)

Several sandwich ingredients against a white background
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Sandwich Artists unite! The Norwegians have a non-specific descriptor for anything—ham, cheese, jam, Nutella, mustard, herring, pickles, Doritos, you name it—you might consider putting into a sandwich.

31. Pana Po’o (Hawaiian)

Woman scratches head trying to figure something out against yellow background
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“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.

32. Pelinti (Buli, Ghana)

Young man eats slice of hot pizza
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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.”

33. Razbliuto (Russian)

Teenagers in love
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The nostalgic feeling you may have for someone you once loved, but don’t anymore.

34. and 35. Schlemiel and schlimazel (Yiddish)

Businessman spills his cup of coffee
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Someone prone to bad luck. Yiddish distinguishes between the schlemiel and schlimazel, whose fates would probably be grouped under those of the klutz in other languages. The schlemiel is the traditional maladroit, who spills his coffee; the schlimazel is the one on whom it's spilled.

36. Seigneur-terraces (French)

Two men sip coffee and chat at a coffee shop
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Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables for a long time but spend very little money.

37. Sentak Bangun (Indonesian)

Man wakes up while woman remains asleep next to him
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This Indonesian verb means “to wake up with a start.”

38. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)

Young girl indulges in a piece of sponge cake
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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."

39. Shouganai (Japanese)

A young woman laughs off the rainy weather
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It’s a little bit like “Que será, será,” but with a slight spin: If there’s nothing you can do about it, don’t waste time being angry or worrying.

40. Slampadato (Italian)

Young woman in a tanning bed
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Addicted to the UV glow of tanning salons? This word describes you.

41. Sobremesa (Spanish)

Friends have a meal together
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The time spent at a table after eating. The food is gone, but everyone is still sitting around chatting, maybe drinking coffee or playing cards.

42. Tartle (Scots)

Two young people nervously meet each other
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The nearly onomatopoeic word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can't quite remember.

43. Treppenwitz (German)

Man in stairway annoyed by what he is reading on smartphone
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It literally means “staircase joke,” because it refers to the moment you think of a comeback way after the fact—usually when you’re in the stairwell on the way out the door.

44. Tsundoku (Japanese)

A woman sits and reads among piles of books.
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Many of us are guilty of this one—buying new books (or any reading material) and letting them pile up, unread.

45. Uffda (Swedish)

A cocker spaniel against a  black background
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States like Minnesota and Wisconsin express sympathy for someone or a sticky situation. It’s a combination of “Ouch!” and “I’m sorry you hurt yourself.”

46. Vybafnout (Czech)

Young man is terrified
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A word tailor-made for annoying older brothers—it means to jump out and say boo.

47. Weltschmerz (German)

Man holds the hands of a grieving young woman
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This one may hit close to home for many: It translates to world grief, and means “a gloomy, romanticized world-weary sadness, experienced most often by privileged youth.”

48. Ya’arburnee (Arabic)

An older couple relaxes by reading a book together
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This word is the hopeful declaration that you will die before someone you love deeply, because you cannot stand to live without them. Literally, "may you bury me."

49. Yuputka (Ulwa)

Woman walking alone on path in mystic dark forest
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A word made for walking in the woods at night, it’s the phantom sensation of something crawling on your skin.

50. Zeg (Georgian)

Calendar for tomorrow on white background
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It means “the day after tomorrow.” OK, we do have overmorrow in English, but when was the last time someone used that?

51. Zhaghzhagh (Persian)

Chattering tea toy with small pink feet on white surface
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The chattering of teeth from the cold or from rage.

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
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If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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