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)

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A face badly in need of a fist.

2. Bakku-shan (Japanese)

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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)

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An amazing dream. Not just a "good" dream; the opposite of a nightmare.

4. Boketto (Japanese)

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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)

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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)

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The result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship. Translates to "reheated cabbage."

7. Cotisuelto (Caribbean Spanish)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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The kinder, gentler cousins of Schadenfreude, both these words mean something akin to "vicarious embarrassment.”

13. Frühjahrsmüdigkeit (German)

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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)

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The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute.

15. Greng-jai (Thai)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, "grief bacon."

22. Lagom (Swedish)

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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)

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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)

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Literally, "stairwell wit"—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.

25. Litost (Czech)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables for a long time but spend very little money.

37. Sentak Bangun (Indonesian)

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This Indonesian verb means “to wake up with a start.”

38. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)

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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)

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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)

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Addicted to the UV glow of tanning salons? This word describes you.

41. Sobremesa (Spanish)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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

47. Weltschmerz (German)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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The chattering of teeth from the cold or from rage.

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Wa Wa Wee Wa: The Origin of Borat's Favorite Catchphrase

Wa wa wee wa! Sacha Baron Cohen is back in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020).
Wa wa wee wa! Sacha Baron Cohen is back in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020).
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

When Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was released in 2006, a new audience was exposed to Borat Sagdiyev, a “journalist” portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen who had made frequent appearances on the comedian’s Da Ali G Show.

Soon, in our country there was problem: People mimicked Borat’s catchphrases, "very nice" and “wa wa wee wa,” incessantly. The latter phrase was used to denote surprise or happiness on Borat’s part. While some may have assumed it was made up, it turns out that it actually means something.

Wa wa wee wa is Hebrew, which Cohen speaks throughout the film and which helped make Borat a hit in Israel. (Cohen is himself Jewish.) It was taken from an Israeli comedy show and is the equivalent of the word wow. Reportedly, the expression was popular among Israelis, and they appreciated Cohen’s use of it.

The original Borat also sees Cohen singing a popular Hebrew folk song, “Koom Bachur Atzel,” or “get up lazy boy,” among other Hebrew mentions. It remains to be seen how much of it he’ll be speaking in the sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. It premieres on Amazon Prime Friday, October 23.

[h/t The Los Angeles Times]