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
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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.
iStock

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.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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10 Words and Phrases That Came From TV Shows

Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock.
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock.

Television can be a hotbed of creativity (or mediocrity, depending on who you ask). But it's not just characters and storylines writers are coming up with—they also coin words. Here are 10 surprising words that were invented thanks to TV.

1. Poindexter

While this term for a studious nerd might seem very 1980s, it actually comes from a cartoon character introduced on TV in 1959. In the series Felix the Cat, Poindexter is the feline’s bespectacled, genius nephew, supposedly named for Emmet Poindexter, the series creator’s lawyer.

2. Eye Candy

This phrase meaning a thing or person that offers visual appeal but not much substance originally referred to such a feature of a TV program. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), it first appeared in 1978 issue of a Louisiana newspaper called The Hammond Daily Star: “Sex … is more blatant ... ‘Eye candy,' as one network executive calls it.” Ear candy is slightly earlier, from the title of a 1977 album by Helen Reddy, while arm candy is later, from 1992.

3. Ribbit

Think frogs have always been known to say “ribbit”? Think again: According to the OED, this onomatopoeia might have originated on a TV show in the late-1960s. While we can’t say for sure that absolutely no one was making this frog sound before then, the earliest recorded usage found so far (according to linguist Ben Zimmer) is from a 1965 episode of Gilligan’s Island, in which Mel Blanc voiced a character called Ribbit the Frog. This predates the OED’s earliest entry, which is from a 1968 episode of the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour: “That’s right. Ribit! .. I am a frog.”

4. Sorry About That

You've probably used this expression of regret more than once in your life, but did you know it was popularized by Get Smart? It's one of the many catchphrases from the late 1960s TV show. Others include “missed it by that much” and “the old (so-and-so) trick.”

5. Cromulent

Cromulent is a perfectly cromulent word, as far as the OED is concerned. This adjective invented on The Simpsons means “acceptable, adequate, satisfactory.” Other OED words the denizens of Springfield popularized are meh (perhaps influenced by the Yiddish “me,” meaning “be it as it may, so-so,” from 1928 or earlier), d’oh (the earliest recorded usage is from a 1945 British radio show), and embiggen, which first appeared in an 1884 publication by English publisher George Bell: “Are there not, however, barbarous verbs in all languages? … The people magnified them, to make great or embiggen, if we may invent an English parallel as ugly.”

6. Five-O

The OED’s earliest citation of this slang term for the police is from a 1983 article in The New York Times, although it was probably in use long before that. The moniker comes from Hawaii Five-O, which premiered in 1968. In the show, five-o refers to a particular police unit and apparently was named in honor of Hawaii being the 50th state.

7. Gomer

While the word gomer has been around since the year 1000 (referring to a Hebrew unit of measure), the sense of someone stupid or inept comes from the inept titular character in the 1960s show Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. It’s also a derogatory name among medical professionals for a difficult patient, especially an elderly one.

8. Cowabunga

Sure, the 1960s surfing slang might have regained popularity in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s due to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series, but it originated way before then. Chief Thunderthud, a character on the 1950s children’s show Howdy Doody would use it as faux Native American language. After that, it somehow made its way into surfer slang, hence becoming a catchphrase of Michelangelo, the hard-partying, surfing ninja turtle.

9. Har De Har

The next time you want to laugh in a sarcastic, old-timey way, thank Jackie Gleason for popularizing har de har via his iconic 1950s show, The Honeymooners.

10. Spam

So how in the world did spam, originally the name of a canned ham, come to mean junk email or to inundate with junk emails or postings? Chalk it up to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The food Spam (which stands for either “spiced ham” or “shoulder of pork and ham”) was invented during the Great Depression in the late 1930s. Fast-forward 40-some-odd years and the British sketch comics were singing incessantly about it. This apparently was the inspiration for the computer slang that came about in the early 1990s.