English speakers have a lot of words at their disposal. The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd Edition) has entries for 171,476 words that are in current use, and another 47,156 for outdated words within its twenty volumes. Add to that almost ten thousand derivative words, and you have … well, enough words that it’s surprising how often we struggle to explain exactly what we mean. But even with all our English words (and, in practice, we probably have exponentially more than what is catalogued in dictionaries), there are many in other languages for which there is no English equivalent. Language is a beautiful, creative thing, and it’s fascinating to see how some languages manage to capture complex, universal experiences with only a few syllables, while others would struggle to define the same scenarios in anything less than a paragraph.
Scroll down to learn 15 words in other languages that don’t translate easily into English. Some might seem incredibly random (“Why on Earth is that a word?”), while others make so much sense that you’ll by wondering why English doesn’t have its own version. Which ones will you be incorporating into your lexicon? I’m going with “hyggelig” … at least, I will once I figure out how to pronounce it.
An Italian term for the drowsy feeling you have after a big meal.
A Brazilian-Portuguese word describing the act of caressing someone’s hair.
A Danish word usually translated as “cozy” or “comfortable,” it seems to mean more than that, also referring to intimacy and camaraderie between people. Watch the video to see what Hyggelig feels like.
In 2004, a thousand linguists identified this word from the Tshiluba language in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the most difficult-to-translate word in the world. According to the BBC, "ilunga" means "a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time."
An Inuit word used to describe the anticipatory feeling one gets when awaiting guests – the feeling that leads you to repeatedly check outside to see if they’ve arrived.
An Indonesian word referring to a joke that is so bad and unfunny that listeners can’t help laughing.
In German, “Kummerspeck” translates literally as “grief bacon.” The word refers to the excess weight people gain due to emotional overeating. Hey, we’ve all been there.
Italian for “an outing in October.”
A word in Buli (spoken in Ghana) referring to moving hot food around in one’s mouth.
In ancient Greek, a person who is excited by garlic.
In Russian, a child who asks a lot (or too many) questions.
In German, “Schattenparker” refers literally to someone who parks his or her car in the shade. It is usually used as an insult, however, to mean something like “wimp.” The idea is that a Schattenparker is someone who is weak/feeble/pathetic/entitled – after all, if you’re too afraid or too prissy to park your car in the sun, you must be a total loser, right?
A German word meaning “A man who sits to urinate.” Like “Schattenparker,” “Sitzpinkler” also has connotations of wimpiness. (God help you if you’re a man who sits to pee and who parks in the shade.)
A Spanish word that refers to a conversation that happens after lunch, as people stay and talk at the table.
We’ve all had the embarrassed, panicked feeling of being about to introduce someone and then forgetting his or her name. It turns out there’s a Scottish word for that: Tartle.