Interesting Words From Other Languages We Wish Existed In English

Published April 10, 2014
Updated November 9, 2023

Despite of English language's incredible variety of words and tenses, certain ideas just don't translate, like these interesting words that don't translate into English.

Interesting Words From Other Languages

It was Rudyard Kipling who said that words are the most powerful drug of mankind. But unlike more conventional drugs, certain words have no use once they cross the border.

Cultures make language in their image, and sometimes there are linguistic “reflections” in one language that simply don’t find their partner in another. Enter these fantastic words, each of which encompasses feelings and emotions that the English language can only use entire phrases to define.

Interesting Words: Toska, Russian

Though the word can roughly be translated as sadness or melancholy, author Vladmir Nabokov had much more distinct description of the endearing term:

“No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

Mamihlapinatapei, Yagan (language of Tierra del Fuego)

This word is mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most succinct word, and is also considered the hardest word to translate. Roughly, it means “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start”.

Litost, Czech


Source: WordPress

This simple Czech word that packs a heavy punch. That is, of course, if you can understand it. Expressing his frustration with this, author Milan Kundera wrote:

“Litost is an untranslatable Czech word.

Its first syllable, which is long and stressed, sounds like the wail of an abandoned dog. As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.”

Its closest translation means a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.

Interesting Words: Tartle, Scottish


Source: Photobucket

This crafty—and almost onomatopoetic—little Scottish word refers to the hesitation when first introducing someone because you have forgotten their name.

Ilunga, Bantu

The Bantu word means a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense”. In a survey of 1,000 linguists, “ilunga” was voted the world’s most difficult word to translate.

Interesting Words: Cafuné, Portuguese

Interesting Words That Don't Exist In English

Source: The Week

The act of romantically running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.

Torschlusspanik, German

The literal translation of this word means “gate-closing panic”, but in actuality, the word refers to one’s realization that life is passing by them, and their subsequent fear of diminishing opportunities he or she grows older.

Wabi-Sabi, Japanese

Interesting Words Wabi Sabi Dandelion

Source: WordPress

Simple enough to say, but a little less simple to understand, this Japanese word translates as living in a way where you embrace the imperfections and natural growth and decay of life.

Interesting Words That Don’t Exist In English: Schadenfreude, German


Source: WordPress

A word sure to articulate thoughts that many people no doubt have: the pleasure derived from seeing someone else’s misfortune.

Saudade, Portuguese, Galician

This poignant word means to long for something or someone that you love and have lost. It’s been described by some as the love that remains for a person after their physical presence has disappeared.

Atolondrar/Aturdir, Spanish

Something almost everyone can relate to, this verb means to become so overwhelmed by something that you become scatterbrained and do something careless.

Interesting Words From Other Languages: Botellón, Spanish


Source: WordPress

A Spanish word that encompasses an open-air drinking session in which people bring their own store-bought alcohol.

Kummerspeck, German

[caption id="attachment_25097" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Interesting Words Kummerspeck Source: Salon

A fun German word to describe the excess weight you gain from emotional overeating. Its literal translation—grief bacon—is just as colorful.

Shemomedjamo, Georgian


Source: Rawa Yurveda

This Georgian word means that you’ve accidentally eaten a whole meal—not because you were hungry, but because the food just tasted good. Maybe there’s some underlying kummerspeck?

Interesting Words From Other Languages: Bakku-shan, Japanese

Interesting Words Bakku Shan

An adjective for a girl who looks pretty from the back, but isn’t considered attractive from the front. Utterly charming, we know.

Iktsuarpok, Inuit

Interesting Words From Other Languages

Source: Flickr

A gorgeous word that refers to the feeling of anticipation that causes you to repeatedly look outside and see if anyone is coming.

Pana Po’o, Hawaiian

The Hawaiian word for scratching your head in order to remember something you have forgotten.

After reading about these interesting words from languages around the world, check out some of the most interesting words with origins that most people don’t know.

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Cox, Savannah. "Interesting Words From Other Languages We Wish Existed In English.", April 10, 2014, Accessed June 13, 2024.