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30 Most Interesting Words That Don’t Exist in English

Have you ever started learning another language and run into a word that is totally unfamiliar and has no literal translation? Many languages across the world have no English equivalent, making them entirely unique to that vernacular. This is part of what makes languages so beautiful. Let’s set off to traverse some of the most weird and wonderful words across the globe.

Hiraeth (Welsh)

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The Welsh word hiraeth refers to a “longing for the land of our fathers.” It’s also used to connote a deep yearning for anything but especially refers to the yearning for a home that you cannot return to or perhaps never existed at all. A speaker of Welsh described it as, “like having a piece of elastic tied to Wales and your heart under constant tension, tugging you back gently, softly, whispering in Welsh ‘come home soon’.”

Mudita (Sanskrit)

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The closest meaning to the Sanskrit word mudita is the state of feeling delighting in the happiness and well-being of others. It is also described as a dharmic concept of joy, especially sympathetic or vicarious joy, and refers to altruistic, empathetic, and appreciative pleasure. It is often described by comparing it to the joy a parent feels from watching their child grow up.

Schadenfreude (German)

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A slightly daunting word, schadenfreude is a German word that translates to the act of deriving pleasure from someone else’s pain or misfortune. The word combines two German words: “Schaden,” which means “damage,” and “Freude,” which means “joy.” Some speakers refer to it as “when another person’s back luck secretly makes you feel good.”

Apapachar (Mexican Spanish)

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Derived from Nahuatl, the Mexican Spanish word apapachar literally means “to hug with the soul.” One native speaker described that it is used as ‘a mix of “to cuddle”, “to support” and “to console.” This word essentially translates to the act of throwing all of your love to someone when they need it the most. It also goes beyond this meaning to connote the notion of exposing our fears, insecurities, and emotional truths.

Saudade (Portuguese)

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Saudade is a Portuguese word that roughly translates to a bitter-sweet longing for something that doesn’t exist, whether that’s something you experienced in the past or something that never even happened. Portuguese speakers claim that saudade does not relate to the English word nostalgia and that no English translation can't quite capture the true meaning. The writer Manuel de Melo explains it as “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.”

Tsundoku (Japanese)

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If you’re someone who loves to read, but also loves to buy and collect books, tsundoku is a word that may apply to you. This Japanese term refers to the obsessive hoarding of unread books, as well as the pile of books itself. The person may intend to read their pile of books but have not done so yet. This slang word originated as part of a rhymed pun when it first appeared in print in the late 19th century.

Fernweh (German)

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While similar to the concept of wanderlust, the German word fernweh is subtly different and more intense. The meaning of wanderlust refers to a desire to travel, while fernweh translates to “far-sickness,” essentially meaning “homesickness” or deeply longing for a place you’ve never traveled to. Fernweh involves a particularly severe ache or pain for a distant place, not just a passive desire.

Ya’aburnee (Arabic)

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Directly translated, ya’aburnee in Arabic literally means “you bury me.” But it’s not as morbid as you may interpret. This word is actually a profound expression of love toward another person, denoting a hope that you, the speaker, will die and be buried first because you feel too much pain at the idea of living without the other person. Arabic is full of deep phrases similar to ya’aburnee.

Ndo (Igbo)

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The word ndo often gets mistranslated as the term for sorry, but using the word sorry in English typically implies guilt. The word ndo does not imply guilt but rather roughly translates to “I feel with you, I feel for you” which is why using the phrase ndo works a bit differently. It can be used for any situation from spilling someone’s coffee to consoling someone who’s suffered a loss, especially expressing empathy.

Meraki (Greek)

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Meraki is a word derived from Greek, and literally translated it means the “essence of yourself.” The significance of the term is conceptual and has no equivalent in most other languages, representing the idea of doing something with creativity, passion, or love. Basically: doing deep, meaningful, purposeful work from the soul or spirit.

Yuánfèn (Mandarin)

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This word refers to the serendipity that brings people together in pre-destined love. The direct translation of yuánfèn is “fateful coincidence,” and is notably also a concept in Buddhist tradition coming from Ancient Chinese culture. Essentially, the word suggests that two people can be drawn together through a connection in the universe.

Dépaysement (French)

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Originating in the French language, dépaysement defines the simultaneous feeling of disorientation and euphoria you get from being somewhere you aren’t familiar with, in both a terrifying and an exciting way. Many travelers may relate well to this feeling as they learn how to navigate a new destination. The word can be used in both literal and figurative forms.

Myötähäpeä (Finnish)

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This Finnish term is a funny one: myötähäpeä roughly means to feel embarrassment or shame for another person, also known as second-hand embarrassment. It’s almost certain that you’ve felt this cringey feeling before, such as when you see someone else doing something stupid or acting like a fool, but there is no linguistic equivalent for it in English.

Sobremesa (Spanish)

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Sobremesa is more ritual than it is word. This spanish term denotes the act of sitting around the table to enjoy post-lunch beverages with family, friends, or colleagues at the end of a long afternoon. It refers to the hours of talking, drinking, and laughing after a meal and embodies the slow-living Spanish atmosphere while also offering a period of digestion.

A Dărui (Romanian)

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This Romanian expression is very dear to locals, and they proudly share the word often. A dărui has several meanings and is derived from the word “dar,” which means “gift” or “present.” Usually, this word is used when the act of giving is driven by a genuine desire to make the other person happy. In the case of a dărui, the gift does not need to be something material; it can also be feelings, such as offering love, a second chance, or help.

Bjørnetjeneste (Norwegian)

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Have you ever tried to help someone or something but instead, you go overboard and end up making the situation much worse? This is exactly what the Norwegian term bjørnetjeneste represents. Sometimes helping does harm. The word originates from an old tale about a bear who wanted to kill a fly on its owner's nose… but instead, the bear killed the man.

Fargen/Firgun (Hebrew/Yiddish)

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Fargen, a term originating from Hebrew or Yiddish, signifies the act of emotional or spiritual support toward someone, especially in a warm, loving, or non-judgmental way. It is a deeply empathic expression. A linguistic paper from Technion explained, “Firgun is the ability to view the success or virtue of the other with feelings of goodwill and sympathy, without jealousy or envy.”

Abbiocco (Italian)

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While there is a somewhat similar word in English, the word abbiocco in Italian goes a bit further. This word loosely relates to “food coma,” but beyond that, it also characterizes the content drowsiness that accompanies eating a big meal. The phrase has the intention of embodying just how important and satisfying food is in Italian culture. 

Hygge (Danish)

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This one may look familiar because, in recent years, more of the world has embraced the concept of hygge. Considered to be Denmark’s mantra, hygge is a word describing a feeling of contented pleasure, leisure, and comfort when gathered around a fire with loved ones during winter. This word is the epitome of coziness, so it’s no wonder the rest of the world has woven this unique idea into their lives.

Gigil (Filipino)

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The word gigil is a hyper-specific Filipino expression that connotes the feeling of when cuteness utterly overwhelms you, such as when you see an adorable puppy or kitten so sweet that you have the urge to squeeze, hold, or cuddle it. Gigil encompasses an over-bearing feeling or inability to control emotions.

Wabi-Sabi (Japanese)

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Used to describe the beauty of imperfection, wabi-sabi is a lovely, endearing Japanese expression. The word is more of a philosophy that derives from the idea of Kintsugi, which represents the art of repairing something that is broken. This often includes performing a ritual fixing of an object with gold lacquer along the broken edges. Wabi-sabi is a great reminder of the beauty that exists in good and bad.

Lagom (Swedish)

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Lagom is a Swedish word that refers to the notion of something being “just right,” such as the children’s story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It means that something contains not too little, not too much, but exactly the correct amount. This word is particularly used by the Swedish people to symbolize the philosophy of living well-balanced in all facets of everyday life.

Toska (Russian)

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The melancholy of Russian language is exemplified through the term toska, which is a famously untranslatable word. The word generally denotes a yearning or ennui, but no words in English truly capture the meaning. The word is extremely multilayered and exists in a grey area. Russian-American author, Vladimir Nabokov, explained that toska is better described as “a sensation of great spiritual anguish, lacking any specific cause.”

Voorpret (Dutch)

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For travelers and adventurers, the word voopret from the Dutch language should evoke familiar feelings of excitement. This term illustrates the sheer joy and eagerness one feels when planning or anticipating a fun event, such as a trip. The meaning encompasses all aspects of the time leading up to the event, from making decisions to purchasing necessary supplies to detailing an itinerary. 

Cafune (Brazilian Portuguese)

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Originating from Brazilian Portuguese, the word cafune translates very specifically as the act of tenderly caressing or running your fingers through the hair of someone you love. The term carries a lot of deep meaning beyond just the action, but rather embodies the affection and emotion behind the action, representing the calmness and intimacy between two people.

Nunchi (Korean)

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In Korean, the term nunchi represents the subtle art of listening and interpreting another person’s mood. In English, it could be expressed as the idea of emotional intelligence. This phrase really constitutes the internal knowledge of what to say or do or what not to say or do, depending on the circumstances. 

Sisu (Finnish)

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If you’ve ever experienced a tough experience that you ended up enduring to the end with resilience, then you’ve personified the Finnish word sisu. Sisu is a hard-to-translate word that blends the concepts of perseverance, determination, and courage over a period of turmoil. It also takes on a psychological significance, referring to the strength of mind and character required to persist through a situation regardless of consequences. Essentially: what has to be done, will be done.

Iktsuarpok (Inuit)

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In the indigenous Inuit language, the phrase iktsuarpok describes the anticipation you may feel before a guest arrives at your home. The idea behind the word includes the act of walking back and forth, waiting, going to the window, or stepping outside to check if the person has arrived. Iktsuarpok truly epitomizes an anxious feeling unable to be directly translated to English.

Schnapsidee (German)

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If you’ve ever been at a table surrounded by intoxicated people drinking to excess and exchanging what they believe to be “genius ideas” then you’ve experienced the German expression schnapsidee. Maybe you have even done it yourself, coming up with your own ideas after too many drinks. The meaning behind this term is that the ideas that are conceived in a drunken state are not good ideas or plans.

Kefi (Greek)

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As part of more modern vocabulary in Greek, the word kefi expresses the art of being positive even when times are tough, especially during economic turbulence. It involves purposefully looking for joy and having good spirits in life despite the obvious turmoil happening all around you or around the world. It is essentially an expression of genuine gratitude.

Sources: Global Language Services, Lexigo, Expatchild, Merriam-Webster

Author: Jorie Logan

Title: Writer

Expertise: Travel, Wellness, Advocacy

Jorie Logan is a copywriter, brand strategist, and traveler with extensive solo travel experience. She's passionate about sharing stories that empower women to explore their world and discover their authentic joyful selves.