15 Useful Foreign Words That Don’t Exist in English
  • 5-minute read
  • 30th May 2022

15 Useful Foreign Words That Don’t Exist in English

English possibly has more words than any other language, and yet, we may sometimes struggle to find one that perfectly expresses what we want to say. In today’s post, we’ve gathered 15 words from other languages that could be very useful in your writing – if only there were English versions!

Words With No English Equivalent

1. Sprezzatura

While English speakers might describe someone’s style as “effortlessly cool,” the Italians only need one word—sprezzatura. If you perform something with sprezzatura, you give the impression that it comes naturally to you, so you don’t have to work at it.

2. Hygge

Pronounced hyoo-guh, this Danish word describes a contented mood that encompasses warmth, comfort, wellbeing, and safety. It also implies a sense of coziness and belonging when gathered with family and close friends.

3. Meraki

In Greece, people use the noun meraki to say that something has been achieved, not just by hard work, but with special care, creativity, and enthusiasm. So, a Greek person might talk about preparing a meal or baking a cake with meraki. The nearest equivalent in English is the more long-winded expression, “to put one’s heart into something.”

4. Verschlimmbesserung

Type it into a German to English translator and you’ll get dis-improvement (or something similar), but verschlimmbesserung is more than that. A verschlimmbesserung is something that was intended to make an improvement, but instead has made a situation even worse!

5. Iktsuarpok

If you’ve ever felt a mixture of anticipation about meeting somebody and frustration that they haven’t turned up yet, then you’ve experienced iktsuarpok. This word is from the Inuit language, and it specifically describes the impatient, restless feeling that prompts you to go outside and watch for their arrival.

6. Uffda

When your Norwegian friend stubs their toe or bumps their head, the appropriate response is to say “uffda!” It’s an exclamation of empathy, and it means “ouch for you” or “I feel your pain.”

7. Treppenwitz

Have you ever felt so surprised or offended by a comment that you can’t think of what to say in response? And then shortly afterward, a suitable comeback comes to mind, but it’s too late to use it? Well, the Germans have a name for that perfect witty retort that you didn’t think of until you’ve missed the moment. It’s a treppenwitz.

8. Tsundoku

It might sound like a new type of number puzzle, but tsundoku has more to do with words than numbers. This Japanese term describes the habit of acquiring a large quantity of books but never getting around to reading them. Tsundoku can also be used as a noun to describe the resultant collection of books.

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9. Fargin

Fargin is a beautiful Yiddish word that means to delight in the success and good fortune of others. Unfortunately, some folks are more inclined to begrudge other people’s achievements than celebrate them, and perhaps that’s why the English language doesn’t have a single word that compares with fargin.

10. Kummerspeck

The literal translation of kummerspeck is “grief bacon,” and it has a highly specific meaning in German. Kummerspeck is the extra weight someone has gained as a result of comfort eating because they are feeling sad.

11. Estrenar

Estrenar is a Spanish verb that means “to do something for the first time.” You might use it when you wear a new pair of shoes or play your first notes on a guitar. Estrenar can also refer to starting a new job.

12. Fremdschämen

If you’ve ever felt embarrassed on behalf of someone else, that’s fremdschämen. Many long German words are made by joining shorter words together. In this case, we have fremd, which means “strange” or “unrelated,” and schämen, meaning “to be embarrassed.” So, fremdschämen means to feel embarrassed because of something somebody else is doing.

13. Lagom

Swedish people use the word lagom – which translates literally to “according to common sense” – when there is just the right amount of something. Lagom, which can be used as an adverb or adjective, implies a sense of balance and tranquility. A little like hygge in Danish, the concept of lagom knowing how to enjoy something to the fullest without overindulging – has become part of the Swedish national identity.

14. Ya’aburnee

The Arabic word ya’aburnee means “you bury me,” which sounds somewhat morbid until you realize it’s actually an expression of love. If you say “ya’aburnee” to someone, you’re telling them you couldn’t bear to live without them, and therefore, you hope to die before they do (so they will have to bury you).

15. Juzi

Imagine how much time and breath we’d save if we had one little word to replace four. Well, juzi is exactly that. In Swahili, it means “the day before yesterday.” It’s hard to believe that the English language hasn’t come up with an equivalent. Perhaps we should invent one, and while we’re at it, we could do with a word for “the day after tomorrow” as well.

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