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15 Words That Don’t Translate Into English

By May 17, 2015Language

The English language contains over a million words so it seems hard to believe that there isn’t a word to describe everything! Yet it remains that there are some words from other languages that’s simply are not translatable into English. I’m Welsh and straight off the top of my head I can think of two Welsh words that simply don’t translate in full and I know a few from other languages too. With that in mind I went off on a search to see what others I could find!

As always we hope you enjoy them and if you know any more, feel free to add them in the comments.

Kummerspeck (German)

Kummerspeck literally translates as ‘grief-bacon’ or ‘grief-fat’ and it is used to describe the layer of fat one gains due to emotional overeating.

Hiraeth (Welsh)

This Welsh word, hiraeth describes a deep homesickness; an intense form of longing or nostalgia for a place long gone, or even an unaccountable homesickness for a place you have never visited.

Cafuné (Brazilian/Portuguese)

Cafune is the act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair. We all know the sensation, but there’s no English equivalent.

l’espirit-d’escalier (French)

L’espririt D’escalier is a French term, translating literally as ‘staircase wit’. The act of thinking of a clever retort after the moment has passed.

Gufra (Arabic)

Gufra is the amount of water that can be held in a scoop of your hands, no more, no less. A Gufra of water.

Schlimazl (Yiddish)

If you called someone a schlimazl you’d be confirming that you think they are a chronically unlucky person.

Cwts/Cwtch (Welsh)

To cwts is to envelope someone into a safe hug. A cwts is a small safe place for storage.

pålegg (Norweigan)

You know when you’re just absolutely ravenous and you need something quick to eat? Well, Palegg is anything and everything that you can fit on one slice of bread.

Duende (Spanish)

Blown away by a fantastic oil painting? That’s the painting’s duende; the power of a work of art to deeply move a person.

l’appel du vide (French)

‘The call of the void’ or L’appel Duvide is the irresistible urge one sometimes get to jump from high places.

Luftmensch (Yiddish)

A luftmensch is a ‘air person’ or something who has their head in the clouds, a bit of a dreamer. I suppose the closest English alternative is daydreamer.

Schadenfreude (German)

The use of Schadenfreude is so high in the UK it’s including in the Oxford English dictionary. A feeling joy from someone else’s misfortune.

Saudade (Portuguese)

This has similar meanings to hiraeth, a concept of nostalgia and longing, described by Manuel de Melo as “A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy”.

Torschlusspanik (German)

Literally ‘gate-closing panic’, the worry of diminishing opportunities as one ages. The fear of doors closing as we age.

Kyoikumama (Japanese)

I think Americans use ‘tiger-mom’. Kyoikumama is a mother who constantly pushes her kids academically.

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13 Comments

  • Belle Taine says:

    I love this list. I do wish you would include English phonetic pronunciations with each word so that I could add them to my spoken vocabulary. Thanks.

  • Red says:

    Typos to address and correct by correct spelling:
    L’espririt D’escalier => l’esprit d’escalier
    L’appel Duvide => l’appel du vide
    Capital letters and space (or rather lack of) between the words are incorrect.

    Thank you.

    • Kath says:

      Thank you! I often think of proofreading but it seems a shame to deprive you all of something you love so much. 😉

  • Elisabeth says:

    I understand that most people don’t have our Norwegian letters, but just to make it correct, it’s actually called pålegg 🙂

    • Kath says:

      I have no idea how to make that on my keyboard, but thankfully I do know how to copy and paste so have just borrowed your å. Thank you!

  • Jhuly says:

    The portuguese word “cafune” actually is “cafuné”.

    • Kath says:

      I was having trouble finding accent marks on my English keyboard! I shall copy yours and edit now. Thank you!

  • Kgutie says:

    “Duende” in Spanish actually means poltergeist, goblin, leprechaun, or sprite.

  • Elizabeth says:

    The Dutch word, “Gezellig” can only be translated into Welsh, “Clyd”; both are frequently designated the translation into English as, “cosy”,’ but this is a woefully inadequate translation as they both mean a huge feeling (or atmosphere) of comfort., but even this is not enough. It is without doubt one of my favourite words in both languages.

  • Marie France says:

    Hi, got another suggestion for your lovely list:
    in Dutch or Flemish:
    GEZIN
    it would translate as: (your) COREFAMILY or household, as in mum(s) and/or dad(s) plus the kid(s) that live together as a family unit.
    English doesn’t seem to differentiate between this and the bigger family, as in kin (grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins etc.) that usually live elsewhere and which in Dutch or Flemish is also called FAMILIE.

  • Abu Al-3iz says:

    It is not Gufra, the correct pronunciation is “Gharfa” …. so it is a “Gharfa” of water.

  • James says:

    Nice list but using German is cheating as they’re not really single words, just words smashed together.. Same with the French, surely they are phrases? Also I think two of them are basically melancholy, just contextualised.

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