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15 Brilliant Words that Don’t Exist in English

by Marianne Stenger
Posted: July 14, 2015

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Have you ever tried to describe a particular feeling or sentiment in your writing but couldn’t quite find the words to do it justice? Although the English language has borrowed words from other languages for centuries, the following brilliantly descriptive words don’t have an equivalent in English yet, but here’s to hoping some of them catch on soon.


1. Arigata-meiwaku


This Japanese word translates to ‘unwelcome kindness’ and describes a situation where someone does something for you even when you didn’t want them to do it and their doing it has caused you no end of trouble, but you’re still expected to express your gratitude because of social conventions.

2. Pana Po’o

Hawaiians call the act of scratching your head to help yourself remember something you’ve forgotten ‘Pana po’o.’

3. Cafune

Cafune is a Portuguese word used exclusively in Brazil. It describes the romantic gesture of tenderly running your fingers through a lover’s hair.

4. Luftmensch

If you’re an impractical dreamer and have no business sense you’d probably be pegged as a ‘luftmensch’ by Yiddish-speakers.

5. Nunchi

Nunchi is a Korean word that refers to the ability to read another person’s true feelings or mood and react accordingly. If you’re bad at noticing non-verbal cues or are socially awkward, you’d be ‘nunchi eoptta’ or ‘lacking nunchi.’

6. Torschlusspanik

We all worry about getting older, but the Germans have a name for this phenomenon. The word ‘torschlusspanik,’ which translates literally to ‘gate-closing panic,’ is used to describe the fear of diminishing opportunities as you age.

7. Gigil

If you’ve ever had the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze something that was unbearably cute, like a fluffy puppy or chubby baby, the Filipino word ‘gigil’ describes exactly what you were feeling at that moment.

8. Pena ajena

Pena ajena is a Spanish word used in Mexico to describe the feeling of embarrassment you feel when watching someone else’s humiliation.

9. Illunga

The word ‘Illunga,’ which is found the Tshiluba language spoken in DR Congo, was voted as one of the hardest to translate words in the world. It means a person who is ready to forgive any wrongdoing the first time, tolerate it a second time, but never put up with it a third time.

10. Tartle

In Scotland the word ‘tartle’ is used to describe that awkward moment when you want to introduce someone but hesitate because you realise you’ve forgotten their name.

11. Toska

Russians use the word ‘toska’ to put into words a number of otherwise difficult-to-describe feelings and sensations, from a great spiritual anguish to a dull ache of the soul to a vague restlessness, melancholy, or even just plain old boredom.

12. Meraki

In Greece, when you do something with soul, love and creativity or put a bit of yourself into what you’re doing, it’s called ‘meraki.’

13. L’esprit de l’escalier

This French word literally translates to ‘staircase wit’ and describes something we can all relate to; a witty remark or comeback that is thought of too late to be useful.

14. Jayus

Have you ever had someone tell you a joke that was so painfully bad or awkward that it was actually funny? In Indonesia, a joke so poorly told or so unfunny that you can’t help but laugh at it is called “jayus.”

15. Mokita

The word ‘mokita’ is from the Kivila language spoken in Papua New Guinea and means ‘the truth we all know, but agree not to talk about’ or in other words, it’s ‘the elephant in the room.’


Marianne Stenger

Marianne is a London-based freelance Writer and Journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central.

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