These Foreign Words Will Perfectly Describe What You’re Feeling
Sometimes it’s hard to think of the perfect English word to describe a particular emotion. Thankfully, lots of other languages can come to your rescue. If you’ve been looking for a specific word that describes that strange thrill after meeting someone new or an intense longing for home, you’ve come to the right place. Learn about some of the most unusual words around the globe used to express highly specific emotions.
Ever feel super depressed? There’s a word for that in Russian — “toska.” But “toska” goes way beyond sadness. It’s a yearning that makes you restless for someone or something missing in your life. Being deeply nostalgic or lovesick might require the word “toska.”
Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov shared, “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.” And if you’re a bit bored, “toska” can be used in casual conversation to describe that feeling, too.
Starting a small lovers’ quarrel to score some extra affection that quickly leads to making up is referred to in Tamil as “oodal.” The main goal of the conflict is to get one person (usually a man) to apologize first before moving on to a happy reconciliation.
A lovers’ quarrel is only described as “oodal” if it’s melodramatic, short-lived and petty in nature. “Oodal” is sometimes translated to English as “sulking,” but it’s actually a part of the courtship routine designed to spice up the relationship. “Oodal” is a romantic theme often discussed by Tamil writers and poets.
It’s always so hard when someone you care about is gone but so thrilling when you have the opportunity to see that person again after being apart. The Basque people living in the Pyrenees mountain region between France and Spain have a word for that joy: “aspaldiko.”
“Aspaldiko” describes the way you feel when you meet up with someone you haven’t seen for a very long time. The word’s literal translation is “long ago.” A number of Basque restaurants are named after this word because it’s always fun to meet with old friends over a nice meal.
If your parents ever gushed with immense pride after you’d won first place in the science fair, were picked as the lead in your school play or graduated from kindergarten, then they “kvelled.” Coming from the German “quellen,” it means to “gush” or “swell” with pride.
“Kvell” is a Yiddish word that’s typically used when a parent or grandparent wants to talk about a child or grandchild’s accomplishments. Whether the achievement is large or small, loved ones can always find something to kvell about. The word, however, can also have a negative connotation and describe gloating over someone else’s defeat or mistake.
The Tagalog word “kilig” means “to tremble with excitement or nervousness.” But when Filipinos use “kilig,” it has an even more specific meaning: that nervous feeling that rolls around when you have an initial romantic attraction to someone.
While English doesn’t have just one word that’s comparable to “kilig,” common expressions such as “being on cloud nine” or “having butterflies in your stomach” have the same meaning. Other definitions include “giddiness” and “tingling.” “Kilig” can also be felt when reading about a romance or watching something romantic on television or film.
Do you know someone who’s got all the answers and can always come up with a witty retort? The Hungarian language calls this “pihentagyú,” which translates to “relaxed brain” or “well-rested brain.” It describes people who are able to quickly come up with clever ideas. They’re usually out-of-the-box thinkers.
The word “pihentagyú” can also have a negative meaning when it describes a person who thinks they’re so interesting that they never tire of their own jokes or comments. While these people are usually quite smart, “pihentagyú” conveys the idea that anyone within earshot is pretty annoyed.
One of the most common words used to express emotion in the Indonesian language is “anjir.” The word doesn’t have one specific meaning, but people use it to express many emotions associated with shock or surprise. “Anjir” is often used as a swear word.
“Anjir” could be translated into English as “Damn!” or “That’s shocking!” It can also be used to express extreme displeasure or anger, but, if you see someone who’s attractive it’s fine to say, “Anjir cakep!” (“Cakep” means “good-looking” or “beautiful.”) “Anjir” can also mean “dog,” so if an unfriendly canine is chasing you, you’ll want to shout out “Anjir, anjir!”
In the Tibetan language, the word “tonglen” means “giving and receiving.” But this word isn’t referring to gifts. “Tonglen” describes receiving the emotional pain or suffering of others, taking it and transforming it into compassion, love or joy. The word is often used when discussing the practice of “tonglen” in Tibetan Buddhism.
“Tonglen” is sometimes characterized as breath. You might “inhale” someone’s emotional sadness and then “exhale” it in the form of love. During meditation, someone can practice “tonglen” by taking in a deep breath while thinking about the pain of others, then releasing while thinking of their happiness.
The Portuguese language has a word that describes an intense longing for someone or something that you have loved and lost but can never have again: “saudade.” This word brings up intense emotions of melancholy as someone thinks back on a past relationship or beloved memento that’s gone forever.
“Saudade” has been described as the love and terrible emptiness that remain after someone has died or moved away or when a relationship has ended. Fado is a unique style of Portuguese music that encapsulates this mournful feeling of “saudade.” In Brazil, the Day of Saudade is recognized on January 30.
During Finland’s cold winter months it can be hard to muster up the mental or physical energy to do anything. The Finns came up with the word “jaksaa” to describe internal fortitude. “Jaksaa” literally means “to be able to muster up the strength” or “have the energy” to do something.
This is a word that people often use when times get tough. It’s often heard at sporting events to cheer struggling athletes over the finish line. This interesting word can also be used to encourage someone to stick out a tough or uncomfortable situation.
If you’ve been searching for the perfect word to describe “forgiveness” without being a sap, “ilunga” might just be what you’re looking for. It’s a word used in the African language of Tshiluba to describe a willingness to forgive someone for any abuse the first time, tolerate the abuse a second time but never to forgive or tolerate a third time.
A survey of linguists found that “ilunga” was considered the most difficult word in the world to translate. Speakers who might use the word live in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where people also use it as a name.
The summer months in India bring monsoon rains that soak everything. “Rimjhim” is a colloquial word in the Hindi language used to describe constant showers or drizzle. But “rimjhim” has a deeper emotional meaning with no English equivalent.
“Rimjhim” means to find personal joy from the constant rains. Monsoon season brings relief from India’s constant heat. It’s also considered the most romantic time of the year for couples who enjoy dining indoors or walking in the rain. Indian families like playing in the rain, drinking hot chai, making paper boats and relaxing indoors while listening to the sound of raindrops.
Did you ever have one of those days when you felt really good about the work you had done? The Danes describe this as “arbejdsglaede.” This word is a combination of the two words “arbejd” (to work) and “glaede” (joy). “Arbejdsglaede” also means to be happy about heading off to work each day and enjoying your job.
Danish culture encourages a strong work-life balance, resulting in great happiness. A CNN study found that Denmark has the second-shortest work week in the world, with the typical Danish employee working an average of 33 hours per week and making approximately $46,000 per year.
“Meraki” is a Greek word that describes expressing your emotions through your work or through something you’ve created. The word originated from the Turkish language and means “a labor of love” or “the essence of yourself that is put into your work.”
While “meraki” typically refers to an artistic endeavor such as painting, music or dance, you can use it when discussing anything done with complete focus and passion. The word is often used to describe a lovingly prepared meal or beautifully set table. A person who lives life to the fullest with total passion is known as a “meraklis.”
When there’s a stormy day, Slovenians might use the word “vedriti,” which means “taking shelter from the rain and waiting for it to clear up.” While “vedriti” can be used to describe running for cover when the skies open up, it’s also a metaphor that means “to wait for a bad mood to pass.”
In English, “vedriti” might equate to being in a bad place emotionally. It can also suggest that someone might want to “duck out” of a difficult situation or “lie low” until things clear up and appear to be more favorable.
The Arabic word “ya’aburnee” translates to “you bury me.” But don’t worry. It’s not as morbid a word as it sounds. “Ya’aburnee” describes a feeling of love that’s so intense you cannot think of living without the other person.
The meaning behind “ya’aburnee” is the desire for another person to outlive you or bury you first. In English we might say “How can I live without you?” This word can have a romantic connotation but is also a common way for mothers to express love to their children. While it may seem depressing, “ya’aburnee” is always used in a positive way.
The French have a word for those times when you’re feeling out of sorts after leaving your homeland. The word is “depaysement.” It’s not quite the same as homesickness, but rather a feeling of unease. The word’s literal meaning is “to be uncountried.”
“Depaysement” is a combination of culture shock, fear, longing and excitement all rolled into one word. This unique word is also useful when someone’s in their home country attending a foreign cultural event or eating at a restaurant with foreign dishes. In such cases, “depaysement” can be used to express leaving familiar routines, experiences or foods.
Respect is a very important part of Thai culture. If you’re not getting sufficient attention from the people you care about, the word “nauuy-jai” might be the perfect description. The word roughly translates to “pain in the spiritual heart.” It can also be used to explain how you feel when someone doesn’t act toward you as they should.
“Nauuy-jai” is typically only used when discussing those very close to you, such as family, spouses or friends. You could use “nauuy-jai” to express feeling wronged, hurt or even a bit embarrassed by a loved one’s actions or indifference towards you.
In Hebrew, the word “firgun” means you show an intense generosity or feeling of joy when something good has happened to somebody else. It’s all about being joyful for someone else’s good fortune without having any ulterior motive. In English it might be described as “tooting someone else’s horn.”
“Firgun” comes from the Yiddish “farginen.” It’s believed to be a relatively new word, having entered the Hebrew language in the 1970s. In 2014, the nonprofit organization Made in JLM created “International Firgun Day,” an annual celebration held on July 17 when people compliment each other’s good work and deeds on social media.
When a group of people know an uncomfortable fact but manage to steer clear of it in order to spare someone’s feelings, that’s “mokita.” The loss of a job, the ending of a relationship or some other painful personal situation that family and friends try to avoid are just a few examples of “mokita.”
In English, a phrase that might come close to “mokita” would be “the elephant in the room.” “Mokita” originates from the Kilivila language spoken on Kiriwana, the largest of the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea. The Kilivila language is used by approximately 20,000 people.
The yearning to go back to a place from long ago that is now so different that revisiting it will cause grief is known in the Welsh language of Cymraeg as “hiraeth.” The word translates to “missing home.” A similar concept in English is the saying, “you can never go home again.”
“Hiraeth” can also mean longing to spend time in an ancestral home that you’ve never visited. Some Welsh speakers use it to describe the beauty of the countryside or the way it was described in old stories. You can also say “Mae hiraeth arna amdanot ti,” roughly translating to “I have homesickness for you” or “I miss you.”
“Duende” describes that intense feeling of emotion that comes over someone while experiencing something creative, such as art or music. The word originally referred to a mischievous imp or spirit popular in Spanish folklore, known as the “dueno de casa,” (possessor of the house) that could suddenly take over a person’s body and create joy.
“Duende” is an indescribable feeling that brings immense elation or excitement. It’s often used when discussing a passionate flamenco dance, either referring to the performer or the audience. Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca described “duende” as “a power, not a work.”
“Litost” is one of the saddest words in the Czech language. It describes a feeling of extreme depression when someone casually reminds you of what has gone wrong in your life. The literal meaning of “litost” is “regret.”
But “litost” goes even deeper than just expressing remorse about missed opportunities. It takes the emotion of humiliation and intertwines it with cruelty, as someone rubs salt into an emotional wound by discussing what you’ve lost in your life but adds how their life is so much better than yours. “Litost” can also lead to a feeling of wishing revenge on a tormentor.
If you ever had to come up with a fast excuse during a sticky situation, the word “erklärungsnot” might just apply. It means “explanation emergency” or “explanation poverty.” “Erklärungsnot” is often used to describe anyone whose excuse seems ever-so-slightly sketchy.
Germans use this word to refer to a feeling of distrust whenever they come across a lying politician, cheating spouse, chronically late coworker or student who forgot to do homework. “Erklärungsnot” can also be used in less-critical situations, such as getting caught cheating on your diet or coming up with a crazy excuse while planning a surprise party.
That feeling of excitement prior to a fun event is what the Dutch fondly refer to as “voorpret.” Translated into English, “voorpret” means “pleasurable anticipation.” It’s the emotion you encounter when looking forward to a special event. “Voorpret” can really describe anything enjoyable that you’ll be experiencing in the future.
One might say “Ik heb voorpret,” which basically translates to “I have positive expectations.” The Dutch may be on to something. Five scientific studies that explored the concept of “voorpret” revealed that people often benefit more from the lead-up to an event than from reminiscing about it.
Sa Jiao (Chinese)
Translated from Chinese, “sa jiao” means “to act like a spoiled child.” The phrase now has a much different meaning and refers to a grown woman who pouts, whines or stomps her feet. “Sa jiao” also includes requests for help when help isn’t really needed.
While this behavior might be considered inappropriate, “sa jiao” is sometimes thought to be a very feminine trait in traditional Chinese culture. This traditional gender stereotype is still sometimes seen as being an attractive quality. Women who don’t play the game of “sa jiao” may not be considered as feminine as their pouty counterparts.
The Urdu word “goya” sums up the suspension of disbelief. It’s when, just for a brief moment in time, fantasy suddenly seems to become reality. This untranslatable word is usually used to describe the emotion we feel when we are swept away by a great book or movie.
“Goya” is believed to have been originally derived from Persian and has now made its way into several other languages. The closest literal English translation would be “as if” or “perhaps.” Seventeenth-century Persian poet Bhai Nand Lal wrote “Diwan-e-Goya” under the pen name Goya to describe his intense spiritual experiences.
An intimate look between two people who have deep feelings for one another but are too shy to express themselves can be described as “mamihlapinatapai.” It’s a look of unspoken understanding between a couple, with the hope that one will step up and openly share their feelings.
This unusual word is found in the language spoken by the Yaghan people, who live in the South American region of Tierra del Fuego. While “mamihlapinatapai” is considered one of the most challenging words for linguists to properly translate, the Guinness Book of World Records has listed the word as the “most succinct.”
Do you know the feeling of anticipating someone’s arrival? The Inuit language knows this emotion as “iktsuarpok.” It’s that intense excitement or restlessness that makes you repeatedly open and close the door or look out the window every few minutes as you eagerly wait for someone to show up.
The word seems to describe a difficult emotion for the Inuit, who live in the chilly regions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia. Translated into English, iktsuarpok” literally means one who “goes outside often to check if someone is coming.” Several songs have been written to pay tribute to this frustrating feeling.
It’s happened to us all: that uncomfortable moment when you forget someone’s name. The Scottish have the word “tartle” to describe this awkward situation. The word translates as “to hesitate when recognizing a person or thing.” Saying the word “tartle” helps avoid embarrassment for all involved.
Fortunately, the Scots treat this minor gaffe as something that happens to all of us rather than an insult. If a name is forgotten, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Pardon my tartle!” And if you have a hard time coming up with a particular word, you can even say, “Sorry, I tartled for a moment!”