10 Awesome Words that Don’t Exist in English

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One of the best things about learning new languages is discovering entirely new ways of saying things that don’t exist in your own language. This new vocabulary gives you not just insights into other cultures, but also a new perspective on the world.

Thanks to many of my talented bilingual friends, I was able to put together this fun list of 10 amazing words that don’t exist in English.

  1. Téng (疼) is a special term for love in Chinese. It’s the same character as “to hurt” (as in “my stomach hurts”), and so it is love mixed with an ache or pain. It is really only used from a parent to a child.
  2. You know that stretch you do when you wake up in the morning? Ungdayee in the Hindi word for it. Almost shocking this word isn’t universal across languages, right?
  3. Concolón is the Ecuadorian Spanish (and perhaps other dialects of Spanish too) for that crispy, almost-burnt-but-not-quite rice that remains at the bottom of the pan after you cook it. That’s the stuff that’s so yummy, you’re elbowing your way to the pot to get a taste.
  4. Ever had that experience when something is so damn cute (think puppy, or adorable baby if you like kids) you can’t control yourself, and you grit your teeth, maybe bite your lip or cheek, and have the irrepressible urge to squeeze the thing? Gigil is the brilliant Tagalog word for that: a situation that overwhelms your self-control because of cute overkill.
  5. Firgun is the amazing Hebrew concept for taking pleasure in someone else’s success, with a good heart and without jealousy. The opposite is the German Schadenfreude, when you take joy in someone else’s misfortune.
  6. T’aarof is the Farsi word for a standard of etiquette that runs deep in Iranian culture, a concept that captures both the symbolism and elusiveness embedded in the language. A host must offer a guest anything they desire, even if the offer is not genuine, but then the guest must also refuse.  This exchange repeats itself many times (which would be lost on someone outside the culture), until the host and guest are able to somehow determine whether both the offer and refusal are genuine or just polite.
  7. Dor in Romanian is similar to the Portuguese saudade—the longing of missing someone.
  8. Kreislaufstörung in German is directly translated as a circulatory disturbance or circulation disorder. It’s the reason your German coworkers are calling in sick even though you drag yourself to work with a fever and a box of handkerchiefs. It refers to feeling weak, tired and having low blood pressure. A German friend joked, “It does not exist in the English language, therefore only Germans suffer from it. Ha ha!”
  9. Have you ever gotten up early to hear the birds sing? Ok, me neither, but it sounds like a nice idea. Well, apparently a fair amount of Swedes must because there’s a word for it in Swedish: gökotta—to go outside early in the morning to hear the birds or appreciate nature.
  10. I love the smell of the earth after it rains and Tamil has a word for it: mannvaasanai, the smell of wet earth when the first rain of the season hits the ground.

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Stephanie Meade

Stephanie Meade is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of InCultureParent, an online magazine for parents raising little global citizens. After living in four countries and working in many others as an economist in international development, she can speak four languages, including Spanish, French, Portuguese and English. She is passionate about all things related to language, especially raising bilingual children, as well as bringing up children with a global perspective. She is raising her own Moroccan-American daughters bilingual in Arabic and English at home while recently introducing Spanish. She always assumed she would speak Arabic by the time her oldest child was able to talk (which was four years ago now!) and she is finally making the time and effort to learn this year.

3 Comments

  1. geoff mills - June 23, 2013

    Please include me on this brilliant -language based educational/cultural use of language based e-mail. Inspirational!!

  2. Boo - October 21, 2013

    I have never before heard it said that Germans take sick days when they are not sick, in fact English has its very own phrase for this phenomena :) Perhaps this should be mentioned in the article too!

  3. Sundance Kid - October 27, 2013

    Nice article! Love these words, never come across them before.
    A minor nitpick though with point number 10 – isn’t petrichor the name for the smell of the earth after rain?

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