Interesting Foreign Words With No English Equivalent
With the right combination of words and expressions, we can communicate anything our hearts desire. That’s the power of language. But what about those times when you’re looking for a single word rather than an entire sentence to sum up a thought or feeling? For that, we can look to other languages. These eight foreign words have no direct English translation — but if you ever want to drink a beer outside, carry your wife around, or just play a prank on someone, now you’ll have the singular word to describe it.
Many of us know the very real disappointment and embarrassment that comes with getting a bad haircut, but the Japanese actually have a word for it: age-otori, which refers to the idea of looking worse after a haircut. The term isn’t very common in modern usage, but it is listed in the Kōjien, the authoritative Japanese dictionary. Age-otori was supposedly first used to describe a boy who styled his hair for a coming-of-age ceremony but ended up looking worse.
In Norway, getting outside after a long, dark winter is important for the soul. And having a beer when you finally get to do so? Even better. There’s actually a Norwegian word for the joy you get from drinking a beer outside: utepils. It’s a compound word; ute means “outside” and pils refers to pilsner beer. Some translate utepils to mean the very first drink of the year enjoyed outside, but many consider it to be a more encompassing word, referring to every beer consumed outside, no matter the time of year.
In Telugu, a language spoken in southern India, there’s a word for food that has already been partially eaten: engili. It translates literally to “spittle” or “defiled food,” but the historical usage was often more severe than that. Engili was taboo in ancient India and is still considered unholy and forbidden by many traditional families. Sharing food, drinking from the same glass as someone else, and double dipping are all considered contamination. You’re expected to wash your hands immediately.
In English, we have palindromes, words that read the same forward as backwards. Catalan speakers in parts of Spain, France, Italy, and Andorra take it a step further and assign a word to palindromic numbers: capicúa. The word breaks down into three parts, cap-i-cúa, which means “head and tail.” An example of a capicúa is 12321, or 445544. The word has another, more specific definition in Catalan as well — it also means a lottery ticket with a palindromic number.
There’s an entire movie dedicated to the lives of wedding crashers, but what about people who crash funerals? The Portuguese have a word for it: pesamenteiro. It translates literally to “condolence person” but refers to someone who goes to funerals just for the food — not to mourn. Because Portuguese words are gendered, pesamenteiro refers to a man; pesamenteira is a woman who crashes funerals.
Rosov Ronkainen, a notorious Finnish man from the 1800s, was known for stealing both women and food from nearby villages. He required his accomplices to go through an obstacle course while carrying something heavy on their backs to be sure they could handle the stolen bounties. Now, Finland has both a word and a competition for it: eukonkanto, or the wife-carrying tournament. People must carry their partners on their backs and complete an obstacle course — two dry obstacles and one wet — without dropping them. The winner receives enough beer to match the weight of the wife.
There’s a simple childish prank that pretty much everyone in the world knows — tapping someone’s shoulder on the opposite side of where you’re standing, making them turn in the wrong direction. And in Indonesian, that prank actually has its own word: mencolek. It can also be used to describe another, more annoying trick — poking someone constantly until they get irritated by it.
We all know schadenfreude, the German word for getting enjoyment from someone else’s troubles. But Germans have a word for the opposite phenomenon, too, of being embarrassed on someone else’s behalf: fremdscham. It roughly translates to “vicarious embarrassment.” Think of a rejected public marriage proposal, for example — you’ll feel fremdscham for the person who proposed.