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11 foreign words with no equivalent in English

So let’s have a look at 11 foreign words from around the world with no direct English equivalent. Language is one of few universal standards, something that all humans share. But no two languages are the same. Translating is more of an art than a science because words can’t just be put in a machine like numbers. Things inevitably get lost in translation thanks to cultural and geographical differences.  There are countless more, but here are 11 of our favourites…

Kummerspeck (German)

Here’s an abstract one to start us off. It means to gain weight from overeating, but not from hamburgers, but emotional thoughts or grief. How’s that an intricate word?

Wabi-Sabi (Japanese)

From the land of the rising sun comes one of the world’s most beautiful phrases. Wabi-Sabi means “to find beauty in imperfection”. Given that nothing is truly perfect, admiring things for their imperfection, for how they are, is a good place to start.

Depaysement (French)

Another profound emotion. Depaysement is the feeling of being a foreigner outside one’s home country. Homesickness doesn’t quite depict it – it’s more intense, akin to feeling like an alien on a strange planet.

Lagom (Swedish)

Lagom is a neat little word. It refers to when something is just about right. It’s also used to indicate a balanced life. 

Soler (Spanish)

Soler is a useful verb with no direct equivalent in English. It means to be accustomed to doing something. It usually precedes an action that one usually does – for example “I usually eat at six”. In fact, Spanish has a lot of handy verbs which don’t exist in English – there’s even a verb “to have dinner” (cenar).

Mencolek (Indonesian)

Think back to when you were young, and you may recall the oldest playground trick in the book where you sneak up behind someone and tap them on their opposite shoulder. Well it turns out that the Indonesians invented a word for it.

Desbundar (Portuguese)

Here’s a leaf we should take from the Portuguese book. Desbundar literally means to let go of your inhibitions and have fun. 

Mianzi (Chinese)

The Chinese concept of mianzi is that of “keeping face” in public. It is designed to promote mutual trust and respect. Outside of Asia however, it’s a somewhat foreign idea.

Sobremesa (Spanish)

After having a dinner with friends or family, sobremesa, literally “on table” refers to conversation around the table after everyone has finished eating. It’s a particularly Spanish tradition and can even last several hours after the meal itself!

Ya’arburnee (Arabic)

The last and most romantic term on our list. Ya’arbunee is a beautiful Arabic notion of someone wishing to die before a loved one, because living without them would be unbearable. It literally means “you bury me”.

Papbroek (Afrikaans)

This word’s approximate is “coward,” “whimp,” or “weak man,” and if it conjures an image of a hunched, rather sad guy with baggy, saggy pants, but denotes someone without a backbone or a person of weak character. Literally – deflated pants!


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