20 Words That Don’t Translate into English

My whole life I’ve always been obsessed with language. From a young age I questioned how different dialects and accents came to be and why there are so many different languages. As I’ve grown older, rather than trying to find an answer to all of these questions, I’ve grown to love how diverse language is. Whenever there’s a trip to a non-English speaking country in the plans, I can always be found scribbling translations in my notebook or practicing phrases that could come in handy. I guess you could say that knowing the basic’s in several different languages is my hidden talent.

Recently, my language curiosity got me thinking. There are over 6000 different languages spoken worldwide every day. Of these 6000-plus languages, there’s got to be chunks of dialogue that can’t be translated into English. After a little bit of research (read: hours of language revelation), I learnt that there are so many non-translatable words in existence. Some of these I absolutely adored and couldn’t possibly keep to myself. So without further ado, here my top 20 favourite non-translatable words:

Fernweh – German
Feeling homesick for a place you’ve never been to.

Jayus – Indonesian
A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.


Possible jayus? circa 2012.

Iktsuarpok – Inuit
To go outside to check if anyone is coming.

Tartle – Scottish
The act of hesitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten his or her name.

Prozvonit – Czech
To call a mobile phone and let it ring once, so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money.

Cafuné – Brazilian Portuguese
The act of tenderly running one’s finger through someone’s hair.


Cafuné – Nepal 2011

Torschlusspanik – German
The fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.

Wabi-Sabi – Japanese
Focusing on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural growth and decay.

Kummerspeck – German
Excess weight gained from emotional overeating.

Shemomedjamo – Georgian
When you’re full but can’t stop eating because the food is so delicious.

Mencolek – Indonesian
To trick someone by tapping them on the opposite shoulder to you.

Mångata – Swedish
The reflection of moonlight on the water.


Grainy mångata – Stanwell Park, NSW


Utepils – Norweigian
A beer you drink outside.

Abbiocco – Italian
Drowsiness from eating a big meal – AKA food coma

Treppenwitz – German
When you think of a comeback long after having the chance to use it.

Bakku-shan – Japanese
Someone who is pretty… from behind.


Bakku-shan – Stanwell Tops, NSW

Tsundoku – Japanese
Buying a new book and leaving it unread, with the pile of other unread books in your house.

Fargin – Yiddish
To appreciate the success of others.

Pochemuchka – Russian
Someone who asks too many questions.

Saudade – Portuguese
Nostalgia for a person, place or thing that is far away.


Saudade – Montana. Always.


30 Comments on “20 Words That Don’t Translate into English

  1. Lol, this is a really interesting post. I love the words Tartle and Fargin – so cool! I tartle all the time as I have a rubbish memory for names 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve actually heard of “fernwah” but only from a random image search I did once! I am prone to “treppenwitz” all the time, it’s nice to have a word for it, finally. I love this post, I’m going to have to start incorporating some of these into my every day!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m into languages as well. As a Turkish speaker, I see there are many more words in English than Turkish. Many times I have difficulty to translate from one to another. Only some local food names might not be translated to English, such as, şalgam (shalgam) a local drink made from turnip, or “bici bici” a local sweet made from ice and some flavour.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is so fascinating! I’ve always been obsessed by different languages and cultures: my biggest childhood dream was to learn all languages in the world..LOL! Great post! I will look into your blog for more! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m a language lover and I can totally relate because sometimes I find some things easier to express in Spanish than English. Its so cool to see so many words in other languages that don’t have an English translation. I think that’s bellisma !

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hahah yes I love learning new words that don’t always translate into English. There are quite a few Korean words I’ve learned that when someone tries to explain in English just doesn’t have the same impact (for example explaining ahjussi and ahjumma culture would translate to explaining older men + women culture, but it doesn’t have the same connotation!)


  7. Love love love this! A couple of my favorites are wanderlust (german) and cwtch (Welsh) for cupboard/ safe place to store belongings, but also used for cuddle!


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