“Language appears in reality only as a multiplicity”
Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1795.
Have you ever experienced saudade in Sintra? Or German Schadenfreude? Was it better or worse than the hygge you felt in Denmark? Untranslatable words are actually the essence of European diversity… Untranslatability shouldn’t be a barrier to living together, but a way to enhance how we collectively explain the world. Sometimes they’re words that only work in one social context. Sometimes it’s just an idea that never occurred to anyone else. Or sometimes it’s a feeling you’ve been struggling to put your finger on for years until you realise another country got there first. Worry no longer! Whether you’re lingering aimlessly in a Paris street or eyeing the shortest checkout in Chemnitz, never more need you be lost for words!
What better way to start this list with the most famous European untranslatable word ever! Saudade defines a special and deeply emotional state of nostalgia related to something, or even more poignantly someone, that you miss and which is lost forever. Portuguese fado music is often considered as the musical embodiment of saudade.
Apaixonar: falling in love and the feeling of falling in love.
Cafuné: the act of tenderly running your fingers through someone else’s hair.
Desabafar: needing to talk about problems or forget about it in another way (running, walking, drinking, etc.).
Mágoa: feeling hurt physically or emotionally, sadness, grief, and/or sorrow.
Mimoso: someone constantly physically in touch with those around them.
Desenrascanço: disentangling oneself from an undesirable situation.
Duende is the mysterious power that a work of art has to move a person deeply: it is often applied particularly to flamenco dance. The poet Federico Garcia Lorca borrowed a sentence from Germany’s Goethe to define it as “the mysterious power that we all feel, but that no philosopher could explain”. The French may call it “Stendhal syndrome“, but that does not fully grasp the nuances and intensity of a full-blown duende.
Botellón: young people getting together to get drunk in a quiet street or in a park, because it’s a lot cheaper than going to bars or clubs.
Chapuza: something that’s badly made or fixed.
Consuegro: your son or daughter’s parent-in-law.
Entrecejo: the space between both eyebrows.
Estrenar: wearing something new for the first time.
Sobremesa: the moment after eating a meal when the food is gone but the conversation is still flowing at the table.
“C’est la bérézina!” Whenever the French hear this sentence, they scream and shiver uncontrollably down their Gallic spines. Bérézina expresses much more than a simple failure: it’s a sound thrashing. It comes from the 1812 battle of Bérézina in Belarus during which the French army of Napoléon faced the Russian Army led by Koutousov. Many French soldiers died while trying to cross the cold river Bérézina with the battle then ending in a serious defeat.
Crapoter: smoking a cigarette without actually inhaling.
Entarter: hitting someone in the face with a pie.
Flâner: aimlessly wandering with no goal except to watch people and soak in the essence of a city.
Insortable: a person you can’t bring with you to a public function because they are embarrassing you.
Juilletistes/Aoûtiens: people going on vacation in July and August, respectively.
Ras-le-bol: being fed up with something, frustrated, tearing your hair out.
Retrouvailles: the particular sweetness of a reunion long past its due date.
Savoir-faire: knowing how to adapt to any situation with grace and ease.
Tue-l’amour: something that makes a person stop loving or feeling desire for another one.
Snjór is one of the 6 243 words identified to name the snow or its appearance in Iceland! There are variations depending on when the snow lands, in which weather conditions and how much of it falls in one go. You can name snow according to what’s happened to it after it’s already fallen. There are even words for snow that moves in a certain way. Of course, they do not all have an equivalent in English!
Álegg: everything you decide to put on the bread. Cheese, jam, ham, paté, or whatever.
Gluggaveður: the “window-weather”, that is to say, the kind of weather that’s nice to look at, but not experience.
Kviðmágur: “abdomen-brother-in-law” for guys (or girls), who have slept with the same person.
Ratiljóst: having enough light to navigate to the kitchen in the middle of the night to get a snack.
Sólarfrí: getting an unexpected day or afternoon off to enjoy a particularly sunny and warm day.
Skúmaskot: a dark corner.
Vesen: something that is more complicated than what it should be.
They have a word for this! We wouldn’t want to sound too cliché, but the Irish untranslatable word relates to drinking… Béaláiste is the drink used to seal a deal or a business agreement. It usually means finalising a bargain by sharing a celebratory toast with pints of beer. And whenever they feel the need, they can even continue with a drinking song. All this, at the local pub obviously.
Comhardadh: rhyme where the first syllable of each word has the same vowel
Criathróir: animal sure-footed on boggy ground.
Dearglach: red glow (in sky).
Driongán: animal in poor condition.
Eadra: morning milking time
Feimíneach: tail-eating animal.
Foiseach: grass inaccessible to mowing machine; grass growing along margin of field.
Fóisí: one who does things by fits and starts.
Fuarlach: flooding from heavy rainfall; low-lying marginal land subject to flooding
Gormánach: young seal after shedding white baby-coat.
Iombhá: place where there is danger of drowning.
Ioscaid: hollow at back of knee.
Ithir: land on which root crops have been grown in previous season.
Ladhar: space between toes or fingers.
Méidhe: neck; stump of neck, neck of headless body.
Sabhsaí: person who works in all weathers.
Séanas: gap between upper front teeth.
Rosc: poetic technique in which the stressed vowel is at the end of the line
Tonach: washing the dead.
We’ve all been there. You’re minding your own business, walking down the street, when suddenly you look up and catch the eye of someone familiar. But wait, you know the face, but you can’t remember the name. This is known as a tartle, a word completely unique to the Scots language that defines the hesitation shown in trying to remember someone’s name. When confronted with the above scenario, you can excuse your apparent rudeness by saying: “Sorry for my tartle.”
Cheesy: something so fake that it stinks like Camembert.
Facepalm: hiding your faces in your hands to express embarrassment, dismay, or exasperation.
Gobbledygook: unintelligible jargon.
Pimp: refurbishing something, to make it super-fancy.
Serendipity: the state of finding pleasant or desirable things by accident.
Spam: an unsolicited electronic message.
It’s a Norwegian thing. The concept of Koselig is key to understanding the behaviour of Norwegians, especially at weekends. It is both a noun (Koselig) and a verb (kose). Some say “cosy” is the closest translation, although we are sure that’s only because it sounds similar! To be fair, cosy gets you 80% of the way there. But there’s plenty of koselig things that you wouldn’t describe as cosy. It encompasses situations, news, or people – such as friends or children with a pleasant and koselig smile.
Attpåklatt: a child who was born a long time after the “main” bunch of kids in the family.
Døgn: any period of 24 hours.
Forelsket: the euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love.
Innlevelse: an actor that think, live and act as the character.
Marka: any forested areas that surround a city or town where people can ski, bike, walk or camp.
Pålegg: salami, ham, cheese, jam, lettuce — everything you can put on the bread for a sandwich.
Tøffelhelt: a slipper hero.
Uting: a bad habit or tradition.
Utepils: sitting outside on a sunny day enjoying a beer.
Just at the right amount! This word serves all purposes and describes everything, from food and drinks, to distance and weight, to law and politics. It’s a convenient word which encompasses all ideas: a mix of “enough”, “sufficient”, “average”, “optimal” and “suitable”. It designates a situation which is not too much and not too little – as in “lagom lång” (the right height) or “lagom varmt” (the optimal heat).
Badkruka: someone who refuses to get into the water, such as a pool or lake.
Fika: having a cup of tea or coffee, maybe some cake, with a good old chat.
Gökotta: rising at dawn in order to go out and listen to the birds sing.
Harkla: the little coughing noise one makes, often before giving a speech.
Mambo: Someone that still lives with their mother
Orka: having enough energy to do something.
Särbo: a particular point in a relationship before ‘boyfriend’/’girlfriend’.
Tretår: a second refill of a cup of coffee; a ‘threefill’.
Vabba: being at home with the kids’, usually when they’re sick.
Vaska: buying two bottles of champagne at a bar, and then having one poured down the sink to show how wealthy you are
“Nah… I don’t think I jaksaa...” If someone asks a Finn if he wants to go out tonight, the Finn may answer with this enigmatic sentence. It expresses the lack of energy to do something. After all, Finns have the reputation of being quiet introvert and they don’t bother hiding it. The handy verb Jaksaa helps them in their laziness, as it can be used in many situations. We really wonder why this word doesn’t exist in other languages…
Kalsarikänni: getting drunk (alone) at home in underwear with no intention of going out.
Kyykkyviini: “squat wine”, the cheaper and often not that great quality wine.
Lintukoto: “bird’s home”, a safe place where people are protected from the issues of the world.
Löyly: the steam you get in sauna when you throw water on sauna stove.
Pilkunnussija: “comma fucker”, A person whose only purpose in life is to make sure you understand how bad your grammar skills are.
Sisu: “stick-with-it-ness”, being stubborn, determined and sometimes stupidly brave.
Tosikko: “polar nights”, the period of time between November and February when the sun sets for three months.
From warming bowls of porridge to candlelit dinners, the word hygge is known as the art of cosiness and how to practice it. Hygge is about surrounding yourself with the things that make life good, like friendship, laughter and security, as well as more concrete things like warmth, light, seasonal food and drink.
Arbejdsglæde: “work happiness”, the feeling of happiness provoked by a satisfying job.
Hils: “give my regards to so-and-so” or “say hello to so-and-so for me”.
Mormor/farmor: a maternal grandmother (literally mum mum)/a paternal grandmother (dad mum).
Morgenfrisk: feeling rested after a good night’s sleep.
Politikerleden: disgust in politics and politicians.
Stemmesluger: “vote swallower”, a politician who receives a lot of votes in an election.
Excited about the imminent summer holidays? Or the upcoming Christmas celebrations? Voorpret is the word you need! It literally means “pre-fun” – you know? This sense of enjoyment that you can feel before an event actually takes places. You’ll experience voorpret for instance when looking through brochures before going on a journey or smelling the perfume of a cake before eating it.
Afbellen: cancelling plans over the phone.
Borrel: informal gatherings at the pub.
Gedogen: turning a blind eye to something, or choosing not to enforce certain laws.
Ochtendhumeur: “Morning humour”, the foul mood that many people feel when they have risen early in the morning.
Pretoogjes: “fun-eyes”, the eyes of a chuckling person
who is up to
some benign mischief.
Uitbuiken: sitting back after a long meal and letting your “belly out”.
Uitwaaien: going for a walk (often by the coast) to clear your head in the wind.
Uitzieken: waiting out an illness and fully recovering.
This untranslatable word in French defines this special feeling of well-being experienced when not being home, of being a foreigner. It is a mixture of disorientation, culture shock and the pleasure associated to new surroundings. There are many shades of Dépaysement, from the pleasant sensation of being far from home, to the disorientation of being unwillingly placed outside of your comfort zone. The word is formed from the word pays or “country” and would literally mean something like “to be uncountried”.
Few words capture as much meaning as Schadenfreude: the deliciously dark and complex joy we’ve all felt, from time to time, at news of others’ misfortune. A student might secretly delight when his or her biggest classroom competitor fails a test, or a person might take pleasure in their ex-spouse’s relationship mishaps. If you had to portray Schadenfreude, it would be Nelson, a character in The Simpsons series, who repeatedly laughs at everyone’s expense.
Aktivansteher: “active queuer”, someone who is a real pro at standing in line and waiting their turn.
Backpfeifengesicht: a face badly in need of a fist.
Balkonsonnenbader: person who sunbathes on a balcony.
Erklärungsnot: the state of having to quickly explain yourself.
Fernweh: yearning for foreign lands, the desire to travel.
Geborgenheit: having a feeling of security.
Kuddelmuddel: an absolute chaotic state, a mess or hodgepodge, such as a kids bedroom or a house after a party.
Kummerspeck: “grief bacon”, the binge eating that follows an emotional blow.
Luftschloss: someone who needs a reality check and to be brought back down to earth.
Schnapsidee: the kind of idea that seems brilliant after a couple of drinks and in the morning may lead to ridicule, shame and self-reproach.
Treppenwitz: “staircase joke”, thinking of a witty comeback after the joke had passed.
Verschlimmbessern: making something worse during the act of trying to improve it.
Waldeinsamkeit: the feeling of being alone in the woods.
Wanderkartenfalschfalter: person who folds hiking maps incorrectly.
Warmduscher: a person which is believed to be weak or cowardly.
Some cultures use the term ‘biological clock’, but the Austrians are not known for being subtle! Their Torschlusspanik literally means “gate-closing panic” and adds a psychological layer to the concept and terror of ageing. In a word, it expresses the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages. It is most frequently applied to women who race their body clock to get married and have children.
We already knew that the Swiss were really inventive: they gave the world its famous Swiss army knife. They were a bit less successful in exporting their verb “s’encoubler” despite its great meaning and potential use in the French-speaking part of the country. It means to stumble, trip, lose balance or even fall, because of getting tangled up in something, such as a cable – the word from which ‘encoubler’ indeed stems. Ouch!
The Gattara is simply a cat lady – a cultural archetype or a stock character, often depicted as an unmarried woman, middle-aged or elderly, who owns many pet cats or feeds stray ones. The term can be considered pejorative or may be affectionately embraced – we’ve even seen a pizzeria called Gattara. You’ve already met this kind of character in The Simpsons series: she is called the Crazy Cat Lady and throws her cats like bullets…
Abbiocco: the drowsiness that follows a big meal.
Baffona: a lady with a moustache
Culaccino: the mark that you get when you put a cold or wet glass down on a table.
Meriggiare: resting at midday in a shady spot.
Menefreghista: someone that doesn’t care, usually about the community, social or political themes, or anything that others consider important.
Slampadato: the addiction to the UV glow of tanning salons.
Spaghettata: a late-night get-together with friends to prepare a quick something to eat to end the night out.
Pantofolaio: “wearing slippers”, someone who prefers the quiet of the home.
Did you know that Slovenia is sometimes called ‘the Sunny Side of the Alps‘? It may then come as some surprise that their untranslatable word is a verb which means “to take shelter from the rain”! We must admit: it’s both poetic and very useful at the same time. But a question remains: how come this handy verb doesn’t exist in other languages?
This word is almost the exact opposite of the German Schadenfreude. (Far be it from us to judge, but you can come to your own conclusions about the moral values in Germany versus Czechia.) Litost designates a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery. Czech writer Milan Kundera said that this word was indeed untranslatable, but at the same time essential to understand the human soul.
Čecháček: a narrow-minded Czech person.
Fiflena: a woman obsessed with clothes.
Fotrovatět: developing a middle aged spread, to get out of shape
Kverulant: a chronic complainer, a litigious person.
Nároží: the space around the corner of a building.
Odkoukat: learning by watching.
Ráčkovat: pronouncing one’s Rs incorrectly.
Umrlčina: the smell of a dead body/dead bodies.
Vybafnout: jumping out and say boo.
Vykňourat (něco): getting (something) through whining.
You’ve exhausted your mobile bundle? But you still want to talk to your friend? Prezvoniť is the word you need! It means to call a mobile phone and let it ring only once, so that your friend knows she or he has to call you back. You won’t spend any money (but you may also sound a bit stingy…). This word exists in both Czech and Slovak (written Prozvonit in Czech). In Spanish, the expression “dar un toque” has an equivalent meaning.
Dojížďák: “the finisher”, oldster who haunts pubs and pounces on the few inches of beer left in mugs by departing patrons.
Neznaboh: “one who doesn’t know God”.
Podieť sa: disappearing, getting lost, but also finding refuge, shelter.
Prehadzovač: “one who throws over”, older men who comb what few wisps of hair they still own across their heads to create the impression of youth.
Seriózny: a reliable, sober person.
Ušiplesk: someone with congenitally outstanding ears.
Vysvetľovať: “shining light” on the Slovak language.
We belong our whole life to one and unique Formacja. In social science, this Polish concept designates a state of mind and a culture peculiar to one generation – like Millennials or Generation X. If you had to get close to its meaning, you would have to mix the concepts of “class” and “generation”.
Dozywocie: parental contract with children guaranteeing lifelong support.
Kilkanaście: a number between 12 and 19.
Radioukacz: telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain.
Zalatwic: getting something done, but in a very specific way – by using a bribe, political clout or connections, or simply personal charm.
If you really had the unenviable task of translating this untranslatable word into English, the closest you would get would be “book carrier”. In the period during which the Russian Tsar restricted press freedom, the Knygnešiai preserved and saved the Lithuanian language and culture by transporting illegal books printed in Prussia.
Nepakartojama: a perfect situation which will never happen again.
Neprieinamas: someone really hard to seduce.
Pasikaustęs: a person who has all the right talent, skills and luck to be successful.
Sielvartas: “soul tumbling”, grief or resentment.
Vabzdulynas: “crawling with insects”, being unable to walk freely, due to tourist overcrowding.
Everyone knows the feeling of being cramped while riding public transport during rush hours. But only the Latvians have a word for the feeling of rush-hour uncomfortableness when you want to shout at everyone, or even insult them. All the more inventive when you remember they don’t even have underground lines in Riga…
It may sound a bit clichéd, but Estonians do love their sauna and have developed many weird traditions related to it. It comes as no surprise that they adapted their vocabulary to local traditions. In this (warm) context, the Leiliviskaja is the person who adds steam in sauna by throwing water on hot hearth-stones. No other language thought of giving them a name!
Liigud: a celebration for completing a purchase, such as buying a fridge, a tv or a house.
Mamihlapinatapai: a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin.
Otfutbolit’: getting rid of a petitioner by telling him to apply elsewhere’
Viitsima: the state of not being too lazy or uninterested to do something.
It’s a common practice in Belarus to help each other for a work in somebody’s house or field. This form of mutual assistance in a community or a village is called Talaka – and is in many ways quite lovely and inspiring. The person helping doesn’t expect anything else than a good meal shared at the end of the day.
Асалода (Asaloda): the special sweetness and charm of the moment or luxury of getting pleasure from life.
Щымлива (Ščymliva): a feeling of heartache that can be pleasant and aching at the same time.
Захапленне (Zahaplennie): feeling fascinated and charmed by something or someone.
A historical word for a (very sad) historical reality. Holodomor literally means “extermination by hunger”. It relates to the man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1932 and 1933 that killed between 2,6 and 5 millions Ukrainians. It is also known as the Terror-Famine and Famine-Genocide in Ukraine and sometimes referred to as the Great Famine. By extension, this word became a synonym for “hunger,” “plague” and “torture” as well.
Кохання (Kohannya): a feeling of deep heartfelt affection for a person.
Краплинка (kraplynka): a tiny bit of something.
Затишок (zatyshok): a quiet and cosy place, protected from the wind.
Romania – Moldova
Every Romanian speaker is in love with this word. The lyrical word dor means something like “to miss someone” or, if it’s a place you’re feeling nostalgic about, “to miss something.” Effectively, its literal translation means “I want (to see) you/it.” Related to the French words douleur, meaning pain, or deuil, or mourning, dor is used to express that you miss someone, as well as the bittersweet feeling you have in those moments.
Nădejde: having faith in someone and trusting them.
Stingher: feeling lonely, incomplete and unsettled while also feeling sadness, grief and misery.
Vrednic: someone worthy of receiving something.
Házisárkány literally translates to “domestic dragon” and is a lovely nickname for your wife at home. Don’t worry, though – we don’t know of anyone who would earnestly use this word to describe his better half. It’s rather ironic and a harmless joke and we strongly encourage you to keep treating it as such! This word probably emerged because of the stereotype of the nagging and constantly dissatisfied housewife.
Bumfordi: someone whose movement is inept and slow, while his or her mind is mostly not the sharpest, either.
Elmosolyodni: something a lot more subtle than a full, bright smile, a microexpression forming around your lips at the start of a smile.
Elvágyódás: the desire to get away from where you currently are.
Hiányérzet: the feeling of missing something that you cannot really pinpoint.
Nebáncsvirág: a person, who is offended super-easily.
Meghazudtol: making someone appear as a liar by lying about what they did or didn’t say.
Mentegetőzik: the attempt to explain oneself after behaving improperly.
Piszmogás: always keeping up appearances but actually not contributing anything useful work-wise.
Polgárpukkasztás: “citizens explode”, someone who shocks the bourgeoisie.
Tutyimutyi: a weak-willed person who fears every action.
Croatia – Montenegro
Sing-alongs in the car are a great time to get to know your friends a bit better. You can all have a good laugh at your dire singing abilities and the fact that none of you really know the words. However, what if it emerges that one of your friends has been sitting on a hidden talent? In the languages spoken in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, there is a special word for those that are gifted with a beautiful singing voice. They are called milozvučan, which literally means ‘sweetly-sounding’.
Serbia – Bosnia and Herzegovina
There is nothing to match it, and it’s the feeling that best sums up the weird and wonderful world of the Serbs. Inat is an expression that translates as ‘stubbornness’, ‘obstinacy’ or ‘spite’. All these translations correlate with Serbian Inat, but none of them truly come close to conveying the idea. So what is Inat? It is a mother shouting at their child for bad behaviour, but secretly being proud of the child for whatever he or she did. It is taking the wrong road, but ploughing forward regardless.
мерак (Merak): a feeling of bliss and the sense of oneness with the universe derived from simple joys, such as spending time feasting and merrymaking.
Умий се (Umij se): a splash of water on your face.
Згабалй (Zgabalj): mixture of all the bad things in the world, combined.
This word only applies to men – but it should exist for women as well. It relates to the rite during which young males leave their home just after their weddings to make their fortune in the world before coming back to their birth place. This social phenomenon, born in the Ottoman Empire, is now a rite of passage for every man in North Macedonia!
The word Klloshar originates from the French word “clochard” but it designates something else than a mere tramp or a beggar. In Albania, it is often used as an insult or swear word and took the meaning of a peculiar kind of loser, a silly or stupid person – something close to a jerk in English.
This is the Bulgarian version of the African hakuna matata or the Italian dolce far niente. The word is untranslatable and comprises the art of doing everything slowly, with no rush, enjoying the process and life in general. The ailyak concept comes from the city of Plovdiv, its inhabitants are famous for their long leisure walks back and forth along the major pedestrian street.
чародей (čarodej): an arch-Bulgarian wizard, magician, sorcerer, necromancer, enchanter.
Гадже (gadge): a relationship that isn’t very serious and is often used by young people in school or when joking or keeping the conversation informal.
Шушон (Šušon): a hand-knitten wool sock.
The most untranslatable, demanding and really mysterious word in the Greek language is the word Filotimo. Literally, of course, it means ‘friend of honor’. But Filotimo is exceedingly much, much more. Filotimo involves personal pride, dignity, courage, duty, sacrifice and above all demands respect and deep personal freedom. The philosopher Thales once said: “Filotimo to the Greek is like breathing. A Greek is not a Greek without it. He might as well not be alive.”
Κέφι (kefi): the spirit of joy, passion, and enthusiasm which overwhelms the soul and requires a release.
Κελεπούρι (Kelepúri): something is an exceptional bargain (literally) or a spectacular find (metaphorically).
Κεράσματα (kerasmata): goodies you have on hand at your home at all times in case a guest comes by.
Μάγκας (Mángas): a man who presents himself as overly self-confident, strong, brave, or smart, and usually in a deceptive, provocative way.
Μεράκι (meraki): ctions that come from the heart, as a labor of love.
Γρουσούζης (Groosoozis): someone who is not just a bit unlucky, but a magnet for misfortune.
παρέα (Parea): a group of friends that get together to enjoy nothing else but sharing their life experiences, philosophies, values, and ideas.
ψιθύρισµα (Psithurism): the sound of leaves rustling in the wind.
Yakamoz is the shimmering beautiful moonlight as it reflects on the water at night. It was voted the most beautiful word in the world and is used often in poetry for its romantic appeal. There is no such a direct translation in English. It… umm… is also used as the name of seaside restaurants all over Turkey for the same reason! Bon appétit!
Aşermek: the experience of craving certain foods while pregnant.
Ciğerpare: “liver part”, someone that you love as much as your own body.
Ehvenişer: an evil thing that is not as evil as other evils.
Hüzün: the sense of loss or inadequacy, a general sense of melancholy.
Zemheri: the coldest part of the year, supposedly from December 22 to January 31.