8 foreign words that don’t translate into English

There are many things that we, as a nation, are good at, for instance: making tea, apologising needlessly and… drinking tea. Learning other languages isn’t one of them. We are the slow learners of Europe. And can you blame us? Not only do we have to get our heads around words very often being male or female (why does anyone need to use a lady-word?) or sentences being the wrong way around (I don’t have “eyes blue”, “hair blonde”!), there are words and phrases we don’t even translate into English!

I’ve found some of these words, for you to learn. So if a Brazilian man offers you a “cafuné” while you’re in Rio, you’ll know what to expect!

“Gigil” | Filipino

Cute puppy

Now why on Earth don’t we have that word here? “Gigil” is the feeling of holding yourself back from doing something; usually squeezing with delight (a baby or a puppy or something). Although it can be used in the sense of holding yourself back from punching someone. It’s that borderline hysterical feeling you get when you just can’t express yourself properly. Obviously, we Brits don’t need an equivalent word… We don’t have these feelings. Down with feelings.

“Jayus” | Indonesian

Laughing

You may have heard this one before, on Twitter or something. It describes a joke that’s so bad, or so badly told, that you can’t help but laugh anyway. I can’t tell you how many jayus jokes I hear daily in the office.

“Cafuné” | Brazilian Portuguese

Man stroking woman's hair

Here, we just say we are running our fingers through hair, or stroking hair, but in Brazil they have a whole proper word for it; “cafuné” means tenderly stroking hair, no less.

Some linguists say that language forms as a result of need, if this is true then I can only assume that Brazilians spend a LOT of time stroking hair. There are many things that spring to mind when I think of Brazilians… This was not one of them.

“Torschlusspanik” | German

Closed gate

It’s my birthday next month and I definitely have torschlusspanik. This word literally means “gate-closing panic”. I don’t literally have this concern (my gate is often left open, much to the annoyance of my neighbour). It actually refers to the fear of fading opportunities as you get older. I have that, and the fear of fading hair colour.

“Pelinti” | Buli (a Ghanaian language)

Ghanaian rice and chicken

What a great word! It means to move very hot food around your mouth in a bid to cool it down and not burn the inside of your mouth off. Like when you just stuff a chip in without blowing on it. Obviously, Ghanaians just can’t wait for their food to cool down!

“Dépaysement” | French

Tourists looking at a map

Dépaysement is the feeling of not being in your home country. Unsurprisingly, this is hard to explain seeing as there’s no comparable English word. As far as I can gather, it’s the feeling of disorientation and bewilderment of being a foreigner. I don’t think it’s a nice word.

“Hyggelig” | Danish

Chocolate, marshmallows and a fireplace

I recently went to Copenhagen and “hyggelig” was mentioned a lot. It kind of means a warm, cosy, friendly feeling; the sort of feeling you would get if you were settling down in front of a roaring fire with a hot chocolate, or meeting with friends for a lovely chat and a glass of wine. I think it’s a nice word.

“Kummerspeck” | German again

Bacon

Another German word; they do have some good words, those Germans! This one literally means grief bacon! However, it actually means the weight gained through emotional overeating. You know the sort – you’ve been dumped so you have a Kit Kat multipack for dinner every day for the first month. Naturally, being a nation of meat-lovers, they call it grief bacon… I call it heartbreak Kit Kat.

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About Lizzie Brooks

Lizzie Brooks

The most beautiful place I have been (so far!) has been Norway. Coming in to land in Oslo was like coming in to land in a fairytale; pine trees that looked like velvet amongst frozen fjords, the occasional wisp of smoke coming up from a little yellow or red house within the trees. Beautiful!

I kind of expected to see a Moomin emerging (but they are from Finland, of course).

Lizzie works in our marketing team

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