While the list of foreign words without an English translation could go on and on, along with the list of so-called “English” words we’ve lifted from other languages, there are a few that are especially interesting. As our world shrinks, and we all borrow expressions and ideas from other cultures and languages, we’ll learn more and more of these. To get you going, and encourage you to fall utterly and completely in love with the concept, here are just a handful of fabulous foreign words without an English translation… or at least and EXACT English translation.
1 Nanda Kke –Japanese
I learned this one from my friend Masami, who would occasionally say this while snapping her fingers, when she was at a loss for an English word, one that was on the tip of her tongue. I asked her what it meant, and she laughed and told me it means something like, “What is it? What is it?” or “What’s that thing I’ve forgotten?” I love it! Having actually seen this one in action, it’s my favorite of the foreign words without an English translation. If you like it as well, pay special attention to item 4; you might like that one, too!
2 Nyako – Japanese
Google this word and prepare for cuteness overload! This word, pronounced “nee-AH-koh” is slang for “kitty” or “kitty cat,” but with an extra connotation of sweet and cute. I suppose “kitty” also has that implication, but it’s not a direct translation, so there you go.
3 Luftmensch – Yiddish
This word is amazingly fun to say! Say it with me: luft-mensch. See? But what does it mean, you ask? It’s kind of an insult, meaning, according to Merriam-Webster, “an impractical contemplative person having no definite business or income.” I know a few of these… probably myself among them, sometimes.
4 Pana Po’o – Hawaiian
This one goes nicely with nanda kke – it’s Hawaiian for scratching your head to try to help remember something. So maybe if Masami had tried pana po’o with her verbal nanda kke, she’d have had more luck? I plan to try it the next time I can’t remember where I left my keys or phone.
5 Backpfeifengesicht – German
Anyone who’s watched this last season of “The Bachelor” will know exactly what this word means – it translates into someone whose face is just begging to be slapped or punched. Does that not describe Juan Pablo’s smug little face in the finale, when he tells what’s-her-name he LIKES her? Oh, yes. Backpfeifengesicht FOR SURE.
6 Kummerspeck – German
This word was on every single list of cool foreign words I’ve ever seen – probably because the translation contains the word “bacon.” According to internet legend, the direct translation is “grief bacon,” but according to one of my German friends, the translation is subtler than that; it usually applies to a woman, but it can be anyone – and it’s that extra weight you gain from overeating when you’re sad, heartbroken. I like the “bacon” translation better. It sounds funny, not sad.
7 Seigneur-terraces – French
The literal translation is “terrace lords” or “lords of the terrace,” but the expression refers to those annoying people who sit at a table in a café, drinking coffee, taking up valuable space without spending very much money. In other words, one of a waitress’s worst nightmares!
8 Koi No Yokan – Japanese
This one was too sweet to leave off my list! It translates into that “love at first sight” feeling, that little flutter when you first meet someone that makes you think he might be The One.
9 L’esprit De L’escalier – French
More French! It’s “the spirit of the staircase,” and we’ve all been that spirit. Remember all of those times you thought of the perfect come-back, retort, or insult, about five minutes after the conversation ended? That’s what this expression is all about – when you’re standing on the stairwell or in the doorway, on your way out after an argument, and right then the perfect response hits you, you’re “l’esprit de l’escalier.”
10 Packesel – German
Literally translated as “dredge” or “donkey,” this word as slang means “the poor sap who ends up carrying everyone else’s bags while traveling or shopping.” We’ve all seen that guy at the mall, with his girlfriend, haven’t we? Poor packesel.
11 Hygge – Danish
This one literally translates to “cozy,” but it means so much more than that! It’s that cozy, fuzzy feeling you get when you’re sitting around a bonfire on a cold night with good company. Anyone who’s been camping or been to a bonfire party knows all about hygge!
Aren’t these words divine? I’m going to start using them in everyday conversation. Well, to confess, I’ve already started using the first two. Which of these marvelous words do you like best? Or is there another one you’d like to add?
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