Ten of the Best Non-Translatable Words


Sam Howlett takes a linguistic trip around some of the world’s more precise languages. Hold onto your hats and prepare to find out what the English language is lacking in.

There are a countless number of words in the English language, but there are many things for which there isn’t yet an assigned word. I have here a list of foreign words for which there is no English equivalent, which I think we are missing from the language. Although there are many of these words in existence, I have selected 10. Some, I think you’ll agree, are necessary and would be used on a daily basis in English, while some are just amusing.

Tartle (Scots) – Everyone has experienced that awkward situation of introducing someone whose name you have completely forgotten. Tartle is the word for the hesitation we experience when we are trying to remember.

Mencolek (Indonesian) – When you tap someone on the opposite shoulder, so they turn around to see no one. I think this one is necessary based on the number of times an annoying parent, sibling or friend thinks they are being funny.

Gigil (Filipino) – If we see a baby or a puppy that is irresistibly adorable, ‘gigil’ is the Filipino word for the uncontrollable feeling to pinch or squeeze something cute. Aww.

Palegg (Norwegian) – The Norwegian word for anything that you would consider putting on a sandwich. A good word, but pretty much any food can be a palegg, apart from, arguably, marmite.

Kummerspeck (German) – The weight gained from emotional overeating, literally translates to ‘grief bacon’.

Backpfeifengesicht (German) – If someone is really annoying you, you could describe them as having a ‘backpfeifengesicht’, meaning a face in need of a punch. Not that I’m condoning violence or anything but I think we’ve all had times where we’ve needed this one.

Yuputka (Ulwa) – You know when you watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the characters have to crawl through the tunnel of insects? Or when a soap actor is covered in cockroaches in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here? Well the indigenous Native Americans that speak the Ulwa language do, as ’yuputka’ refers to the feeling that something is crawling on your skin even when there’s nothing there.

Pana Po’o (Hawaiian) – If you scratch your head when trying to remember something, the Hawaiians would say you’re Pana Po’o-ing. A necessary word and it’s fun to say!

Ya’arburnee (Arabic) – This word refers to the hope that you will die before your loved one so that you will never have to experience life without them. Very romantic, roughly translates into ‘may you bury me’.

Boketto (Japanese) – The Japanese word to describe when you stare vacantly into the distance. Can either be a thoughtful and philosophical moment or just a day dream.


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