13 Beautiful Words that Don't Exist in English

April 26th, 2023 - Vera

In many languages, including Spanish, there are words and expressions that simply do not have an equivalent in English. These words often reflect cultural differences and unique experiences that are not easily translatable. Here are some examples of words that don’t exist in English and the cultural contexts they reflect.

1. Sobremesa (Spanish)

Sobremesa is a Spanish word that refers to the time spent lingering at the table after a meal, talking and enjoying each other’s company. In Spain, meals are a social and cultural event that are meant to be savored and enjoyed with friends and family. Sobremesa is a time for conversation, laughter, and relaxation, and it is often considered just as important as the meal itself.

2. Gezelligheid (Dutch)

Gezelligheid is a Dutch word that refers to a sense of coziness, warmth, and friendliness. It is often used to describe a comfortable and inviting atmosphere, such as a cozy café or a warm and welcoming home. Gezelligheid is an important part of Dutch culture, and it is valued for its ability to create a sense of community and connectedness.

3. Schadenfreude (German)

Schadenfreude is a German word that refers to the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. While this may seem like a negative emotion, it is often seen as a way of coping with life’s difficulties and injustices. Schadenfreude can be found in many different cultures, but the word itself is unique to the German language.

4. Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan)

Mamihlapinatapai is a word from the indigenous Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago at the southern tip of South America. It refers to the look shared between two people who both want something but are reluctant to initiate it. Mamihlapinatapai is a reflection of the Yaghan culture’s emphasis on nonverbal communication and the importance of understanding others’ unspoken desires.

5. Kalsarikännit (Finnish)

Kalsarikännit is a Finnish word that refers to the practice of drinking alone at home in your underwear. While this may seem like an unusual pastime, it is actually quite common in Finland, where the long, dark winters can be isolating and depressing. Kalsarikännit is seen as a way of coping with the difficulties of winter and finding comfort in solitude.

6. Jayus (Indonesian)

Jayus is an Indonesian word that refers to a joke that is so bad it’s funny. This type of humor is common in many cultures, but the word jayus is unique to the Indonesian language. Jayus is a reflection of the importance of humor and laughter in Indonesian culture, even in the face of difficult or challenging situations.

7. Tsundoku (Japanese)

Tsundoku is a Japanese word that refers to the habit of buying books and never reading them. This is a common problem for many book lovers, but the word tsundoku is unique to Japanese culture. Tsundoku is a reflection of Japan’s long history of literature and its continued importance in contemporary culture.

8. Tingo (Pascuense)

Tingo is a word from the Pascuense language of Easter Island that refers to the act of borrowing things from a friend’s house one by one until there is nothing left. This may seem like an unusual practice, but it reflects the importance of sharing and communal living in Pascuense culture.

9. Saudade (Portuguese)

Saudade is a Portuguese word that refers to a feeling of longing or nostalgia for something or someone that is gone or far away. It’s a complex feeling of nostalgia, longing, and melancholy, often related to a sense of loss or missing someone or something. It’s a common theme in Portuguese music and literature, and it’s a word that’s difficult to translate to English since it encompasses so many emotions.

10. Lagom (Swedish)

In Swedish, there’s a word “lagom” which translates to “just the right amount” or “moderate”. It’s a concept that’s highly valued in Swedish culture, where there’s a strong emphasis on balance and avoiding extremes. It’s used in a variety of contexts, from the amount of food you eat to the temperature of a room.

11. Sisu (Finnish)

The Finnish word “sisu” is another example of a word that doesn’t have a direct English translation. It refers to a combination of resilience, determination, and perseverance in the face of adversity. It’s a highly regarded quality in Finnish culture, where the harsh winters and rugged landscape demand a certain level of mental and physical toughness.

12. Tsundoku (Japanese)

The Japanese word “tsundoku” refers to the habit of buying and accumulating books but never getting around to reading them. It’s a combination of two words: “tsunde” (to stack things) and “doku” (to read). While it may seem like a negative habit, it’s also seen as a sign of intellectual curiosity and a desire to constantly learn and explore new topics.

13. Jayus (Indonesian)

In Indonesian, there’s a word “jayus” which refers to a joke that’s so bad it’s funny. It’s a lighthearted concept that acknowledges the value of humor even in the face of failure or embarrassment.

These are just a few examples of words that don’t exist in English but convey unique cultural concepts and perspectives. By exploring these words, we can gain a deeper understanding of the rich diversity of human experiences and the power of language to capture and express those experiences.

Achieve fluency with ListLang—it's free!

ListLang Logo
Start learning in under a minute.
Download ListLang iPhone AppDownload ListLang Android App