One of the fascinating things about studying languages is learning how much power our language has over our perceptions and worldview. People shape a language by using it, but we are also shaped by the languages we use. The vocabulary and style of our speech has a huge influence over how we perceive and act in the world.
This phenomenon is expressed in many ways, but one of the most interesting is how some languages have words that express concepts that do not translate well (or even at all) into English. English has also adopted a lot of foreign words. (Check out our articles about words we've adopted from German, French, and Latin.)
Here at Brainscape, we’re always fascinated when we come across a term in a foreign tongue that takes a full sentence, or even a paragraph, to explain in English.
In fact, we're pretty obsessed with languages in general, spending years researching and talking to experts to mold Brainscape into the most effective language learning technique out there. If you're interested in learning a foreign language on your own, we've prepared a complete toolkit on how to learn any language faster.
Without further ado, here are a few of the most interesting words that don't exist in English that we stumbled upon in our language journey.
Hygge (Danish language)
This awesome Danish term describes the camaraderie, friendship, and warmth that comes from sitting snugly with loved ones in a dry, cherry home during the long, cold nights that engulf Denmark in the winter. The term also has connotations of medicine or therapy: not only is hygge what you feel in these situations, it’s also what keeps you happy and healthy through the winter. It’s probably safe to say that none of the languages of equatorial peoples have a similar term.
Pelinti (Buli language of Ghana)
This term literally means “to move hot food around in your mouth,” and describes what you do when you bit into food that’s too hot, but you don’t want to spit it out, so you just grunt and bear the pain. Yeah, there is a word for that.
Gigil (Filipino language)
This word describes the urge to pinch or squeeze a cute baby, child, person, or animal. Who knew there was a word for that?
Luftmensch (Yiddish language)
Term that describes a certain type of personality, what we would called a “space cadet” or a “space case,” but who also has a terrible mind for business.
Kummerspeck (German language)
The German propensity for combining words leads to a lot of humorous or otherwise interesting terms. Kummerspeck, for example, has a literal translation of “grief bacon,” but is defined as excess weight gain from overeating due to emotional distress. Quite a mouthful, but a great term. Another great one is German is schlimmbesserung, which means “a supposed improvement that actually turns out to make things worse.” Probably the best is the German term backpfeifengesicht, which translates more or less to “a face badly in need of a fist.”
Fliolero (Spanish language)
This Spanish term refers to someone who is very sensitive to cold weather and temperatures (it’s interesting and unsurprising that this term comes from a language that has originated and mostly still holds sway in warm lands).
[Want to learn Spanish? Check out our comprehensive guide to learning Spanish more efficiently.]
Zeg (Georgian language)
This simple term simply means “the day after tomorrow.” Pretty wild that we don’t have a single word for that, huh? We actually used to: the English term “overmorrow” has the same meaning, but it’s now considered obsolete.
Boketto (Japanese language)
This term from Japan refers to the act of gazing into the distance without having anything in your mind.
Saudade (Portuguese language)
This term is commonly used in Brazilian Portuguese to refer to a feeling of longing for someone or something. It's similar to how we use "to miss" in English, but has a deeper meaning. It implies a feeling of nostalgia, and even a sense that you will not see the person or object again.
If you're a language geek like we are, and if you're looking for the most effective online and mobile language-learning platform out there, be sure to check out Brainscape's adaptive foreign language flashcards, or get started making your own flashcards. ¡Buena suerte!