Foreign Expressions that don’t exist in English

English is lacking when it comes to expressions of specific situations. For example,



“In Korea, there’s a joke poking fun at women who eat 2,000-won (about $2) ramen for lunch and then spend 6,000 won on Starbucks coffee.” They’re called Doenjangnyeo, or “soybean paste women” for their propensity to crimp on essentials so they can over-spend on conspicuous luxuries, of which coffee is, believe it or not, one of the most common.
Source:   The Atlantic


Tatemae / honne

Tatemae/honne distinguish between the world of social relations (surface reality) and the world of feelings (inner reality). Tatemae refers to formal principles or rules to which one is at least outwardly constrained, while honne conveys personal feelings or motives, which cannot be openly expressed due to tatemae . Rather than a discrepancy between a “false” exterior and “true” interior, tatemae/honne are better understood as conveying the existence of more than one kind of truth in social situations.
Source:   Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology

So, “tatemae” is what you pretend to believe, and “honne” is what you actually believe.



It’s a ‘misplaced kindness’ or ‘unwelcome kindness’ according to Japan’s Cultural Code Words
Source:   Lonely Planet

It’s an act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favour, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude.

Other words/expressions on Lonely Planet Blog

Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut.
Pisan zapra (Malay): The time needed to eat a banana.
Ilunga (Tshiluba language, DR Congo): ‘a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time’.
Desenrascanço (Portuguese): It is the art of using whatever means at your disposal to extract yourself from a tricky situation. It is a feat of ingenuity and imagination.
Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese): ‘The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair
Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan, indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego): ‘a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to [initiate]‘
Mokita (New Guinean): The truth everyone knows but nobody says.
Gheegle (Filipino) When something is so ridiculously cute that you want to pinch it.
Prozvonit (Czech): This is one for the modern age. Meaning ‘dropped call’, it’s apparently used when people deliberately call a mobile phone then quickly hang up. This way, the other person is forced to call them back and incurs the cost of the call.
Waldeinsamkeit (German): The ‘feeling of solitude in the forest’

Esprit d’Escalier :   is a French term used in English that describes the predicament of thinking of the perfect comeback too late.’esprit_de_l’escalier

Kyoikumama :   is a Japanese pejorative term which translates literally as “education mother”. The kyōiku mama is a stereotyped figure in modern Japanese society portrayed as a mother who relentlessly drives her child to study, to the detriment of the child’s social and physical development, and emotional well-being.

Backpfeifengesicht:   a face that cries out for a fist in it (German)

Schadenfreude   (German) is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

Torschlusspanik   (German) The fear that time is running out to act, specifically in regards to a border closing.
its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.”

uitwaaien:   walking in windy weather for fun (Dutch)

karoshi:   death from overwork (Japanese)

utepils:   the first drink of the year taken out of doors (Norwegian)

Taarof :   is a Persian form of civility emphasizing both self-deference and social rank, similar to the Chinese art of etiquette, limao. The term encompasses a range of social behaviours, from a man displaying etiquette by opening the door for a woman, to a group of colleagues standing on ceremony in front of a door that can permit the entry of only one at time, earnestly imploring the most senior to break the deadlock.


The term came from a political party in Italy, in 1944, which promoted anti-political feelings and a mistrust of public organizations. The party was called the Fronte dell’Uomo Qualunque or “the front of the ordinary man”.

Bakku-shan :   A girl who appears pretty from behind but not from the front (origin: Japanese)

Wabi-Sabi   (Japanese) in a sentence, one might be able to understand it as “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.”

A Japanese explains the meaning of Wabi-Sabi


Tingo:   It comes from Easter Island and it means a person who borrows things from a friend’s house one by one until there is nothing left.

Zalatwic (Polish):   It is is the use of friends, bribes, personal charm or connections to get something done. This was particularly useful in the days of communism, as it was easier to get something you wanted through guile as opposed to official means.

This term may be used to settle a quarrel, dispute; or when something is due (a bill)

Biritululo:   in New Guinea, to settle disputes, the people rely on biritululo. Biritululo is the act of comparing yams to settle a dispute.

Tête à gifles / Têtes à claques:   an unpleasant and annoying person

See also List of French words and phrases used by English speakers

Lagom:   is a Swedish word with no direct English equivalent, meaning “just the right amount”.

Toska (Russian)
Vladmir Nabokov describes it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

Jayus:   a lame joke
Indonesian – “A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh”

Iktsuarpok:   Inuit – “To go outside to check if anyone is coming.”

Litost is a nearly untranslatable Czech word, a state of feeling miserable and humiliated. “Litost is a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery,” – The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. Litost connects insult to revenge, with desire to strike back at the perceived source of one’s shame.
Source:   Urban Dictionary

tartle:   From Scottish, to hesitate in recognizing a person or thing, as happens when you are introduced to someone whose name you cannot recall; so you say, “Pardon my tartle!”

Duende:   Spanish – While originally used to describe a mythical, sprite like entity that possesses humans and creates the feeling of awe of one’s surroundings in nature, its meaning has transitioned into referring to “the mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person.” There’s actually a nightclub in the town of La Linea de la Concepcion, where I teach, named after this word.

Saudade   is a Portuguese word for longing for someone or something that someone has loved and lost. It is stronger than the sense of the English nostalgia.

Gobbledygook:   meaning “jargon-filled language that is difficult to read, maybe intentionally confusing.” It’s based on the onomatopoeic sound of a turkey’s gobble.

Hyggelig:   Danish –Hygge/lig is something we all want all the time – but seldom have. It is a Danish word meaning a “complete absence of anything annoying, irritating or emotionally overwhelming, and the presence of and pleasure from comforting, gentle and soothing things”

If you have more, please send them

christellar (@christellar) suggested:   Ach du liebe Zeit!

It is used to express surprise or astonishment about something that happened unexpectedly.



About benvitalis

math grad - Interest: Number theory
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