Inexpressibly useful: Six words without an English equivalent

You know the feeling when you learn a new word and you wonder how you could ever properly converse without it before?

Well here are some of the international expressions that do it for us…

It seems somewhat remiss to be writing a blog about language and to have left it so long to tackle this phenomenon. And it also seems so blindingly obvious to start with my first choice that I almost feel like apologising for it…

Schadenfreude is a German word the British, or perhaps the English, have taken to our hearts – and our dictionaries. There is an argument to be made that once a word gains official dictionary recognition then it becomes its own English equivalent… But this loan word still retains an element of ‘foreignness’. Perhaps we still haven’t quite reconciled ourselves to our emotional responses to other people’s misfortune in the way our German friends have… English generally requires three words to fully express this concept: “You’ve been framed”.

It seems like a bit of a cheat to plunder a language famed for its compound nouns for this list but another wonderful German word is Kummerspeck, a rather colloquial expression which directly translates as ‘griefbacon’. It describes the excess weight gained by overeating. I just love the idea of being so succintly able to express the point when comfort eating ceases to be any comfort…

Cafune is a Brazilian Portuguese word which apparently describes a loving caress to your loved one’s head, perhaps by running your fingers through their hair. One has to feel an element of envy that the Brazilians feel that this activity deserves a word all of its own. Definitely an idea to cultivate, I think.

The jury is out on age-atori. It should exist, it really should! Internet lore claims it as a Japanese word meaning ‘to look worse after a haircut’. And I certainly know what that feels like. But can ‘it’s archaic’ really explain its lack of common use? We’d love some examples of it in use if you can send us any!

Another word with a kind of mythological internet status is the Gaelic word sgrìob. It means scratch, scrape or furrow. But seems to have acquired the meaning of ‘the itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whiskey’. Is this a great idea that has taken on a life of its own powered by internet rumour or can you support this theory? Again, please send us examples of its active use in this context!

Finally – and we know this to be in active use! – there is the moniker Pisoglentis. We can’t possibly tell you what it means here, so politely suggest that if you’d like to know, ask your Greek freinds!

What other concepts are missing an adequate word in English to express them? We’d love to hear your suggestions.


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