17 beautiful foreign words that have no English translation

Lorde releases mini-EP sung in Maori language

There are plenty of foreign words we use in English because they lack a proper translation.

Aloha for instance is a Hawaiian word that has spread overseas and is used as a greeting, but the word literally translates as: "breath of presence".

Dr Tim Lomas is a psychologist at the University of East London who has been investigating how positive feelings and well-being are expressed in other languages.

In a paper for the Journal of Positive Psychology, Dr Lomas described the aims of his research:

"First, it aims to provide a window onto cultural differences in constructions of well-being, thereby enriching our understanding of well-being. Second, a more ambitious aim is that this lexicon may help expand the emotional vocabulary of English speakers (and indeed speakers of all languages), and consequently enrich their experiences of well-being."

The paper is the end result of the Positive Lexicography Project which is an online glossary of hundreds of untranslatable words, and the list is still growing.

Dr Lomas stresses that the list is a work in progress. They're words and phrases that are used in a positive sense (happiness, joy, skill, relationships). The feelings and situations described are often immediately recognisable as something positive yet only one language has created a single word for these universal emotions.

Here are some of our favourites:

Abhisar (अभिमान)

(Bengali, n.): lit. 'going towards'; a meeting (often secret) between lovers / partners.

Chai pani (चाय पानी)

(Hindi/Urdu, n.): lit. 'tea and water'; favours or money given to someone to get something done (similar to a 'bribe', but without a negative connotation).


(Welsh, n.): to hug, a safe welcoming place.


(Norwegian) (adj.): Being accustomed to walk in the mountains.


(Turkish, n.): the glimmering that moonlight makes on water.


(Yiddish, v.): to feel strong and overt (expressed) pride and joy in someone's successes.


(Serbian, n.): pleasure derived from simple joys.


(Danish, adj.): feeling rested after a good night's sleep.

Nakama (仲間)

(Japanese, n.): best friend, close buddy, one for whom one feels deep platonic love.

Samar (سمر)

(Arabic, v.): to sit together in conversation at sunset/ in the evening.


(Icelandic, n.): sun holiday, i.e., when workers are granted unexpected time off to enjoy a particularly sunny/warm day.


(Italian): nonchalance, art and effort are concealed beneath a studied carelessness.


(Spanish, n.): when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing.

Suaimhneas croi

(Gaelic, n.): happiness / contentment on finishing a task.

Toska (тоска)

(Russia, n.): longing for one’s homeland, with nostalgia and wistfulness.


(German, n.): mysterious feeling of solitude when alone in the woods.


(Māori, v.): to cheer up.

For the full lexicography see Dr Lomas' site here.

Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.

The Conversation (0)