Transparent Language Blog

22 Hilarious, Useful, and Bizarre Foreign Words That Monolinguals Are Missing Out On Posted by on Dec 18, 2013 in Archived Posts

English speakers get a small dose of foreign languages every day, whether you’re watching your favorite football team blitz the quarterback, stringing up a piñata for your child’s birthday party, or searching for something chic to wear. Loan words give us just a small taste of other languages, but there’s so much more out there to enjoy.

Below you will find 22 of our favorite foreign words, from the hilarious to the practical, to the downright strange. What are your favorite foreign words? Share them with us in the comments!

  1. Muskelkater (German) – Gym rats, this is for you! Literally “muscle hangover”, this word describes the soreness you feel after a tough workout.
  2. Pilkunnussija (Finnish) –This word refers to a person with exceptional and unnecessary attention to detail. Think of the grammar police, or perhaps Hermione Granger.
  3. пропил/Propil (Russian)—The act of selling something to get money for booze, probably vodka for the Russians who use this word. It makes you wonder how often this occurs if the Russians have a single word for it.
  4. Φιλότιμο/Filotimo (Greek) – The Greeks are proud to have this word, which literally means “friend of honor”, in their vocabulary. It refers to the goodwill to do something kind without waiting for anything in return.
  5. Kummerspeck (German) – A sad term referring to any excess weight gained from eating your emotions. But still, it’s hilarious because it literally means “grief bacon”.TL_german_bacon
  6. Sgriob (Irish) – The Irish would have a word for the prickling sensation felt on the upper lip directly before sipping whisky. Cheers!
  7. Desenrascar (Portuguese) – Using whatever means available to you to get out of a sticky situation, kinda like MacGyver.
  8. Kviðmágur (Icelandic) – This word is a little risqué, referring to the relations between two men who have been with the same woman. The funny part? It literally means “underbelly brother-in-laws”.
  9. Hyggelig (Danish) – This is an awfully cozy word for the feeling you experience when you’re living well, having a good time in good company. Gotta love those Danes. danish_hyggelig
  10. Depaysement (French) – Travelers, this one is for you. This word describes the positive feeling experienced when going abroad and experiencing new cultures. Like “woah, what a change!”
  11. Lagom (Swedish) – If Goldilocks were Swedish, this would be her favorite word. It means juuuust the right amount.
  12. Schilderwald (German) – That moment when there are so many traffic signs it actually just confuses drivers, that’s this word. Ever driven through New York City? You’ve experienced Schilderwald.
  13. Tartle (Scots) – Ugh, this word describes the panic you feel when introducing someone whose name you don’t actually remember. We wish tartle upon no one.
  14. Shemomechama (Georgian) – When the meal is just so good that you can’t stop eating it. The Georgians must make really good food to have a word like this.
  15. Backpfeifengesicht (German) – We have probably all seen one of these: a face that badly needs to be slapped.TL_german_fist
  16. Vybafnout (Czech) – The Czechs must enjoy Halloween, since they have this word to describe the act of jumping out and saying Boo!
  17. Pålegg (Norwegian) – A general term encompassing anything you might consider putting on a sandwich, be it pickles or pickled pig feet.
  18. Kaelling (Danish) – Perhaps the Danish equivalent of a “crazy cat lady”, this word refers to a woman who yells obscenities at passersby from her stoop.
  19. Pena ajena (Spanish) – This expression aptly portrays the discomfort you feel when watching someone else do something embarrassing. For those of you who squirmed through every second of Sixteen Candles or American Pie, you know this feeling all too well.
  20. Minestra riscaldata (Italian) – Literally meaning “reheated soup”, this term accurately describes the true meaning: the result of trying to revive a doomed relationship…it’s never as good as it was the first time!
  21. يـقـبـرنـي/Yaqbirunee (Arabic) – This word is the hopeful declaration that you will die before someone you love deeply, because you cannot stand to live without them. Literally it means “may you bury me.”
  22. Forelsket (Norwegian) – The euphoria you feel when falling in love, perhaps a feeling you will experience when you fall in love with a new language!TL_norwegian_love
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  1. Miguel:


    I enjoyed your post. Just wanted to make a comment on the Spanish expression included in the list: It has to be American, because in Spain we say “vergüenza ajena” y no “pena ajena”. Thanks.

    • Diana:

      @Miguel Actually, in Mexico we do say “pena ajena”. I think the article means “Spanish” as in the Spanish language without specifying the country.

  2. Fionnbharr Ó Duinnín:

    The word “sgrìob” exists in both Irish (Gaeilge) and Scottish (Gàidhlig), with one of its main meanings being “scratch, scrape”.

    Note, though, that the Irish spelling is typically “scríob” (note that the accent on the ‘i’ faces in the other direction and ‘g’ is replaced by ‘c’.

    What is more, the Irish version of the drink is spelt whiskey, whilst the Scottish whisky (as you spelt it).

    Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition: “In modern trade usage, Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey are thus distinguished in spelling; whisky is the usual spelling in Britain and whiskey that in the U.S.”

    Of course, the word “whiskey/whisky” comes from the Gaelic as Irish “uisce beatha” (“water of life” from the Latin ‘aqua vitae’) and Scottish Gaelic “uisge beatha” (“lively water”).

    • Tuigim:

      @Fionnbharr Ó Duinnín Maith thú.
      Thanks for referring to Irish as Irish and not as Irish Gaelic.
      Transparent Language, please note.
      English is not English Germanic.
      It’s English.
      French is not French Italian.
      It’s French.
      Irish is not Irish Gaelic.
      It’s Irish.
      Attempts to water down our language and its attachment to the country by adding Gaelic to it or replacing it with ‘Gaelic’ are insulting.
      Maith agaibh.

  3. Marcia:

    Hi. I enjoyed this list, but I´d like to make a correction on the spelling of the Portuguese word (number 7), which should be ‘desenroscar’.

    • Transparent Language:

      @Marcia Fixed! Thanks for pointing that out, Marcia!

      • Ana:

        @Transparent Language I don’t know how it was written originally, but the word should be “desenrascar”. “Desenroscar” is to take the lid of a bottle or to remove a screw, which is not the meaning you are after. “Desenrascar” means to get rid of danger, difficulties or “sticky situations”.

        I’m telling you this as a native speaker who has checked the dictionary just to be sure she was giving accurate information. ^^

        Thank you!

  4. Raymond Connors:

    In Malaysia, there is a word “LAH” which is widely used.
    Its exact meaning is not known, but it means something like “OK?”- or even “no problems.
    We can say “Want to go to the restaurant, lah?”
    “Can I borrow your car, lah?”

    “oh yes-that’s fine-lah”.

    In Vietnam, there is an expression “Khong xao doh” (Kong Sow dough), which means also “no worries”, but the translation-word for word, is “No stars anywhere”.

  5. Rima:

    يـقـبـرنـي/Yaqbirunee is in Syrian Arabic!

  6. Julsku:

    Very nice! 🙂
    But you forgot to mention, that pilkunnussija mean literally ‘point fucker’. Used to be one of my favourit Finnish words, when I was there as an exchange student…

    • mitten:

      @Julsku actually it means “comma fucker” 🙂

  7. Alvaro:

    19. It isn’t “Pena Ajena”, is “Vergüenza Ajena”, like feeling shame for other as the article says.

    • Diana:

      @Alvaro Actually, in Mexico we do say “pena ajena”. I think the article means “Spanish” as in the Spanish language without specifying the country.

  8. Víctor R. Escobar:

    I missed translations and some from German which didn’t appear in the list:

    Kabelsalat: (cable-salad) well… the way earphones end up after be in the pockets.
    Kopfkino: vivid imagination of whatever (Head-Cinema)
    Ohrwurm: (ear-worm) those screwing songs that repeat continuously into your head.

  9. carla:

    You should my personal favorite from the German: SCHADENFREUDE ,
    Which means to feel some sort of joy over somene elses wrongs or bad or sad situation.

  10. Heidi:

    “Hyggelig” is also used in Norwegian. We say “Ha det hyggelig,” or “have a good time.”

    Another fun phrase to say in Irish is “Tóg go bog é,” or “take it easy.”

  11. Elaine:

    ‘Saudade’ (Portuguese) or ‘saudades’ is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. It is commonly used to indicate that you ‘have saudade of something/someone!’ – You miss it deeply!

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