Foreign Words We Need in the U.S.

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The English language successfully portrays many of the thoughts and feelings you have, but it has its shortcomings. Sometimes English speakers adopt words from other languages to describe ultra-specific feelings or situations they encounter. This definitely makes life a bit easier. Here are some foreign words that we need in the U.S.

Shemomedjamo

Overhead view of nearly empty pizza box with one slice remaining
Credit: Leszek Czerwonka / Shutterstock

It’s Friday night and you just ordered a pie from your favorite pizza place. You’re stuffed, but there’s only one slice left in the box. You could put it in the fridge for later, but the pizza was so good that you simply can’t help yourself. You devour the last piece and spend the rest of the night on the couch — miserable with a stomachache.

Apparently, this experience happens so frequently in the country of Georgia that citizens came up with a name for it. Shemomedjamo is Georgian for continuing to eat even though you’re full since the food is so good. It basically translates to “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”

Backpfeifengesicht

Everyone knows at least a few of these people. Backpfeifengesticht is a German word that means “a face that deserves a slap.” The person who cuts you off in traffic, the lady who butts in front of you in the grocery store, that irritating coworker who always steals your gum — they all have a backpfeifengesticht.

Kummerspeck

Woman sitting down with a pint of vanilla ice cream, eating with spoon
Credit: Sean Locke Photography/ Shutterstock

Have you ever experienced an emotional trauma and immediately searched the pantry for a bag of Doritos or reached toward the freezer for a pint of ice cream? If so, then you probably understand the German word kummerspeck, which very well might have the greatest English translation of all time — grief bacon. It’s a word used to describe the excess fat you gain from emotional overeating.

Greng-jai

Greng-jai is a bit difficult to translate from Thai to English, but it basically means the fear of disturbing someone. When you tiptoe around the kitchen to get a midnight snack, you’re “afraid” of waking someone up. Greng-jai is the fear of causing someone discomfort.

Pana Po’o

Car keys with car keychain sitting in car
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When you misplace your car keys in the morning, do you ever scratch your head to remember where they are? Well, the Hawaiians came up with a word for that. Pana po’o literally means to scratch your head to help you remember.

Boketto

Do you ever catch yourself staring off into space not really thinking about anything? You’re practicing the Japanese art of boketto, a word that means “to do nothing.” It’s quite different than daydreaming because when you daydream, you’re thinking about something. Boketto is literally nothing.

Luftmensch

Man laying in a field of green grass
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People who practice boketto too frequently might be considered a luftmensch. Luftmensch is Yiddish to describe a person who always seems to have his or her head in the clouds and doesn’t have any business or income. They’re the dreamers of the world.

Mencolek

Everyone knows the game where you tap someone on the opposite shoulder so they look in the wrong direction. Apparently in Indonesia, that game was important enough to warrant its own name — mencolek. Now you’ll know what to call it the next time someone does it to you.

Gigil

Row of multicolored puppies sitting side by side in a crate
Credit: Grigorita Ko/ Shutterstock

When you see a dog, do you ever get the urge to play with its floppy face? What about pinching a baby’s cheeks? If you’ve ever felt those urges, you’ve experienced gigil, a Filipino word used to describe the overwhelming feeling that you get when you see something cute.

Hygge

Imagine relaxing on an overstuffed leather couch in your comfy socks next to the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate in one hand and your favorite book in the other. You’re experiencing hygge. Hygge is Danish for a feeling of cozy contentment. Everyone needs a little more hygge in their lives!

Lagom

Several small gray rocks balanced perfectly atop one another against blue background
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Many cultures have phrases to describe the feeling of something being “just right.” Socrates emphasized, “Everything in moderation,” while Goldilocks was always searching for the perfect temperature of porridge. The Swedish use the term lagom to describe this. Lagom isn't too much or too little; it’s just right.

Cavoli Riscaldati

If you’ve ever thought about getting back together with an ex knowing it would end in disaster, you’ve experienced the Italian phrase “cavoli riscaldati,” which literally translates to “reheated cabbage.” Revived love is the same as reheated cabbage — smelly, unpleasant, and foul-tasting.

L’esprit de l’escalier

Interior view of fancy home showing architecture and wooden stairs climbing upward
Credit: Federico Rostagno/ Shutterstock

Have you ever had an argument with someone and couldn’t think of a good comeback until much later? Sometimes the feeling is so strong that you want to hunt that person down and start the argument all over again just to use your newly discovered quip! Well, there’s a word for that feeling. “L’esprit de l’escalier” is a French term that translates to the “wit of the staircase” — a repartee that’s thought of too late.

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