60 beautifully clever European words with no English translation

11:49 03 January 2017

Gattara - Italian: A woman, often old and lonely, who devotes herself to stray cats. (Photo: Linnea Sandbakk)

Gattara - Italian: A woman, often old and lonely, who devotes herself to stray cats. (Photo: Linnea Sandbakk)


By now, everyone has heard of Hygge, right? These 60 European words with no English equivalent will excite wordsmiths and fans of unusual phrases

Poronkusema (Finnish)

The distance equal to how far a reindeer can travel without a comfort break (about 5 kilometres) (literally, reindeer’s piss)

Campanilismo (Italian)

Local pride, attachment to the vicinity (literally, bell tower-ism: referring to the fact that people do not want to travel so far as to be out of the bell-tower’s sight)

Postkartenwetter (German)

The kind of weather that is too wonderful to be real (literally, postcard weather)

Dynke (Norwegian)

The act of dunking somebody’s face in snow

Chaponner (Gallo, France)

To stick a finger up a chicken’s bottom to see if it is laying an egg

Bufferbiertje (Dutch)

The beer that is standing next to the beer you’re drinking and serves as a buffer in case you finish drinking your beer before you have a chance to get the barman’s attention (literally, buffer beer)

Chistra (Breton, France)

To go and ask for cider from farm to farm

Fensterln (German)

The act of climbing a ladder to the window of a woman in the night to have sex, bypassing the parents and chaperones

Kukushka (Russian)

A mother who gives up her child to be raised by others (literally, a cuckoo)

Piropo (Spanish)

A compliment paid on the street

Das Bratkartoffelverhältnis (German)

Someone who cooks and cleans in exchange for occasional affection (literally, home fries affair)

Trennungsagentur (German)

A man hired by women to break the news to their men that they are dumped (literally separation agent)

Besucherritze (German)

The gap where the middle of three people lie when two single beds are pushed together (literally, a visitor’s trench)

Infar-cake (Scots)

A cake broken over the bride’s head as she crosses the threshold of her new home

Vybafnout (Czech)

To jump out and say boo

Espreitadeira (Portuguese)

A woman who spies on her neighbours

Backpfeifengesicht (German)

A face that cries out for a fist in it

Cicisbeo (Italian)

An acknowledged lover of a married woman

Krawattenmuffel (German)

One who doesn’t like wearing ties

Lledorweddle (Welsh)

To lie down while propping yourself up with one elbow

Geisterfahrer (German)

A person driving on the wrong side of the road

Nedovtipa (Czech)

One who finds it difficult to take a hint

Resfeber (Swedish)

To be jittery before a journey

Meraki (Greek)

Doing something with soul, creativity, or love: putting something of yourself into what you’re doing

Razbliuto (Russian)

The feeling for someone once but no longer loved

Litost (Czech)

The state of torment created by the sudden realisation of one’s own misery

Skeinkjari (Faroese, Denmark)

The man who goes among wedding guests offering them alcohol (‘that popular chap’)

Mammismo (Italian)

Maternal control and interference that continues into adulthood

Geshtenjapjeks (Albanian)

A street vendor of roast chestnuts

Dame-pipi (French)

A female toilet assistant

Zechpreller (German)

Someone who leaves without paying the bill

Bal paradox (German)

A ball at which women ask men to dance

Calimocho (Spanish)

Combination of Coca-Cola and red wine

Palaegschokolade (Danish)

Chocolate in thin slices for sandwiches

Giomlaireachd (Scots Gaelic)

The habit of dropping in at meal times

Verbunkos (Hungarian)

A dance performed to persuade people to enlist in the army

Gattara (Italian)

A woman, often old and lonely, who devotes herself to stray cats

Ruttlin (Cornish)

The sound of phlegm rattling in the bronchial tubes

Torschlusspanik (German)

The fear of diminishing opportunities as one gets older (literally, gate-closing panic)

Liebestod (German)

A love that is consummated only in death or that is thought to find fulfilment only after death

Pagezuar (Albanian)

The state of dying before enjoying the happiness that comes with being married or seeing one’s children married

Se ranger (French)

To get married for domestic comfort and put life on a regular footing

Loyly (Finnish)

The heat wave that engulfs you when you throw water on the hot stove

Nudnyi (Russian)

Someone who, when asked how they are, tells you in detail

Tantenverführer (German)

A young man of suspiciously good manners you suspect of devious motives (literally, aunt seducer)

Chantepleurer (French)

To sing and weep simultaneously

Gezellig (Dutch)

An atmosphere of cosiness, of being with good friends, and spending time together laughing and having fun; the kind of moments that create memories

Lappsjuka (Swedish)

A melancholy through being so isolated

Dorremifassolar (Portuguese)

To play scales on the piano

Yaourt (French)

English pop music sung without any understanding of the meaning; singing to create something that sounds like English pop music but actually isn’t (literally, yoghurt)

Metepatas (Spanish)

A person who always does or says the wrong thing

Napleiten (Dutch)

To discuss might-have-beens, go over the old ground again, keep on arguing after a thing has been decided

Tyčovka (Czech)

A woman who hangs on to the pole next to the bus-driver and chats him up

Forbice (Italian)

Pickpocketing by putting the index and middle fingers into the victim’s pocket (literally, scissors)

Belochnik (Russian)

A thief specialising in stealing linen off clothes lines (this was very lucrative in the early 1980s)

Pesamenteiro (Portuguese)

One who habitually joins groups of mourners at the home of a deceased person, ostensibly to offer condolences but in reality to partake of the refreshments which he expects will be served

Ha shtatin (Albanian)

To walk backwards in a bowed position

Imboscarsi (Italian)

To lie in ambush or to evade military service or to avoid working or to retreat to a secluded place to make love (literally, to take to the woods)

Bychkovat (Russian)

To smoke only part of a cigarette so as to save the butt

Dugnad (Norwegian)

Working together in everyone’s interest without getting paid (ie moving into a house, painting, building a cabin etc; also for parents coming together to paint a kindergarden or everyone in an apartment building cleaning inside and outside the house together)

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the BBC panel game QI for Stephen Fry. He is a British author having written three books about unusual words with Penguin Press. The first two (The Meaning of Tingo and Toujours Tingo) looking at words that have no equivalent in the English language, and his latest book (The Wonder of Whiffling) looking at unusual words in English

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