3 Words With No English Equivalent

One of the interesting things about the English language is how often it adopts words from other languages and uses them the same way. Ennui, for example, is a French word that usually describes the dissatisfaction or restlessness and boredom that affluent or well off people experience when they lack challenges or meaningful tasks to complete in their lives.

But for every word like ennui that actually manages to make it into general English usage, there are many words from other languages that never make the jump. Even though there may be words from other cultures that are perfect for describing complex concepts, we still end up using many English words to do the same job. Here are three words that we would probably be better off importing into English to get the point across.


The meaning of this German term is somewhat debatable. It’s generally agreed that Schadenfreude describes a very specific type of happiness or glee that is derived from observing the suffering or misery of others. As you might imagine, this is not exactly a desirable emotion to have.The easiest way to understand how and why Schadenfreude exists is to think of it as a kind of emotional revenge. A typical example of Schadenfreude would be if you weren’t invited to an outdoor ice skating party you really wanted to go to, only to hear later in the day that everyone had a miserable time because an unexpected snowstorm hit.

Sitting safe and warm indoors, drinking hot chocolate while watching the very people who snubbed you slipping on the sidewalk, is a classic illustration of Schadenfreude.


This Japanese word is very specific, and, at least in America, has an equivalent phrase thanks to the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom. In this case, a Kyoikumama refers to an achievements-obsessed mother. This is the kind of parent that enrolls kids in extra enrichment courses, punishes children for anything less than exemplary grades, and already has an extremely lucrative, respectable, high-paying career in mind for the children, such as a doctor or lawyer.

In other words, a Kyoikumama is a mother that puts the financial and scholarly achievement of her children above all else.


Coming from Tshiluba, a language spoken in southeastern DR Congo, ilunga is an incredibly specific word that describes the tendency of a person to take a slight, insult, injury or broken promise in good stride the first time it happens, and even tolerate it—though less generously—a second time, but who has zero patience or forgiveness if a third breach of trust occurs.

Many cultures and languages often have one specific word that does the job of dozens in another language. If you want to make sure your translations are as effective as possible in another target language, get in touch with us and see what we can do for you.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

twenty − 4 =