Those French! They have a different word for everything. —Steve Martin


10 Notable Foreign Words and Phrases

fiat lux (Latin) (“let there be light”)

frisson (French) (“shiver) is a sensation somewhat like shivering, usually caused by stimuli. It is typically expressed as an overwhelming emotional response combined with piloerection (goosebumps).

gegenschein (German) (“countershine”) a faint brightening of the night sky in the region of the antisolar point. [Best unused name for a beer company.]

hoʻoponopono (Hawaiian) (prn. ho-o-pono-pono) I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.

komorebi (Japanese)the sunlight that gets filtered through the leaves of trees.

la douleur exquise (French) the excruciating pain that comes from wanting someone you can’t have.

oryoki (Japanese) just the right amount.

retrouvailles (French) the happiness of meeting again after a long time.

sohum / soham (Sanskrit) identifying with the universe or ultimate reality. Some say that when a child is born it cries Koham-Koham which means Who am I? That is when the universe replies back Sohum.

yūgen (Japanese) a profound awareness of the universe which evokes feelings that are inexplicably deep and too mysterious for words. The word itself is like an extension of awareness, the aesthetic perception which allows us to conceive of the vastness of the universe.


Honorable Mention

agape (Latin) divine love.

anjali (Pali) (“divine offering”) to join the palms in a reverential gesture of respect; the name given to the greeting between Hindus, Buddhists, and other religions.

arahant (Pali) (“one who is worthy”) those who free their mind through perfect understanding, at one with ultimate reality. See also Arhat (Sanskrit)

arete (Greek) (“excellence of any kind”) moral virtue

backpfeifengesicht (German) a face badly in need of a fist.

bekos (Phrygian:) (“bread”) a pharaoh discovered the original language of humanity by secluding two newborn children among mutes until they uttered their first word, which presumably would be in the tongue of our earliest ancestors; it was bekos, (“for after a space of two years had gone by, during which the shepherd went on acting so, at length, when he opened the door and entered, both children fell before him in entreaty and uttered the word bekos, stretching forth their hands.” —Herodotus, An Account of Egypt)

bildung (German) self-cultivation wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation. This maturation is described as a harmonization of the individual’s mind and heart and in a unification of selfhood and identity within the broader society. In this sense, the process of harmonization of mind, heart, selfhood and identity is achieved through personal transformation, which presents a challenge to the individual’s accepted beliefs.

bushido (Japanese) the samurai code.

c’est ainsi que les jours coulent… (French) this is how the day flows…

cafuné (Portuguese) the act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair.

dans le vrai (French) loosely “likely touching truth or verity.”

dasein (German) the experience of “being” that is peculiar to human beings; a form of being that is aware of and must confront such issues as personhood, mortality and the dilemma or paradox of living in relationship with other humans while being ultimately alone with oneself.

de gustibus non disputandum (Latin) about tastes there can be no argument.

drachenfutter (German) a gift a man gives to his wife to apologize when he’s done something stupid.

entre chien et loup (French) “Between dog & wolf;” when the familiar becomes wild.

flâneur (French) loaf around and let the day unfold.

fremdschamen (German) the feeling of shame on behalf of someone else (think of having your friend fall down the stairs drunk or having your favorite character on screen say a cheesy line).

gassho (Japanese) pressed-palm gesture of piety

gretchenfrage (German) a question asked for the purpose of finding out someone’s real intentions.

hadaka no tsukiai (Japanese) camaraderie in nakedness

hara hachi bu (Japanese) (“belly 8 parts full”) 80% full

honzon (Japanese) the enshrined buddha statue on an altar is referred to as the honzon, but the word really means “what is most revered.” What is of highest value and most worthy of veneration —Opening the Hand of Thought

hoshin (Japanese) Hoshin kanriis a method devised to capture and cement strategic goals as well as flashes of insight about the future and develop the means to bring these into reality.

ikigai (Japanese) your reason for being. your purpose and meaning

ilunga (Bantu) a person willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time; the progression toward intolerance, and the different shades of emotion that we feel at each stop along the way. (English flattens out the complexity into black and white, or binary code. You put up with it, or you don’t).

jayus (Indonesian) a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.

jhana (Pali) levels of concentration or absorption.

kalsarikännit (Finnish) sitting home alone in your underwear and getting drunk.

kintsukuroi (Japanese) to repair with gold.

koi no yokan (Japanese) the sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall into love.

l’appel du vide (French) (“the call of the void”) that sudden urge you have to do something odd. Like jump off a cliff or punch someone in the face.

lagom (Swedish) a quality of psyche and of culture, a sensibility that embodies reason. The environment at Uppsala U supported it: transparent skies, mild temperaments, neither extreme wealth nor extreme poverty, and a simple, uncluttered, healthy way of living. (See the Middle Path.)

le mot juste (French) the exact word.

litost (Czech) a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.

lokah samasta sukhinoh bhavantu (Sanskrit) May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may our thoughts, words and actions contribute to that happiness and freedom for all.

maggha (Sanskrit) the Sanskrit word maggha (also margha) means road, or path. Practical path for living.

maha karuna (Sanskrit) great (maha) compassion (karuna)

manitou (American Indian) the “Great Spirit.”

mise en abyme (French) a Droste effect, containment of one within another; a dream within a dream.

mokita (Kilivila) the truth we all know but agree not to talk about or pretend like doesn’t exist (aka the elephant in the room).

molon labe (Greek) (“come and get them”) (prn. mo-lone lah-veh): determination to not strike the first blow, but also to not stand mute and allow our loved ones, and all that we believe in and stand for, to be trampled by men who would deprive us of our rights to suit their own ends. See also ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ!

mono no aware (Japanese) an empathy towards all things; a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.

mudita (Sanskrit) sympathetic or vicarious joy; a pure joy unadulterated by self interest.

nirvana (Sanskrit) (“extinction”) the liberation or release from the cycle of death and rebirth; a condition of happiness arising out of the absolute cessation of desire.

onsra (Boro) the bittersweet feeling of loving for the last time.

ouroboros (Greek) an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail; self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return; the pre-ego “dawn state,” depicting the undifferentiated infancy experience of both mankind and the individual child.

panem et circenses (Latin) (“bread and circuses”) metonymic for a superficial means of appeasement. (Juvenal lamented that “the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddle no more and longs eagerly for just two things: bread and circuses.”) A population so distracted with entertainment and personal pleasures (sometimes by design of those in power) that they no longer value the civic virtues and bow in civil authority with unquestioned obedience; government policies that seek short-term solutions to public unrest.

parler en yaourt (French) “speak in yogurt;” make up sounds as you speak, imitating a foreign language; see also chanter en yaourt (sing in yogurt) or making up words in a song when you cannot remember the lyrics.

pas de deux (French) a dance or figure for two performers; intricate relationship between two people.

pecunia olet (Latin) money smells of its origin. See also pecunia non olet.

peripeteia (Greek) when you discover you had everything all backwards/wrong; turning point in a dramatic sequence

plus ca change, plus c’ est la meme chose (French)The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.

samsara (Sanskrit) circular, repetitive existence.

saudade (Portuguese) a profound longing for an absent something or someone that one loves.

solfège’ (French) a singing technique used to teach pitch.

sub specie enternitatis (Latin) in the light of eternity.

sub specie totius (Latin) In the light of the whole.

synecdoche (Greek) a part refers to a whole, or a whole to a part, for example, “hired hands” for “laborers,” or “the law” for “the police.”

tartle (Scottish) The act of hesitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.

ukiyo (Japanese) the floating world.

ushinisha (Sanskrit?) the third eye of wisdom.

vipassana (Pali) just watching; to see carefully but without thinking. (“Pashya” means to see and “passana” means to see very carefully.)

viraag (Hindi) the emotional pain of being separated from a loved one.

wakatta (Japanese) I understand/remember.

weltanschauung (German) a comprehensive conception or theory of the world and the place of humanity within it.

weltanschauung (German) (“world perception”) a particular philosophy or view of life; the worldview of an individual or group.

weltschmerz (German) (“world pain”) mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.

ya’aburnee (Arabic) ( “You bury me.’) a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

yuanfen (Chinese) a relationship by fate or destiny.