26 Expressive Words with No English Equivalent

Have you ever experienced that frustration you feel when you just can’t find the right word or phrase to describe a situation or convey your emotion? One of our favorite things about visiting new places is discovering new ways of expressing ourselves. The English language can be manipulated to produce an infinite amount of beautiful poetry and prose, but it could be lacking a few words you never knew you were missing. After you understand some of the compelling turns of phrase from a more international lexicon, you might want to adopt a few of them as your own. Here are 26 moving and useful words and phrases from some of our favorite destinations that don’t quite have an English counterpart.


Dépaysement (n) – The closest English equivalent would be something like “disorientation”, which doesn’t at all capture the elegance of this word. If you have ever experienced a feeling of unsteadiness or bewilderment that can come from being in a totally foreign environment, like out of your home country, then you can relate to dépaysement.


Empêchement (n) – In the world of travel, you should always be ready to encounter an empêchement, an unexpected last-minute change of plans.

Etre à l’ouest – The literal meaning is “being west", but this expression typically describes a unique person, a daydreamer, someone who thinks outside of the box. The closest English expression might be "on another planet."

Flâneur (n) – This might be you if you find yourself ambling about Parisian avenues. Coming from the French verb flâner, which means “to stroll”, flâneur describes a person of leisure who seems to wander the streets aimlessly, but whose real purpose is to walk the city in order to experience its atmosphere.

L’appel du vide – Literally translated as “the call of the void”, this quite beautiful phrase has a bit more ominous meaning as it’s used to describe that inexplicable and distinctive urge to jump from high places.

L’ésprit de l’escalier – Have you ever come up with the perfect remark or retort only too late? The French would call this l’esprit de l’escalier, or “staircase wit”. The philosopher Diderot coined this phrase because he could only think of a suitable repartee after walking away from a conversation, literally down the stairs.

Retrouvailles (n) – A touching word that allows you to easily name the joy of reuniting with someone you haven’t seen in a very long time.

Sortable (adj) – How you can describe a person you would take anywhere without fear of being embarrassed. Does this describe your favorite travel companion?


Abbiocco (n) – The drowsy but pleasant feeling you have after eating a big meal. And if you’re in Italy, you’ll definitely find an opportunity to use this one!

Apericena (n) – When your pre-dinner drink comes with free snacks, it becomes an “apericena” - a cross between aperitif and dinner (“cena” in Italian).

Culaccino (n) – That troublesome watermark you get when you put a cold or wet glass down on a table.

Menefreghista (n) – You might know someone who’s particularly prone to this way of thinking. It is Italian dialect for a person who generally couldn’t care less.

Meriggiare (v) – Naturally coming from the word meriggio (noon), this lovely verb means to rest at noon, particularly in a shady spot on a hot day.



Meraki (adj) – If you pour all of your passion and joy into some task or form of art, if you put a little of yourself, your soul and your love into what you do or what you make, you are doing it with meraki.

Philotimo (n) – Literally translated as “friend of honor”, this complex noun is used to stand for the highest Greek virtue, comprising elements of honor, justice, courage, dignity, pride, self-sacrifice, respect, freedom, gratitude, hospitality, and prioritizing the greater good.


Desenrascanço (n) – A valued quality in Portuguese culture, this word connotes the art of solving a problem with quick improvisation or an imaginative solution. Or as some of us might say in English, the ability to MacGyver a situation.


Saudade (n) – One of the most poignant words we know, this combines feelings of longing, melancholy, and nostalgia. Use it to describe how you feel when you are pining for something you love which is now lost.


Vedriti (v) – This poetic word means to take shelter from the rain and wait for it to pass. It can also be used as a metaphor for your life, when you are waiting for difficult times to get better.


Antier (n) – A more convenient way of saying the day before yesterday. A shortened version of “antes de ayer.”


Desvelado (adj) – During your travels, we hope that you will not feel desvelado - unable to sleep or sleep-deprived.

Duende (n) – One of most difficult words in the Spanish language to translate to English, it is listed in the dictionary as a sort of magical spirit, but in practice it refers to the inspiration or strong emotion evoked by a powerful piece of art.


Enchilar (v) – To add chili to a dish or to become overpowered by the heat of chili peppers. Most common in Mexico, but very useful!

Friolento (adj) – Another practical moniker, this describes someone who is more sensitive to cold than the average human being.

Madrugar (v) – To get up very early. As experienced travelers know, “The early bird catches the worm.” As they say in Spanish, A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda.

Sobremesa (n) – What you want at your next dinner party – the time period after everyone has finished eating a meal, but the conversation is still flowing at the table.


Yakamoz (n) – Truly unique, yakamoz won first prize for the world’s most beautiful word in a 2007 German competition. It has been translated as the reflection of moonlight on water, but a closer meaning might be the phosphorescence that comes from bioluminescent, microscopic sea creatures.