7 Untranslatable Words About Love

Telling someone you how you feel about them can be challenging even if you speak the same language. It’s difficult enough to translate all that inner mushiness into spoken words – and if we add different languages to the mix, love can become absolutely untranslatable.

Just in time for Valentine’s, here’s our collection of seven wonderfully untranslatable terms about love from languages about the world.

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Koi No Yokan

From: Japanese
Means: The sudden realization upon first meeting a person that the two of you are destined to fall in love.

The epic certainty of romantic destiny made tangible. Even more poignant is that it is often incorrect. Think base jumping without a parachute.

So you meet someone amazing. Headrush, stomach flips, heart palpitations, clammy hands, the works: koi no yokan. Falling in love? More like falling off a cliff.

And so you fall, and the rush of air whooshing past is incredible, you’ve never felt like this before (well, you’re too distracted to remember if you have or not). But generally, what lies at the bottom of a cliff face isn’t nearly as exhilarating as the trip downwards.

valent_untranslatables_forelsket (1)


From: Norwegian
Means: That overwhelming gut-rush euphoria exclusive to the beginnings of falling in love.

Love is a drug. Literally. Even WebMD says so.

Science says intense feelings of romantic love interact with your brain the same way serious pain pills do. Or cocaine. Your dopamine levels rocket. Your pupils dilate.

Norwegian’s got a name for it: forelsket. Others call it New Relationship Energy, or NRE. But no matter what you call it, let the enamored beware: just like other drugs, this one wears off over time.

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From: Inuit
Means: The restless anticipation you get when waiting for someone to come over to your house.

I’m just a little obsessive about time, so I get this one bad. Whether it’s a pending romantic rendezvous or just friends coming over for dinner, I inevitably have everything completely ready at least 15-30 minutes before our agreed-upon meeting time.

Which means I sit. Staring at the door. Just me and my iktsuarpok. And maybe a glass of wine.

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From: Yagán, an indigenous South American language
Means: A silent, longing look between two people filled with the desire to start something, but neither has the guts to initiate it.

Most commonly experienced in junior high school (that’s around age 12-13, for all you Europeans out there). The source and target of my own mamihlapinatapei back then was a rather creepy older boy named Spencer. While all the other boys were still wiping snot on their Pokémon cards, he sported a patchy five o’clock shadow and an odd little bulge in his pants. It made me feel funny and write in my diary a lot.

I passed him elaborately folded notes and stalked him in the hall in the five minutes between classes, giving him what he most craved in the whole world: attention.

Was it love? Absolutely not. But those looks while crossing paths in the sea of smelly adolescents were laced heavy with longing – for connection, for a kiss, or perhaps just for growing older.

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From: German
Means: Climbing through someone’s window to hook up without alerting anyone else in the house (e.g. parents).

This one comes from the same root as everyone’s favourite did-you-know-there’s-a-word-for-that term, defenestrate.

Apart from Rapunzel, it’s perhaps most memorably represented in that 90s classic, Clarissa Explains It All.

valent_untranslatables_gretchen (1)


From: German
Means: A question designed specifically to find out someone’s real intentions.

Through the magical process of asking carefully worded questions, it’s possible to practically read the other person’s mind. The Germans call this advanced pick-up technique gretchenfrage.

For example:
“What are you looking for in a relationship?”
“How are you feeling about this date so far?”
“So, what would you like to do next?”

I believe in the direct approach.

valent_untranslatables_layogenic (1)


From: Tagalog
Means: When you see someone who appears attractive at a distance, but they’re getting closer, and… oh. Never mind.

We’ve all been there. Tragic.

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