Untranslatable Love


Sent in by my dear friend Kim, I’ve got another round of untranslatable words for you, but this time, they are all about love. Here are my favorites:

1. Because what beats this feeling?: Forelsket. Norwegian for the euphoria one feels when falling in love. Possible translation: honeymoon phase?

2. Possibly even better than forelsketCafuné. Brazilian Portuguese for the feeling when someone tenderly runs their fingers through your hair. We can also thank the Brazilians for saudaude, “haunting desire for a lost love, or for an imaginary, impossible, never-to-be-experienced love.”

3. The heaviest: يقبرني (pronounced Ya’aburnee). “You bury me” in Arabic. In other words, I hope I die before you because I won’t be able to live without you. Outlive me to spare me the agony of going on without you.

4. The pits: La douleur exquise. The gut-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have. The emotional pain of when love that is simply not reciprocated.

5. The hardest to find a translation for in any language: Ilunga.  Bantu for “the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy. But ilunga conveys a subtler concept, because the feelings are different with each ‘strike.’ The word elegantly conveys the progression toward intolerance, and the different shades of emotion that we feel at each stop along the way…Ilunga restores the gray scale, where many of us at least occasionally find ourselves in relationships, trying to love imperfect people who’ve failed us and whom we ourselves have failed.”

–Reblogged from “The Top 10 Relationship Words That Aren’t Translatable Into English” by Pamela Haag

Which gets me thinking – what words about love in English are hard to express in other languages?  I always liked the expression to get butterflies when you’re around someone you like or love, even if it can apply to other situations where you’re just nervous in general. Actually, come to think of it, has anyone ever finally decided what the hell hooking up actually means? Just 1st base? Or til 2nd? A little bit of 3rd? Home run? Sloppy seconds? What do other languages use instead of our handy little baseball euphemism? I guess that’s the great thing about the term hooking up – no one has any idea what really happened, except that something did happen.


I always got tripped up in French, because aimer means to like, but je t’aime means I LOVE YOU, so you absolutely can’t say that if you just you know, like like someone. I think you have to say je t’aime bien (I like you well) but not je t’aime beaucoup, because that means I love you a lot. But no one ever says je t’adore…apparently in Spain they say te quiero for I love you, but this really means I want you, which might explain where outsiders get all these ideas about Latin people being unsatiable in their lust for love. But in South America I’ve heard that they say te amo more commonly. I’ve never had a Latin lovahh, so I actually know nothing about this.

However, in Flemish/Dutch the word for honey or sweetie or baby is schatje, which is pronounced like “scratchya” and isn’t very sexy. Either is mooi meisje, which means pretty girl. I also think it’s interesting that in French for example, you would never call anyone (your lover or just someone you have lots of affection for) miel (honey) or sucre (sugar) or any sort of sweet name like you do in English (sweetypie). It seemed to me everyone’s favorite in France and Belgium was mon/ma chou, meaning my cabbage.


About alicestockwellegan

Language and culture enthusiast from New York living in San Francisco.
This entry was posted in Great Words that Don't Exist in Engilsh, Language, Musings, Untranslatable and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Untranslatable Love

  1. Emmali says:

    “I’ve never had a Latin lovahh, so I actually know nothing about this.” Let’s change this STAT.

  2. But what if they woo you in…you know…Latin? Kidding.

    The worst French verb ever is baiser. I always offend someone when I am simply trying to say “kiss.”

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