Foreign words we should steal

There should be a word meaning, ’to covet a word from another language‘. There’s so many beauties out there which we really need to be using. They would fill gaps in our vocabulary we didn’t even realise were there.

Luckily, English being a magpie tongue, we don’t need to trouble ourselves coming up with acceptable translations, all we need to do is pinch the words, stick them in the dictionary and start using them as if they were ours in the first place. It’s a bit of a bare-faced cheek, but let’s face it – we’ve been at it for centuries. It’s true that some of these words are something of a mouthful for English speakers at first – but that didn’t stop us appropriating Schadenfreude did it?

Here’s my top five words we really need to be adopting as part of the English language:

Espirit d’escalier

I’m going to start using this one today – and wait for everyone else to catch up. It’s a French phrase meaning literally ‘staircase wit’ and essentially it means coming up with a witty riposte, but much too late to say it. It’s the devastating one-liner you think of on the bus home – or as you are heading off up the stairs.


German clearly. This means the fear of being alone in the woods. I know – how have we managed without it? Only Germany, birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, would come up with a word so evocative of creepy fairytales.


This means – to borrow from a friend until there is literally nothing left in his house. Comes from the native language of Easter Island – where they borrowed everything apart from statues of huge heads which were too big to lift. I wonder if they’d mind if we borrowed their word for a bit?


Turkish. It means moonlight shining on water. And who wouldn’t want a word for that?


A Japenese word, which describes the act of staring vacantly off into the distance without thinking about anything at all. I spend a quite a lot of time doing Boketto – and it’s time well spent too, funnily enough.

9 thoughts on “Foreign words we should steal”

  1. I don’t think there’s an exact translation to the french term “non sequitur” (A fallacy in which a conclusion does not follow logically from what preceded it), a term I learnt from reading Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin last year – one of many phrases/words I learnt from reading that wonderful book. The Simpsons’ Ralph Wiggum is seen to be a master of the non sequitur. I was reminded of the phrase when I read this poem last year:

    1. ‘Non sequitur’ is Latin, not French.

      Also, I would add the great German word ‘weltanschauung’ as well – it means ‘a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint.’ This gets the ball rolling to compare different peoples’ and cultures’ weltanshauungs.


  2. The Dutch have some good all-in-one words. They cover a wide range of situations so are very handy. One of the favourites is ‘gezellig’ pronounced ‘hezelluh’ as near as I can make it. It means friendly, cozy, atmospheric, very pleasant…in fact more or less anything postive about something, someone or a situation. A very handy word to borrow!

  3. I love Zeitgeist and also the German equivalent of the Dutch word above -gemuetlich (usually written minus the ‘e’ and with an Umlaut over the ‘u’)

  4. Hen: It’s a Swedish word used as a replacement for he/she. It’s great for being non gender specific and stops all those forewords in books explaining why they’ve used he or she and that they’re not trying to be sexist!

    1. Wow – that is super useful. We might come across a problem with the fact that we do already have the word hen, which could lead to fowl releated confusion, but we should definitely follow their example and have a word we can use in that way.

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