Foreign Relationship Words That Should Have English Counterparts

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, which means that just about anything that’s even remotely related to love will sell. I’m not just jumping on the bandwagon here–love is in the air, and it’s really quite impossible not to get high from it unless you live alone and have like a dozen cats. But, since I’m more of a dog person, I have been bitten by the love bug, which is why I am writing this article.

As evidenced by that photo up top, there are a lot of ways to say ‘love’ or ‘I love you’. Everybody knows this. I’m sure if you stop everyone you see on the street, each one of them can give you at least another version of ‘I love you’ in a different language–before they Mace you, that is. But that’s love, which is a pretty large concept and one of the most important emotions in life.

So what about the small things, like the feeling you get when you run your hand through your girlfriend’s hair, or that ache in your heart that you get when you’re far away from the one you love? For some reason, the English language is woefully inadequate when it comes to relationship-centric words, which is why I go to different languages to provide you with a laundry list of words that the English language should have.

Koi No Yokan

Koi no yokan is a Japanese…uh, phrase (sorry, I haven’t the slightest idea how to speak Japanese) that refers to that sense you get upon meeting a person for the first time that the two of you are going to fall in love.

It’s not love at first sight, mind you, because love at first sight means that you fall in love at that very moment when you see her from across a crowded room and your eyes meet. Koi no yokan means that you get this feeling that the two of you are gonna be awesome together and, somewhere down the road, you’re going to fall in love with her. The term captures the intimation of inevitable love in the future, rather than the instant attraction implied by love at first sight.


This can be a bit hard to understand. You see, yuanfen is a Chinese word that basically means a relationship by fate or destiny. But it’s different from soulmates, since a soulmate refers to the other person and not to the relationship that you have with that person.

As you can see in that definition, its most common usage is in reference to the ‘binding force’ between two people–basically the bond that holds a relationship together. This term can be used for any kind of relationship, but it is mostly used in the case of lovers.

Interestingly, however, fate and destiny are two very different things, even in the English language–and their differences are very pronounced in Chinese culture. Two people may be fated to find each other, but they might not necessarily end up together. As a friend of mine once said:

“The proverb, “have fate without destiny,” describes couples who meet, but who don’t stay together, for whatever reason. It’s interesting, to distinguish love between the fated and the destined. Romantic comedies, of course, confound the two.”


Okay, I lied. This one has an English translation, but it’s so clunky it might as well be non-existent because no one’s gonna use it anyway. Forelsket is a Norwegian word that is used to represent that euphoria you experience when you’re falling in love (I wrote about that too once, here). The English phrase for this (see, phrase! Not even one word) is New Relationship Energyand that just sucks.

But you know what I’m talking about, right? You have been in love before? Because if you do, then I’m sure you’ll appreciate finally having a word to use that would adequately represent all the pins and needles, the tingling sensation, the butterflies in your stomach, the smile that creeps into your face every time you hear her name, the thrill of novelty, the need to see her–you’re in love, and what you’re feeling is called forelsket. 


You just knew that this word was gonna be here.

I love this word, I really do. Sure, a lot of people who are stuck in this kind of relationship purgatory are all wishing for something more but still, it beats being ‘just friends’. For those who aren’t familiar with the word, I wrote an entire post about it here.

Basically, the English language is sadly lacking when it comes to a word that accurately describes that feeling between two close friends that both like each other but are afraid to start anything since it might ruin the very foundations of their friendship. Because of this, we go to Tierra del Fuego (yes, there is an archipelago off the southern coast of the South American mainland called Land of Fire) and dig through the words of the beautiful Yaghan language. Here’s where we’ll find what the Guinness Book of World Records considers as the most succinct and one of the hardest to translate words in the world: mamihlapinatapai.

In the words of a article, this is the quintessential story of the “shy dude and the insecure girl, sitting there at each end of a park bench, perhaps glancing every now and then at the other and blushing whenever eye contact is made, forever making trivial conversation, each imagining the two of them fucking like wildcats”.

La Douleur Exquise

Think about the concept of unrequited love. Are you thinking about it? Good. La Douleur Exquise is not about unrequited love, but it’s close enough. While unrequited love talks about the status of a relationship between two people–where one loves the other, but the other rejects that love or shows no inclination of reciprocating it–la douleur exquise is the state of mind associated with it.

La Douleur Exquise is the exquisite pain that comes with offering someone your love and having your hopes dashed to the ground. It is the heart-wrenching pain of being shot down, of seeing her with someone who is not you. It is the sadness you feel when you see her smile and it’s not you that made her smile, it is the anger you feel when someone makes her cry. Basically, it is that horrible hell that you put yourself in when you want someone you can’t have.


Everyone’s familiar with this feeling, and I don’t think anyone hates it (unless you scoop goo on your hair every day and will kill anyone who touches it). Basically, this Brazilian Portuguese word describes that blessed feeling that comes with your loved one tenderly running their fingers through your hair, or you doing the same to them.

I mean come on, who doesn’t love this one?


I love this word. I first heard it in a basic Portuguese class and I’ve loved it since then, and when our instructor told us about it, everyone in the class went ‘awwww!’ It’s that adorable, and everyone knows what it feels like.

Saudade is a very big word, and can describe just about anything that you’re longing for. It’s the feeling of longing for someone that you love and is lost. Another linguist describes it as a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.” You see? You understand? Probably not.

Saudade gained prominence in the past, especially during wars, when wives would wait and long for their husbands, never knowing if their men are still alive. In a more micro sense, it’s that pain in your chest when your girlfriend is going away for a few months and you don’t know what you’re going to do. It’s that little ache you feel when she’s going to the bathroom with her friends and you’re not invited. It’s the pain of being away from her, even for a second, and I will smack you in the face if you tell me you’ve never felt this one before.


So she’s gone for a long time. And now she’s back. Finally. And you get to see her again, for the first time in months. How do you feel?

If you’re a normal human being, you’re gonna feel happy. But this is a different kind of a happy–it feels something like a mixture of relief that she’s alright, guilt that you might have done something that she wouldn’t like while she was away, a bit awkward because you haven’t seen her in a while, and maybe even a bit afraid that she might have changed. How do you synthesize that into one word? What could that word be? Well, we have the French to thank for this–that word is retrouvailles.


Ilunga does not mean “I’m sorry”, but that’s the closest thing I could find. Ilunga is a Bantu word that refers to a couple where one has done something wrong…multiple times. Specifically, Ilunga refers to the other person–the one who didn’t do anything wrong–and how many times she’s going to accept your apology before she gets tired of your shit.

More specifically, Ilunga refers to a person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time. Holy crap, that is specific. And I would totally understand if you relate this to the English concept of “three strikes, you’re out”, but you’d be wrong. That English concept is very…elementary. Ilunga conveys a subtler concept, because the feelings are different with each “strike”.

The first time you do something stupid, she’s gonna forgive you because she knows you’re not perfect and she knows you’re gonna forgive her too if the tables were turned. The second time you do it…well, she loves you and she will let you off but she’s starting to question herself. The third time—come on, only idiots let you off three times.

“Ilunga captures the shade of gray complexity in marriages—not abusive marriages, but marriages that involve infidelity, for example.  We’ve got tolerance, within reason, and we’ve got gradations of tolerance, and for different reasons. And then, we have our limit. The English language to describe this state of limits and tolerance flattens out the complexity into black and white, or binary code. You put up with it, or you don’t.  You “stick it out,” or not.

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.” (source)


So you fucked up, and now she’s going to kick you out into the street. But you love her so much, and you’re just a real dumbass. And you feel like you’d rather die than not be with her, and you want to tell her that but you only have time to say a few words before she slams the door in your face. What do you say? What could possibly encapsulate everything you’re feeling, so she’d know just how much she means to you?

Ya’aburnee. It’s Arabic. Loosely translated, it means ‘you bury me’. It’s a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them. The online dictionary that lists this word calls it “morbid and beautiful.” It’s the “How Could I Live Without You?” slickly insincere cliché of dating, polished into a more earnest, poetic term.

Basically, you’re telling her you can’t live without her. That she’s going to kill you if she shuts you out. That you’d rather die than not be with her. That you won’t be so much of a dumbass if she takes you back.

Let’s just hope that she listens.


And that’s ten foreign words about love and relationships that’s sure to help you out. If you want to read more love-centric posts that can help prepare you for Valentine’s Day, here’s a list of awesome articles.

Just remember, use this information for good. 

May the Force be with you, young padawan.


3 thoughts on “Foreign Relationship Words That Should Have English Counterparts

  1. Pingback: Insanity: The Definition Has Changed (Video) | Project Blissful

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