Unique European words for those weird emotions

What do you call that rush of romantic excitement you get whenever you see your crush or when your love interest suddenly asks you out on a date? You may not find the suitable word in your own language. But in the Tagalog dialect spoken in my country, it’s called kilig. How about this? You’re standing before a person so captivating that you suddenly feel the urge to kiss him or her. What’s coming over you is known as basorexia.

This funny scene from “Love Actually” demonstrates the Filipino romantic concept of kilig.

Unfortunately, both words have no equivalent in English or perhaps, in any other language. Sometimes there is just no way to translate or articulate the breadth, depth, and nuances of what we feel. It can be a challenge to our search for true emotional intelligence which begins with the ability to identify and define our emotions. 

If you can’t find the words to match exactly how you feel, fret not. What you’re looking for might exist in another language. Here’s a sample of European words that might help you navigate the wonderfully complex world of human emotions.

1. The Collywobbles (English)

You have a project deadline coming up and you start panicking like crazy. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t think straight. You’re getting what the British call “the collywobbles” which usually occurs at night. Some will say there’s a cure for this, and it’s called alcohol. But it is best to adhere to that advice only after you’ve completed all the requirements for your project.

Maria from “The Sound of Music” expresses a sense of dépaysement as she faces the challenge of becoming a governess. 

2. Dépaysement (French)

You probably felt this when you moved to Brussels or to another place outside your country. It’s a feeling of fear combined with wild excitement in the face of something new, different, and unfamiliar. Dépaysement is a disorienting yet stimulating sensation. Let’s hope this is what you felt the first time you learned that there are as many ways of conjugating French verbs as there are brands of Belgian beer.

3. Dolce far niente (Italian)

Ever wallowed in the pleasure of being totally unproductive and useless? Yes, we all know that delicious state. It’s called dolce far niente or the joy of doing nothing. It may also describe what some politicians and bureaucrats feel.

A feeling of duende sweeps over Harry Potter and his classmates the first time they see the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

4. Duende (Spanish)

It’s that overwhelming sense of awe that washes over you when you witness a thing of immense beauty, like the green paradise at Bois de la Cambre or a Bruegel painting at the Royal Fine Arts Museum of Belgium. It’s that powerful force that makes you go oooh and aaah while admiring historic buildings and landmarks around Brussels. Duende can also grip you as you listen to a sensational piece of music such as the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, also known as the anthem of the European Union.

5. Empalagar (Spanish)

If you binge on Belgian chocolates or waffles, you might afterwards feel nauseated. That’s empalagar or when something excessively sweet starts to make you sick. You might also get that feeling when you see couples engaging in mushy public displays of affection.

This unforgettable song from the 1939 classic, “The Wizard of Oz,” carries tones of fernweh.

6. Fremdschämen (German)

This is the word you’re looking for when you feel embarrassed for somebody who is in an awkward or humiliating situation. It is similar to what the Spanish call verguenza ajena or the agony of seeing another person making a fool of themself. It applies to the popular sentiment that arises from watching or listening to the president of the United  States.

Treat yourself to a big dose of fremdschämen.

7. Hygge (Danish)

It sounds like “hug” and it feels like it too. Hygge is a blissful sense of warmth and coziness like the delight of having a hot cup of coffee or cocoa by the fireside after braving the winter cold outdoors. It also conveys joyful feelings of intimacy in the company of family and friends. It is said that only Scandinavians will truly understand the essence of hygge since this distinct concept of warmth and comfort can only be appreciated by those who have to endure extremely cold temperatures.

Olaf dreams of the warmth and coziness of summer in the hit animation film, Frozen.

8. Kaapshljmurslis (Latvian)

This word refers to that claustrophobic sensation you get when you’re stuck in an overcrowded bus or tram. The next time you take public transport during rush hour in Brussels, you know what to call the discomfort that may await you.

Base jumping is a fun way of responding to l’appel du vide.

9. L’appel du vide (French)

If there is such a thing as fear of heights or acrophobia, there is also l’appel du vide or “the call of the void” in English. The phrase signifies a visceral urge to jump from a high place as an effect of gravitational pull. 

Alexander Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” is a story of litost.

10. Litost (Czech)

In the words of Czech-born French writer Milan Kundera, litost is “a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s misery,” particularly the resentment one feels after being insulted or shamed by another. This devastating sense of being wronged can evoke a thirst for revenge.

“The Walking Dead” can satisfy pangs of morbo.

11. Pronoia (from the Greek word pronia)

If paranoia is the irrational belief that other people are out to destroy you, pronoia is the exact opposite. The next time you are bothered by a sneaking suspicion that everyone is out to help you or make life better for you, it’s called pronoia. Apparently, the idea of too much goodness can be terrifying for some people.

12. Ruinenlust (German)

As the word suggests, ruinenlust is the irresistible attraction to ruined structures and places such as dilapidated houses and decaying buildings. It may explain why some tourists gravitate towards any place called “the ruins” in every country they visit.

The fado music of Portugal gives voice to saudade.

13. Saudade (Portuguese)

The word is synonymous to nostalgia or a deep longing for someone or something that is lost and gone forever. But saudade conveys sorrowful yearning mingled with joyful reminiscences of things past. The word may bear a special  significance for a country that has lost the glory it once held as a mighty empire in Europe. Saudade can be heard and felt in the tristful melodies of Portuguese fado music.

14. Schadenfreude (German)

We can thank the Germans for coming up with names for the kind of emotions we may be too ashamed to acknowledge. Schadenfreude is the satisfaction you get from witnessing someone else’s misfortune. In less evil form, it’s a sense of relief that something unfortunate happened to somebody else instead of you.

British TV host Sharon Osbourne forgets the name of the artist she’s supposed to introduce in a 2016 episode of The X Factor. Classic case of tartle.

15. Tartle (Scottish)

You bump into someone you know and just when you’re about to greet them, uh-oh, you can’t remember their name. Or you’re about to introduce a person whose name you suddenly forgot. Tartle is the awkward feeling that temporarily consumes you while you rack your brain trying to recall that person’s name. Once it comes to you, the situation can be quickly remedied by saying, “pardon my tartle.”

16. Toska (Russian)

Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov described it as “a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restless.” Toska is the anguish of desperately searching for something yet nothing in particular.

Madonna’s 80s hit song, “Holiday” is an overload of voorpret: “It would be, it would be so nice.”

17. Voorpret (Dutch)

The giddiness you feel ahead of a much-anticipated event is called voorpret which translates to “pre-fun” in English. It’s a sense of enjoyment for something that is yet to come. You usually get that feeling when you’re about to go on a holiday vacation. 

“Learning new and unusual words for emotions will help attune us to the more finely grained aspects of our inner lives,” says British historian Tiffany Watt Smith who authored “The Book of Human Emotions.”