I’m passionate about language, so I set out on a quest to find the most beautiful words in the world.
It was an arduous journey, but I’m pleased with the final result, and I hope that you’ll be too. The words you find below don’t all belong to the English language, far from it.
It’s essential to learn from foreign cultures with words and concepts not translatable to your native tongue. These arcane pieces of lexicon will allow you to see the world differently, kickstart your writing career, and change your mind in unforeseen ways.
But the goal of creating this collection was not only to find rare specimens with deep meanings. Rather, it was to find the most mellifluous ones that satisfy the concept of phonaesthetics.
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” – Patrick Rothfuss
Are you ready to explore? Let’s set out to the uncharted seas of beautiful words, and understand their meanings:
1. Toska (Russian)
Russian word roughly translated as “sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness.”
According to Vladimir Nabokov: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause.”
2. Papillon (French)
A word for butterfly, borrowed from Latin pāpiliō. It’s also an informal expression for a parking ticket or a flighty genius who’s all over the place. It reminds me of one of my favorite French movies: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon)
3. Komorebi (Japanese)
It can be translated as “sunlight streaming through the leaves of the trees.” It reflects the Japanese soul that longs for the beauty of nature. It’s also a great ingredient of haiku (a traditional short poem):
Sunlight filters through the dense foliage. My face welcomes it, my hand gripping the balcony railing.
4. Hanan (Arabic)
Compassion, kindness, warm-heartedness. It’s also a popular name throughout the Arab world. Munir Bashir, the great Iraqui oud player, described this word through music in a tune performed with his son Omar.
5. Kama (Sanskrit)
It’s a word for “desire, wish, longing.” It’s usually associated with carnal pleasure but actually goes deeper than that. It can refer to any kind of desire, passion, longing, or pleasure of the senses. It’s also related to aesthetics, affection, love, and enjoyment of life. In the Indian tradition, it’s one of the four goals of human life.
According to an old scripture:
Man consists of desire (kama),
As his desire is, so is his determination,
As his determination is, so is his deed,
Whatever his deed is, that he attains.
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6. Szerelem (Hungarian)
It’s one of the most beautiful words for “love.” It’s also the title of one of the most touching Hungarian language songs, which served as a soundtrack for The English Patient.
Love, Love, Damned anguish, Why didn’t you bloom, in the top of trees?”
7. Elvágyódás (Hungarian)
It’s an “untranslatable” word which describes a desire to get away from where you are. It signals a deep longing for something else (even though you’re not entirely sure what it is). It’s a bit similar to “wanderlust,” but not exactly there. It’s more melancholic than that.
8. Ubuntu (Nguni Bantu)
Literally “humanity.” It’s a quality that includes the essential human virtues of compassion and humanity. It can be translated as “I am because we are” or “humanity towards others.” The concept was developed in Southern Africa in 1950s by Jordan Kush Ngubane.
According to Desmond Tutu:
“A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
9. Haneul (Korean)
It’s a word meaning “sky, heaven, ether or sphere.” It’s a popular unisex name in Korea, which may be interpreted as an urging to “spread your dreams high like the sky.” Pretty neat, eh?
10. Sonrisa (Spanish)
I love this word because it sounds like the English “sunrise” but actually means “smile.” Somehow the two concepts are intertwined.
“La sonrisa cuesta menos que la electricidad y da más luz.” (The smile costs less than electricity and gives more light.) – Proverb
Related content: 50 Sophisticated Words in English (With Examples From Movies)
11. Ancymonek (Polish)
It’s an amusing word which can be translated as “slyboots,” “scamp,” or “chap.” It describes a person who’s plotting and scheming but simultaneously feigning complete innocence. It’s used mostly in relation to children.
12. Zindabad (Persian)
This word is present in many different languages, including Odia, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali. It’s used as a shout of encouragement and can be directly translated as “long live…”. It has a political connotation, but it has its place in everyday life.
13. Noor (Arabic)
It’s a charming word, also used as a unisex name in the Arab world. It means “light” or “Divine Light.” The word plays an essential role in the esoteric practices where it refers to inner illumination. It’s derived from Proto-Semitic “nūr,” which means “fire.”
14. Sadiq (Arabic)
It means “friend” or “colleague.” As everything in Arabic, it’s beautifully written (صَدِيق), especially when rendered by a skilled calligrapher.
15. Tamam (Turkish)
This is such a universal word. You’ll hear it dozens of times each day if you ever go into the heart of Istanbul. In the simplest terms, it means “okay,” but it’s used in many contexts. It’s borrowed from Arabic, in which it means “full” or “complete.” It came to Anatolia in 12th century CE, in a book of poetry.
16. Achha (Hindi)
This is another universal word with many shades of meaning. You’ll hear it all the time if you travel to India. The literal meaning is “good,” but it can also signal surprise, as in “achha?” You can also use it to show that you understand something or as an exclamation mark (like hell yeah!). It all depends on the intonation!
17. Eonia (Greek)
It means “time immemorial” or “eternity.” You might have noticed that it’s very similar to the English word “eon” in which it first appeared in the 1640s from Late Latin “aeon.” In the past, the word also referred to as a “vital force.”
18. Felicidade (Portuguese)
It’s one of the best words for “happiness” I’ve ever heard. In a particular context, it can also mean “success” or “good luck.” You can even say “muitas felicidades,” which means “best wishes.” Don’t mix it up with English “felicide,” which means “killing of a cat.”
19. Carinho (Portuguese)
This word could be most closely translated as “fondness,” “affection,” or “endearment.” But in Portuguese, it’s used as a verb involving a physical action of caressing someone. You “give carinho” to others by hugging them or stroking their hair.
20. Passeggiata (Italian)
This mellifluous word means “walk” or “stroll.” You could say – “Andiamo per fare una passeggiata” (Let’s go for a walk). But it’s not just any walk. It’s more like a traditional evening stroll in the historical central piazza. It’s mostly done on Sunday evenings when everyone goes out in their best clothing.
21. Muhibbah (Malay)
It’s an important word meaning “friendship,” “living in harmony,” and it’s mostly used in the work context. It describes the feelings of camaraderie, tolerance, and understanding. Many nationalities are working together in Malaysia, so “muhibbah” is vital for a harmonious environment.
22. Bidadari (Malay)
It’s a word for “angel,” but figuratively, it can also mean “beautiful woman” or “goddess in heaven.” It comes from Sanskrit “vidyādharī,” where it means “fairy.” It’s a popular word you can find in the names of hotels, resorts, and shopping malls.
23. Saudade (Portuguese)
This is one of these non-translatable words that make your heart melt. It’s a feeling you have when you miss someone. It’s also a fundamental concept of Fado music. You can have “saudades” when you miss someone’s physical touch and presence. When you speak on the phone, you can say “que saudade!” which means that you miss them a lot.
24. Hiraeth (Welsh)
It’s a Welsh concept centered around longing for home. It can’t be directly translated, and it means more than just “missing something,” “yearning,” or “missing home.” It’s has a note of nostalgia to it, as it relates to the time of yore, that you can’t quite put your finger on. Bittersweet memories mixed with feelings of gratitude for times passed.
25. Purnama (Indonesian)
It’s a fantastic word meaning “full moon.” It originally comes from Sanskrit and has its equivalents in many other languages – Purnima (Bengali), Purnima (Hindi), Purnima (Kannada), Purnima (Marathi), Purnima (Tamil).
26. Flâner (French)
It’s a sneaky word related to strolling, hanging around or dawdling. It’s used to describe aimless wandering through the streets of a large city (ideally Paris). A flaneur is a person who sits around in cafes for the whole day, observing people and paying no heed to time.
27. Firgun (Hebrew)
It’s a term and concept in the Israeli culture. It describes an unselfish delight or pride in the accomplishments of another person. It’s an empathetic joy you feel when something good has happened to or for another person. The antonym to this word is German “schadenfreude” – getting satisfaction from someone else’s failure.
28. Saha (Arabic)
It literally means “health,” “clear,” or “sober,” but it has a much deeper meaning in a cultural context. It’s used when you have a fit of coughing, and others say it to the effect of “bless you.” When you start a meal, you can also say “sahtein” (“two healths”) which can then be translated as “enjoy your meal.”
29. Goya (Urdu)
Here’s another untranslatable, but useful word. It’s a momentary suspension of disbelief that occurs when fantasy is so realistic that it temporarily becomes a reality. It’s usually associated with a story very well told. It’s “as if/as though” something was a reality. Goya is also the name of one of my favorite Spanish painters which only adds to the charm.
30. Allora (Italian)
If you’ve ever been to Italy, you must have heard this phrase hundreds of times as Italians are obsessed with it. Literally, it means “so, then, well.” It acts as a filler word used in conversation when you think things over. But it can also express impatience. Allora! (Come on!)
31. Auguri (Italian)
In simplest terms, it means “to wish,” but you can use it in many different situations. You can say it when wishing someone a happy birthday, congratulating them on something, during general celebrations, while offering best wishes or simply saying “all the best.” It’s deceptively similar to the beautiful English “augury” which has its roots in Latin “augurium” (“divination, the observation, and interpretation of omens”).
32. Aazaard (Flemish)
While it sounds similar to the English “hazard,” it has a different meaning. It describes a happy coincidence, for example, when you get a good deal on something, or you meet a person you haven’t seen a while.
33. Friolento (Spanish)
It’s a cute word describing someone who is overly sensitive to cold. It has a note of sarcasm in it because “frio” means “cold” and “lento” means “slow.” So theoretically it should describe someone resistant to cold, but it’s the other way around. Clever these Spaniards are.
34. Sobremesa (Spanish)
You really have to visit Spain to fully grasp the concept of “sobremesa.” It literally means “dessert” or “table cover,” but it can also refer to a prolonged after-dinner banter at a table. The Spanish love to order espressos after dinner (at 11:00 PM or even 12:00 PM) and then talk and smoke long into the night.
35. Thanatos (Greek)
It’s one of these mysterious words that slip of the tongue producing enchantment and awe. Thanatos means “death,” but it also describes a mythical figure which brings death about (like Grim Reaper). Christopher Hitchens once said: “In the war against Thanatos, if we must term it a war, the immediate loss of Eros is a huge initial sacrifice.”
36. Merak (Serbian)
It’s a fascinating word referring to a feeling of bliss and the sense of oneness with the universe that comes from the simplest of pleasures. It’s a Zen-like quality you get when you’re fully content with where you are and what you do – when the soul is settled.
37. Libellule (French)
It means “dragonfly.” If you want to turn it into true acoustic eargasm, you can say “libellule émeraude” (“emerald dragonfly”).
38. Tsundoku (Japanese)
That’s a bookworm’s favorite which describes the act of buying lots of books and never getting round to reading them. It’s a universal human activity, but it’s nice of Japanese to come up with a word that that precisely describes it. It literally means “reading pile” and dates back to the Meiji era (1868–1912).
39. Boketto (Japanese)
It’s another poetic Japanese word which is hard to translate. It describes the idea of starting at the sky without a thought. When you stare vacantly into the sky, giving no thought to time, life, history, or anything else for that matter – you’re experiencing boketto.
40. Szept (Polish)
I like how this word meaning “whisper” has that “shhh” sound in it as if you’re already whispering.
41. Crimson (English)
Describing a deep and vivid red, this word lights up your imagination. It reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet.” The word comes from the Old Italian “carmesi,” but it has roots in Arabic and got into Europe because of silk clothes export.
42. Kalsarikännit (Finnish)
Another magnificent word which we should import into English! It’s related to that moment when you’re going to get drunk home alone in your underwear – with no intention of going out. In Finland, it has been elevated to an official activity. Beer anyone?
43. Habseligkeiten (German)
Goethe Institute held a competition for Germany’s most beautiful word. Based on 22,000 entries, habseligkeiten was a clear winner. It means “belongings.” It’s not related to ownership or wealth, but rather to simple possessions, and it does it in a friendly way.
44. Limerence (English)
The state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship. Dorothy Tennov coined this word for her book “Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love.”
45. Schwellenangst (German)
It has “angst” in it so it must be something interesting, right? It describes a fear of, or aversion to, crossing a threshold or entering a place to begin a new chapter. I guess we all feel it from time to time.
46. Resfeber (Swedish)
It’s a word that must have come from the world of the Vikings. It refers to tangled feelings between fear and excitement before a journey begins. It literally means “travel fever.”
47. Querencia (Spanish)
It’s a word signaling a metaphysical concept. It comes from the verb “querer” which means “to desire.” “Querencia” can be translated as “fondness,” “homing instinct,” or “homeland.” Hemingway wrote in the Death in the Afternoon: “A querencia is a place the bull naturally wants to go to in the ring, a preferred locality… It is a place which develops in the course of the fight where the bull makes his home.”
48. Nefelibata (Portuguese)
It’s a word derived from Greek, meaning “one who walks the clouds” or “daydreamer.” You use it for a person who trudges individually, not caring about what others think (like a nonconformist). In the literature, it also describes a writer who does not follow the usual conventions.
49. Nostalgia (English)
A list of beautiful words couldn’t be complete without “nostalgia.” It’s a wistful desire to return in thought or fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or one’s family and friends. It’s a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time. “I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday,” said Kris Kristofferson.
50. Sonorous (English)
It comes from Latin “sonorus” (“resounding”), from “sonare” (“to sound, make a noise”). The pronunciation of word fits the meaning perfectly as it describes someone or something capable of emitting a deep, resonant sound.
51. Ethereal (English)
How I love this word! It’s so lofty and fleeting and elven-like. It means “extremely delicate and light in a way that seems not to be of this world.” In the past, it used to refer to places “of the highest regions of the atmosphere.”
52. Atash (Farsi)
It’s a Persian word for “fire” which has a nice ring to it. It’s widely used in Persian poetry which often uses the concept of “the moth and the flame,” especially by poets like Farid ud-Din Attar. Being devoured by the flame refers to a metaphysical idea of getting closer to the divine.
53. Daryâ (Farsi)
Another outstanding Persian word meaning “river,” “ocean,” or “sea.” It’s also used when referring to any kind of vast expanse.
54. Firdaus (Arabic)
It means “paradise,” but it’s derived from an earlier word meaning “garden” or “enclosure.” Water is scarce in the Arab world, and hence, a paradise is often described as a lush garden abound in flowing water.
55. Niwemang (Kurdish)
It’s a beautiful word meaning “half-moon.” It’s also the title of one of my favorite Iranian movies.
56. Aisling (Irish)
It literally means “dream” or “vision.” It’s the name of a poetic genre where a poet is bestowed with a vision of a young and beautiful heavenly woman who prophesies changes of fortune for the Irish people. Aisling is also used as a feminine given name, now having many anglicized forms and variants like Ashling, Aislin, Aislinn and Aislene.
57. Spleodar (Irish)
It means “energy,” “exuberance,” “gameness,” “vivaciousness,” or “boisterousness.”
58. Suaimhneas (Irish)
It’s a word for “peace” and “tranquility.” It can also relate to calmness, composure, contentment, quietness, or repose.
59. Dobrodosli (Slovenian)
It’s a marvelous Slavic word for “welcome.” It’s comprised of two distinct words, “dobro” and “dosli,” and it can be literally translated as “you came in a good way.” It’s something you would want to hear after finishing a long trip.
60. Mir (Slovenian)
Short and punchy, “mir” is a Slovenian word for “peace,” “quiet,” and “tranquility.” It’s also the name of a Russian space station.
61. Huzun (Turkish)
It’s a dark, but beautiful word for “sadness,” “melancholy,” or “gloominess.” I was first introduced by it by the Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk. The word has Arab origins, but in modern Turkish, it denotes a sense of failure in life, lack of initiative, and a retreat into oneself.
62. Safderun (Turkish)
This word sounds like it was taken straight from “Arabian Nights.” It’s used to describe a person whose heart is so pure that they are often easily fooled. It could be translated as “gull.”
63. Namaste (Hindi)
It’s a word used as a customary greeting across India. It comes from Sanskrit where it meant “a reverential salutation.” But it can be translated as “I bow to the divine in you.” If you want to do it properly, you bow slightly and smile when saying it!
64. Jijivisha (Hindi)
It’s an untranslatable word which signifies an intense desire to live and continue living to the fullest in the highest sense of being.
65. Sundar (Hindi)
It’s an adjective meaning “beautiful.” In a broader sense, it also means attractive, beautiful, good, handsome, or nice.
66. Kvietok (Slovak)
This word has a nice ring to it, especially to a Slavic ear like mine. It means “flower.” It’s especially significant for Slovaks who love to give flower bouquets and grow magnificent gardens.
67. Geluksalig (Afrikaans)
It’s a word used to describe the highest form of happiness. It’s often used when referring to the hereafter joys of paradise.
68. Skitterend (Afrikaans)
It can be most accurately translated as “glistering” or “splendid.” It’s a mixture of Dutch words that literally mean “exuding light that seems alive.” How cool is that?
69. Dor (Romanian)
It’s a powerful, almost magical word that’s a bit hard to translate. It simple terms, it means “longing” or “to miss something.” It comes from the Latin word dolus, which means “pain” and is related to the Romanian word durere (also “pain”).
70. Balaur (Romanian)
It’s a straight-from-fantasy-like word for a “dragon” or “monster.” It has an uncertain origin, but it’s deeply connected to the Romanian folklore. A Balaur is a large creature with fins, feet and up to twelve serpent heads. It represents evil, and its name (rightfully so) was used in popular RPG games and fantasy novels.
71. Badkruka (Swedish)
It’s a funny but charming word for a person who’s afraid to go into the water. Swedes are surrounded by water (which is freezing cold). It’s only natural that some inhabitants of this Nordic land aren’t too eager to take a dip.
72. Dépaysement (French)
It can be literally translated as “to be uncountried.” It signifies disorientation or cultural shock we sometimes feel in a strange and foreign land.
73. Zapoi (Russian)
This word is used to describe several days of continuous drunkenness during which one withdraws from society. People often “dive into a zapoi” during the New Year’s season when Russians are thought to collectively drink 1.5bn liters of alcohol.
74. Gattara (Italian)
It’s an endearing word for “cat lady.” Gattaras are usually old devout cat lovers who feed alley cats or surround themselves with cats at home. Imagine an Italian version of the crazy cat lady from The Simpsons.
75. Trepverter (Yiddish)
It literally translates as “stepwords,” but actually means a witty comeback you think of only after it’s already too late. It’s this brilliant, but late conclusion you think of when you can’t say it to anyone because you blew your chance.
76. Litost (Czech)
According to the famous writer Milan Kundera, this word is quite difficult to render in English. It signifies a state of being a singular entity in the face of overwhelming hopelessness and painfully evident helplessness. You could say it means “self-pity,” “sorrow,” or “regret,” but not quite.
77. Voorpret (Dutch)
Literally translated as “pre-fun” this word is terrific because it’s all about the excitement you feel right before an event you’ve been waiting for.
78. Tampo (Filipino)
It’s a “silent treatment” you get from a girl if you irritate her or renege on the promise you gave her. If you hurt somebody’s feelings, your significant other will withdraw his or her affection and force you to endure the pain of psychological separation. The closest English translation for “tampo” is “sulking.”
79. Tartle (Scottish)
It refers to that funny moment when you hesitate in recognizing a person or thing. You know them from somewhere, but at that moment you can’t recall from where. In this situation, you can say, “pardon my tartle!”
80. Kaapshljmurslis (Lithuanian)
This convoluted and wizardly word is used to describe the atmosphere in public transport during the rush hour. You’re cramped in a tube or a bus and can’t wait to get out of there. At this moment you’re experiencing the notorious kaapshljmurslis.
Did you get inspired by the exotic words above? The variety of lexis and meaning throughout different cultures is fascinating!
This list is by no means complete, so please oh, language lover share some of your favorite examples in the comments section.