There are some emotions that only these cool French words or Dutch words can adequately describe.
Depending on where you live in Belgium, you’ll come across spatterings of cool French words and Dutch words that perfectly describe what English could only express in a string of fumbled words and abstract ideas. Not anymore – these cool French words or Dutch words will save you.
Cool French words that English needs
Sortable is the adjective to use for family members and friends that you can take out without fear of being embarrassed.
This is the perfect excuse for when you don’t want to be specific for being late; instead, you just had an ‘unexpected last-minute change of plans’.
That irritating moment when you come up with the perfect witty comeback but only too late is known as ’staircase wit’, reportedly coined by 18th-century philosopher Diderot who found he could only think of suitable retorts after walking away from an argument, literally down the stairs.
Another Baudelarian term, this word describes the sensation that comes from a profound feeling of dissatisfaction and discouragement.
The feeling of dépaysement that arises from not being in your home country, in essence ‘un-country-ing’, is what might be described as similar to homesickness but refers more to the strangeness and disorientation of feeling foreign and encountering new things in another country, like a ‘fish out of water’.
L’appel du vide
‘The call of the void’, as this expression is literally translated but feel like a traveller’s word, but in fact refers to intrinsic urge to jump from high places.
La douleur exquise
This is the ‘exquisite pain’ that one feels from unrequited love. Is this a fact to argue that the French are romantic?
Flâner is the art of wandering a city’s streets with no goal or final destination but for the pleasure of soaking up the ambience, turning pedestrians into flâneurs (or for a woman, flâneuse), a word you will see in the works of French poet Charles Pierre Baudelaire when describing Paris.
The happiness of meeting someone after a very long time.
One of the most useful words you’ll commonly hear is voila, literally meaning ‘there it is’, while you can use voici for ‘here it is’.
A verb to describe making the most of a situation.
‘To yoghurt’ may be the literal translation but it refers to the act of talking in another language – and not very well – or using fake words. Its common usage is to refer to something that appears an imitation or insincere, such as someone pretending to know the words of a song. If you see a native French fudging their way through an English tune, it would be an attempt ‘to sing through yogurt’, or chanter en yaourt.
You’re so crazy you’ve been hit on the head! This word is hybrid blend of frapper (to hit) and dingue (crazy).
Are you an oddball or eccentric person? Or a scatterbrain who engages in loufoquerie (craziness)? This is an adjective that describes you.
Chaos, confusion, pandémonium; anything that causes a general disturbance, taken from the Biblical Hebrew word to describe the formless earth state before God.
Râler is somewhere in between whining and complaining but the French have developed it into an elegant pastime, where râler is more how the French continually express their ongoing dissatisfaction with the world.
‘Retrouvailles’ is the French happiness of meeting a friend, while in Dutch meeting a good friend would be ‘gezellig’.
If you fake puff or don’t take a lungful of a cigarette, that would be the literal translation of ‘crapoter’ – but you would use it to refer to a pretender or fake person.
Dutch words that English doesn’t have
There might not be an English-word equivalent but uitbuiken is a universal act; it means to sit back and let your belly out – literally ‘out-bellying’ – after a long meal to help digestion.
The feeling of excitement before an event is translated literally as ‘pre-fun’.
This is a word you might hear from Dutch doctors that advocate the body’s natural healing ability. Uitzieken translates to ‘sick it out’ and essentially means waiting out an illness and taking it easy until you recover.
This is a hearty expression of satisfaction after a job well done or a hard day, for example, removing your shoes or sitting down for the first time in hours.
A word that lies at the heart of Dutch culture, gezellig has no direct translation in English but is basically used to describe anything that evokes feelings of coziness, enjoyment or feel-good vibes. Some might say ‘conviviality’ comes close, in the way of having a ‘jolly time’, but hè gezellig rolls off the tongue more often than ‘how convivial’.
To paint an image, one might say, “Gezellig zat ik daar met een goed boek aan het vuurtje,” or, “I sat gezellig by the fire with a good book.” It can also be used to describe a nice home, a fun event, a beautiful sunset or a good conversation with friends. Just make you’re not caught out for being ‘un-gezellig’, like texting while someone’s talking.
The act of going for a walk and getting some fresh air, translated literally as ‘to blow out’.
Modern daters might find this word useful, as the Dutch have a dedicated word for cancelling plans over the phone, literally translated as ‘off-calling’, and different to cancelling a subscription (afzeggen) or cancelling plans in general (afzeggen).
The Dutch take pride in toting tolerance as a cultural trait, and certainly the county’s drug and prostitution laws are more lenient than some of its neighbours. Gedogen, then, is to take a lenient stance or turn a blind eye to something, like the Netherlands’ drugs gedoog policy.
This word in itself can be roughly translated into tasty, except that it can be applied to almost anything, from having a nice body to nice conversation. It has filtered into many Dutch phrases; ga lekker zitten means to make yourself comfortable, or lekker puh is what children might say when they’re one up, as in ‘so there’ or ‘serves you right’. A modern twist takes it further: Wearing orange? Dat vind ik wel lekker (Like it).
What can’t be translated into English, however, is the accompanying gesture: when you’ve got a mouthful of something delicious, wave your hand across your cheek and smile; everyone will understand that what you’re eating is, indeed, incredibly tasty, or lekker.
Translated literally to ‘polarbearing’, if that was a word, IJsberen is the verb to pace around in deep thought. The word is a useful one, although the imagery of pacing captive polar bears, reportedly the inspiration for this word, is a sad one.