Valentine Vocab: Ways to Say “I Love You” in Different Languages

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Love might be all we need, but when it comes to expressing all things related to fondness, tenderness and devotion, a multilingual dictionary might be a necessity too. Different languages around the world include plenty of fun phrases, idioms and words to communicate feelings of affection. While some have similar English equivalents, others are romantic words that don’t exist in English — even though they’re so effective at capturing different emotions that they probably should. Join us for a fun look at the unique ways couples all over the globe express their love, admiration and longing for each other.  

Fateful Love in Japan

Centuries ago, the concept of arranged marriage, or “omiai,” was common in Japan. While this form of matchmaking has largely fizzled out today, marriage is still a serious business, and it’s estimated that around 5% of Japanese people still opt to have their partners chosen for them. 

This may be why the concept of “love at first sight” takes a cosmically preordained turn — one that’s evident in the phrase “koi no yokan.” It’s difficult to translate, but describes the feeling that, upon first meeting someone, you realize you’re destined to fall in love with them. When you think about it, there’s a certain romance in recognizing the draw of fate, but without the wishful thinking that tends to accompany love at first sight. 

French Phrases of Fondness

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It’s hard to beat the French reputation for romance. So, it probably comes as no surprise that there are plenty of French terms for love that have yet to find their way into common English usage. Consider, for instance, “la douleur exquise,” which means “the exquisite pain.” The phrase refers not to the everyday pain of stubbing your toe but to the longing of a lover for someone they’ll never have. 

Perhaps you’ve experienced the magic of “coup de foudre,” which means “a flash of lighting” or “a thunderbolt.” French people often use the phrase in a poetic sense to indicate intense love at first sight. This is really a figurative meaning, too; if you’re watching French news on TV, you might actually hear the meteorologist use this phrase when a storm is in the forecast.

Should you be lucky enough to grow closer to the object of your affection, you might describe it in English by saying the two of you have “chemistry.” But of course, French takes the concept to the next level with the phrase “Avoir des atomes crochus,” which means that two lovers “have locked atoms.” 

Dutch Pillow Talk

Want to get to know your significant other better this Valentine’s Day? Consider inviting them over for a little “kweesten.” The term is sort of like a Dutch version of “Netflix and chill” and means “to allow a lover access to one’s bed for chitchat.” While the word’s origins are unknown, its similarity to “questing” could indicate the desire to really get to know a person through pillow talk. 

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Arabic’s Array of Love Words

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Modern-day Arabic is the incarnation of a 1,500-year-old language that’s influenced an array of other tongues, including English. Considering that quite a few ancient Arabic-speaking writers are known for drafting epic poetry and romantic tales, it’s not surprising that the language tends to be incredibly precise when describing love in its many different forms. 

In fact, Arabic has around 14 different words for the various stages of love. Among them, you’ll find “Al-Hawa,” which describes initial attraction; “Al-Shaghaf,” or “passion”; and “Al-Kholla,” which describes a well-developed love that’s ingrained deeply into the heart.

The Wisdom of Yiddish Romance

Never let it be said that the Yiddish language isn’t packed with wisdom. After all, it includes the phrase, “Di liebe is zees, nor zi iz gut mit broyt,” which translates to “Love is good, but it’s better with bread.”

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The phrase seems to suggest that, despite what John Lennon may tell you, love is not necessarily all you need. On the surface, it may serve as a cautionary expression that a person cannot live on love alone — despite how it sometimes feels, it’s not enough to sustain us. However, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover that ancient Jewish texts used bread as a metaphor for the things that lovers do in the nighttime. Either way, it teaches the importance of tending to your lover’s needs. Better with “bread,” indeed.

Ethiopia’s Agriculturally Amorous Idioms

Ethiopia is known worldwide for its amazing coffee, a fact that’s resulted in fun Ethiopian proverbs such as “Love and a cup of coffee taste best when hot.” A large percentage of Ethiopia’s population is part of the country’s thriving farming community, which makes for plenty of other fun agricultural metaphors.

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Ready for another gem? “When one is in love, a cliff becomes a meadow.” Many Ethiopians are deeply connected to nature thanks to their agricultural lifestyle, so it makes sense to equate something as important as love with the Earth that sustains them. 

Romantic Words and Concepts That Don’t Exist in English

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As you can see, countries all over the world have fun words and phrases that are relatively easy to translate. Others, however, are a bit trickier because they cover concepts that we don’t (but should) have words for in English.

Cafuné: This Brazilian-Portuguese word refers to the feeling of running your fingers through a loved one’s hair. (Yes, it can also apply to pets!)

Zweisamkeit: You know how sometimes when you’re really into someone, the world seems to drop away as a cocoon of intimacy makes you feel like the only two people in the world? Zweisamkeit is the German word for that sensation, and it means something like “two-solitude.” 

Manabamáte: Love sometimes brings a sudden loss of appetite, a phenomenon known as manabamáte, or “dead stomach,” in the Rapa Nui language. 

Iktsuarpok: Iktsuarpok is a brilliant Inuit word that describes that feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone you love to arrive at your house and you keep looking out the window to see if they’re outside yet.

Ya’aburnee : This Arabic word translates to “you bury me,” but it isn’t necessarily as grim as it sounds. It actually signifies the hope that you’ll die before your lover because you can’t imagine living without them.

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