Wordless Concepts: 10 Foreign Words to Describe People

Interesting expressions without an English equivalent

Elvira Yuzbay
6 min readJul 1, 2022


Photo by 13on on Unsplash

The captivating diversity of our world takes on many forms — from food, clothes, appearances, customs and traditions to beliefs, moral values and language.

Since language is an inseparable part of our cognition and is deeply rooted in our perception of our surroundings, the differences and peculiarities we find within languages are simply reflections of our culture, past and present.

Even though English is one of the richest languages, there are still foreign words that cannot be easily translated into it since some of them are closely tied to national identity, history, beliefs and a specific way of living.

Luftmensch (German)

This German word of Yiddish origin can be literally translated as ‘air person’. The word changed its meaning throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, reflecting the life of the Jewish community.

Due to difficult conditions and low earnings during the 19th century, most Jews devised ways to get rich, so the term Luftmensch could rightly be used for them. Because the ideas they came up with were, in reality, difficult to realize or, in other words, “dispersed in the air” — without any potential to bring the person the necessary means of subsistence.

A few decades later, during the Nazi period, this word took on a slightly different meaning. As Nazism birthed an ideology of a biologically superior race related to one’s roots, the expression was used to refer to the Jews as homeless people. People who constantly moved, and who had no roots anywhere and, as such, did not belong anywhere.

Today, the word bears a slightly different meaning. Luftmensch is a person dreaming of unrealistic goals. A reflective spirit yearning for another reality. A person who would be more interested in literature, music, and the arts than in material achievement as defined by capitalism and traditions. Hence, they tend to have trouble earning a living.

Odnolyub (Russian)

Odnoylyub (m.) or odnolyubka (f.), literally translated as ‘one to love’, denotes a person who loves and is faithful to only one…



Elvira Yuzbay

Translator, educator and artist with many interests. Exploring, embracing, and growing. 🌻