Charming words: even if they are “foreign”

I love writing, but I dislike bombastic. My readers’ focus should be what I am saying and how well I am saying it, but they shouldn’t be consulting Merriam-Webster or Oxford to confirm that I am writing English.

That doesn’t mean a writer eschews all words that may have some readers scrambling for their dictionaries. Every so often, the writer thinks of a word that is less used, but is superbly apt for her context. One word uniquely tailored to convey her intended meaning; one word that can be replaced by no other word or set of words.

Take for example the word mellifluous, meaning sweet sounding. I am no Merriam-Webster or Oxford, but I dare say there is no word or phrase that can effectively substitute for mellifluous. It is a word that comes with a phonetic bonus: mellifluous sounds mellifluous. It leaves a pleasant after taste.

Or consider the word languor, meaning listlessness. Just pronounce that word to yourself a couple of times, with relish, with languor. Languorous said with languor feels languorous, right?

How do you like the word rapt? Such a small word, four characters and one syllable. But think of it: when you think of someone rapt in a Beethoven symphony, don’t you conjure up a mental image of that someone wrapped up in that music? Wrapped, and therefore, rapt?

I just love such words, whether of English or “foreign” origin.

In an earlier post, I had talked about words of this type. This post resumes where that post left off.

Again, I have targeted words that convey deep meaning. And again, I have extracted all words here and their definitions from

Here is a selection of words that should have you rapt. Some of them are mellifluous, too.

gibigianna , Italian

(n.) the play of light reflected from water or a mirror; a sunlit area; figuratively, a woman who flaunts her charms or who wishes to dazzle you with her elegance



Now, I like that. I really do. All of us have had experience with light reflected from water; it can dazzle, make you shield your eyes and yet seduce, cause you to look again. Kind of like some samples I know of the figurative version of gibigianna.

rantipole , English

(n.) a wild, reckless young person
(v.) to be wild and reckless
(adj.) wild and reckless

Look at that. I see rant in rantipole, I also see anti. Rather appropriate, given the definitions. Phonetically strong, the way wild and reckless should be.

mbuki-mvuki , em-‘bU-kE-em-‘vU-kE, Bantu

(v.) (phr.) to shed one’s clothing spontaneously and dance naked in joy

mbuki mvuki

mbuki mvuki

Delicious. That is the only way I can describe this phrase. It brings back memories of childhood, of rain, of rebellion and yet, of joie de vivre (couldn’t resist sneaking that “foreign” phrase in). Maybe I will mbuki-mvuki if I ever get on the NYT bestseller list. As a matter of fact, I would recommend that course of action for all authors. It should be cathartic.

smultronställe , smUl-tron-‘stel-e, Swedish

(n.) lit. “place of wild strawberries”; a special place discovered, treasured, returned to for solace and relaxation; a personal idyll free from stress or sadness

Kind of guttural, as you could expect of a word from a language of North Germanic origin—you could say the word is the phonetic antithesis of its meaning. “A special place free from stress or sadness?” Once I am on the NYTBL, I will go searching: somewhere in the world my smultronställe surely exists. If I am out after three books and three strikes, I will go searching, anyway.

koyaanisqatsi , koy-an-Es-kot-sA, Hopi

(n.) nature out of balance; a way of life so unbalanced that you need a new way



Soft phonetics are involved here, I think, given that Hopi is derived from the autonym Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, meaning peaceful little ones. Wikipedia says,

To be Hopi is to strive toward this concept, which involves a state of total reverence and respect for all things, to be at peace with these things, and to live in accordance with the instructions of Maasaw, the Creator or Caretaker of Earth. The Hopi observe their traditional ceremonies for the benefit of the entire world.

Good for the Hopis. I, too, could do with a cure for koyaanisqatsi.

nazlanmak , nahz-lahn-mahk, Turkish

(v.) pretending reluctance or indifference when you are actually willing or eager; saying no and meaning yes

Surely, all of us have nazlanmaked at various points of our lives, especially during our formative years? It is a word with a discordant phonetic structure, probably reflective of its implications by definition.

And … dare I say it? Would the later part of the definition specifically have ladies in mind?

mono no aware , | mO-nO nO a-wa-rA, Japanese

(n.) (phr.) lit. “the pathos of things”; the gentle wistfulness at the transience of things and the awareness of the sadness of existence

mono no aware

mono no aware

Curious. I wonder if the Japanese term mono no aware was derived from the English words, “Men are not aware.” If so, I concur. Not aware of what? Your guess is as good as mine.

Well, that wraps it up for this edition of exotic words I think belong in an English author’s repertoire. You got any words you think are worthy of our consideration, please add them in the comments.

Charming words: even if they are “foreign”

by Venkatesh Iyer time to read: 4 min