Book Love

8 Strange + Lovely Words from Around the World

Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World is a book full of words that surprise, delight, and enamor. Compiled by Yee-Lum Mak (who cites the Portuguese word saudade as her first encounter with other-worldly terms), the words are paired with illustrations by Kelsey Garrity-Riley that convey similar feelings of wonder and nostalgia.

There are terms for the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees; what a person pretends to believe to satisfy society’s demands; the freedom of not being watched.

These words are strange not in the sense that they are alien or bizarre, but strange in the sense that they are curious and wonderful. They reflect our universal humanness, and the attempt to encapsulate certain feelings in a single word to convey our shared experiences.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Resfeber (noun, c, Swedish)

the restless race of the traveler’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together; a “travel fever” that can manifest as an illness

Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World

Hiraeth (noun, m, Welsh)

a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past

Nemophilist (noun, English)

a haunter of the woods; one who loves the forest and its beauty and solitude

Mbuki-mvuki (verb phrase, Bantu)

to shed one’s clothing spontaneously and dance naked in celebration

Other-Wordly Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World

Nefelibata (noun, m+f, Spanish and Portuguese)

lit. “cloud-walker”; one who lives in the clouds of their own imagination or dreams, or one who does not obey the conventions of society, literature, or art

Tsundoku (noun, Japanese)

buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands

Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World

Nunchi (noun, Korean)

the subtle art of evaluating others’ moods from their unspoken communications and knowing what not to say in a certain social situation

Inglenook (noun, English)

a close, intimate corner by a fireplace where people gather for warmth; from ingle, a hearth (Scots)

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Do you have a favorite unique word of your own? Share it in the comments!

For more of these lovely words paired with equally dreamy illustrations, be sure to check out Other-Wordly today.

Other-Wordly book

Illustrations by Kelsey Garrity Riley, @kelseygarrityriley on Instagram

Jenna Homen

Jenna Homen

Content and Community Manager at Chronicle Books. When she's logged off, she can be found painting, cooking, camping, or petting her dog Harley. You can follow her on Twitter at @jn_na.
Jenna Homen



  • Nicole January 31, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    Doki doki suru – Japanese. Literally “makes the heart beat faster.” Both nervous and excited, perhaps a little afraid, like when you’re about to learn to scuba dive or go on a first date with someone you like.


  • Claire Bobrow January 31, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    Weird, wonderful words. Great idea for a book – I look forward to reading it!


  • Isabelle February 1, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’. It also means ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’.


  • Stephanie June 3, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    What books are the images from? I would like to look for them. They aren’t very cute!

    Especially the book store and French girl ones!


  • Alison Johnson June 5, 2017 at 7:40 am

    My only wish is that they had put how to pronounce the words in the book. This seems like a pretty big oversight and really detracted from the experience of reading about these fabulous words.


  • JoAn March 15, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Assigning human characteristics and understanding to animals such as our pets … like you do with your cats!


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