How To Kiss In 9 Languages

Kissing, it seems, is a rather complicated business. Not only is there a plethora of tonsil-tennis vocabulary to learn, but there’s also a whole load of etiquette!
July 5, 2017

Let’s play a game of word association: How many words can you think of in one minute for different kinds of kisses? Ready, steady, go!

How did you do? Did you start with the word kiss at the centre of your spider diagram and brainstorm outwards, or did you imagine a spectrum of kisses from the peck to the snog?

Here are a few other words you may have come up with: to smooch, to pucker up, to make out, to neck, to pet, to suck face, to buss, to plant a smacker, to greet.

How, where and why we kiss is largely determined by the culture in which we grow up. If someone from France were to play the word association game above, la bise would have been one of the first words they jotted down. La bise denotes the act of greeting a friend or acquaintance with up to four kisses on the cheek, with numbers varying by the region of France in which you find yourself. For us English speakers, the verb “to greet” seems conspicuously out of place in the list above, and we don’t really have a word for la bise, which suggests we associate kissing less with salutatory formality and more with dance-floor romances.

With the honorable aims of broadening your cultural horizons, equipping you with essential vocabulary for your world tour of whirlwind romance and, of course, dramatically improving your word association skills, we’ve collected kissing lexicon and etiquette from nine different languages. Without further ado, let’s get started with a few cousins of the English verb to kiss.

German

  • Küssen (v), Kuss (n)

The English word kiss is related to the German word küssen by way of the Old English cyssa. It also has cognates in Dutch, Danish and Swedish. A peck on the lips would be translated as a Küsschen, where the suffix -chen turns the noun into a diminutive. At the other end of the spectrum you have the wonderfully onomatopoeic Schmatzer and Knutscher. You can also use knutschen as a verb, which would translate as to snog or to smooch. Finally, Germans don’t make out, they make around: to make out is rummachen (rum- is “around,” and -machen is “to make”).

Dutch

  • Kussen (v), Kus (n)

Another close relative of the English “kiss,” the Dutch verb and noun resemble their German counterparts. However, the Dutch commonly use the slightly more informal verb zoenen (zoen as a noun) to describe two people kissing on the dance-floor. The equivalents of the German Schmatzer and Knutscher are the equally fabulous Smakzoen and Klapzoen (lit. smack kiss and clap kiss).

Swedish

  • Att kyssa (v), Kyss (n)

You’ll find the Swedish word att kyssa in love poems, and it brings to mind roses, weddings and heartfelt farewells at airports. In fact, you’re very unlikely to give anyone besides the person you’re involved with romantically a kyss. To talk about the kiss you gave your friend on the cheek you’d use the more informal verb att pussa, and for that somewhat drunken makeout session you had last Friday at a party, you’d probably use the verb att hångla.

Spanish

  • Besar (v), Beso (n)

You’ll often hear friends bidding farewell to one another on the phone and in person with un beso. It’s very common for friends and acquaintances to greet one another with dos besos, or two kisses, starting on the right cheek and then moving to the left. The diminutive besito is frequently used, and the augmentative besazo also exists. The verbs morrear (morreo as a noun) and besuquear mean “to smooch,” although both are more commonly used with the verb dar (to give): dar un morreo (to give a snog).

Portuguese

  • Beijar (v), Beijo (n)

Like in Italian and Spanish, the Portuguese word for “to kiss” comes from the Latin basium. In Brazil it is very common for people to greet each other with kisses on the cheek, even if they’ve only just met. The amount of kisses depends on the part of the country: in São Paulo, for example, it’s one, and in Rio, it’s two. And in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, it’s three! On the phone, the word beijo is also sometimes used to replace “goodbye.”

Italian

  • Baciare (v), Bacio (n)

In Italy, relatives and friends greet each other with two kisses, or due baci on their cheeks, starting from the right. This habit is so common that in order to encourage someone to meet and greet you, they may say almeno dammi due baci! (at least give me two kisses). Teenagers use the verb limonare (lit. “to lemon”) to indicate the romantic kiss that the everyone else, surprisingly, calls the bacio alla francese (french kiss), or bacio alla fiorentina (Florence kiss).

French

  • Embrasser (v), Baiser (n)

French is often considered one of the most romantic languages, and a few romantic terms in English are prefixed by the word French: just think of the French kiss, which the Germans and Dutch refer to as a (much less ambiguous) “tongue-kiss” (Zungenkuss in German and Tongkus in Dutch).

Russian

  • Celovat (v), Potselui (n)

What is a real Russian kiss? The former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev showed the world a good example of the Russian potselui: strong and from the bottom of the heart. Russians have long considered kissing not only as a pleasant activity but also as a useful, practical one. The verb “to kiss” in Russian is celovat and has the same root as their word for “whole” (cely) and the word for “healthy” (celebny). In modern Russia, there are different types of kisses — those having to do with rituals, etiquette and, of course, romance. For instance, it is common to yell out the word Gor’ko (bitter) at weddings. The guests start to chant gorko! gorko! gorko! and the newlyweds kiss and kiss and kiss and kiss… In everyday situations, it’s typical for women to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek: potselui v sheku (поцелуй в щеку). Men may kiss too, but generally among relatives or good friends.

Polish

  • Całowac (v), Pocałunek (n)

The Polish language is particularly rich when it comes to words for kissing: there are many different types of kisses, each denoting a varying level of commitment to the object of affection. Examples include the verb całus, the nouns buzia, pocałune,całuski, buziaczki, and the all-time favorite cmok (referring to the kissing sound). But what are the differences between these? Buziak is rather informal — what a mother would say to a child: Daj buziaka mamusi! (Give mommy a kiss!). Całuski i buziaczki is often used in phone conversation: No to do zobaczenia, całuski (See you, kisses!) or in writing: Całuski i buziaczki z Włochy! (Many kisses from Italy!).

So how do you kiss in your culture? Let us know in the comments below.

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Author Headshot
Ed M. Wood
Ed M. Wood is originally from Wells, the smallest city in England, and now lives in Berlin. He studied Psychology at the University of Southampton before working as a teacher and translator in Spain, England and Germany. He then undertook a MA in Political Science in Bath, Berlin and Madrid. His main interests lie in the areas of language, culture and travel.
Ed M. Wood is originally from Wells, the smallest city in England, and now lives in Berlin. He studied Psychology at the University of Southampton before working as a teacher and translator in Spain, England and Germany. He then undertook a MA in Political Science in Bath, Berlin and Madrid. His main interests lie in the areas of language, culture and travel.

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