Uniquely helpful words that only exist in other languages
Welcome to the first in our series of Untranslatable Words.
Language, culture and history are forever locked in a dance, each one relying on the other for meaning and direction. Even if two words in two languages refer to the same thing, connotations come into play and the grey area between word and meaning widens. That’s because, while words are just words, their meanings tell us about our values, emotions and relationships.
In celebration of that grey area that reminds us to be appreciative of our differences, here are ten words from around the world that have no clear and concise translation to English.
1. Schnapsidee (German) strong-alcoholic-drink-idea
When drunk, having what you think is a great idea, only to sober up and realise that it was in fact, not great at all.
2. Sobremesa (Spanish) on-the-table
A conversation at the dinner table after eating.
3. Bilita Mpash (Bantu) lingering-bliss-dream
To have a really good dream, like a nightmare except it’s impeccably good.
4. Pochemuchka (Russian почемучка) why-boy-why-girl
A curious child who is constantly asking questions, typically “why’ questions.
5. Pana po’o (Hawaiian) shoot-the-head
Scratching your head to remember something you have forgotten.
6. Schadenfreude (German) damage-joy
Feeling joy at another person’s pain.
7. Tartle (Scottish) Ed: there’s no suitable collection of English words
A moment of hesitation when meeting someone, because you can’t remember their name. Specifically the moment of hesitation and nothing else.
8. Greng Jai (Thai) awe-heart
Being aware of other people’s feelings and showing politeness, respect and consideration towards them.
9. Sprezzatura (Italian) Ed: literal translation is contempt
Effortless effort, leisurely masterfulness. A person who puts a lot of thought into their outfit, yet it presents as effortless style.
10. Hiraeth (Welsh) deep longing
Deep homesickness, an intense longing for a place long gone, or even a place you haven’t visited yet.
Finally, here’s a video treat from the TED Conference in 2019 featuring volunteer TED Talk Translators from around the world reciting some untranslatable words of their own.
1. Unstranslatable Words
4. Bilita Mpash
6. Pana Po'o
9. Greng Jai
12. TED Translators Video: 12 Untranslatable Words from Around the World