untranslatable words

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An uncomplete list of single words for concepts for which other languages paraphrase.

aka words "untranslatable" to other languages

Some comments are in Russian.

  • The back part of the knee
    • Russian has it. "подколенок". "подколенок - задняя сторона колена, подколенная впадина. Ударить ногой в подколенок"
  • Finnish: lagom & sisu ≈ keep calm & carry on
    • lagom — шведское слово, обозначающее «точно в меру, ни больше, ни меньше»
    • sisu — финское слово, обозначающее «упорство и волю к совершению дела вне зависимости от условий»
    • Оба слова несут положительную эмоциональную окраску и считаются «непереводимыми на другие языки напрямую в достаточной степени точно»
    • du kan inte direkt översätta «lagom» lagom precis.
    • Lagom (шведский) — "не слишком много, не слишком мало, а так, чтобы в самый раз".
    • переводится на русский как "ваккурат", прямо вот так, без пробела. Пример: "Нужно построить ваккурат."
  • Tatar: тауфиклы
    • обозначает положительную характеристику человека. Я бы перевел как "обладающий всеми (татарскими) добродетелями" (трудолюбие, смышлённость, старательность, честность, смекалка, доброта...)
  • Filipino: gigil
    • trembling or gritting of the teeth in response to a situation that overwhelms your self-control
    • When a Filipina sees a baby that's so cute, she gets so overwhelmed that she wants to pinch the baby's cheeks and has a hard time controlling herself. What she's experiencing is called panggigigil.
    • Nakakagigil talaga ang bata.
    • That child is so frickin' cute!
    • (So cute I have to grit my teeth to keep myself from pinching his cheeks off.)
    • Nakakagigil ka.
    • You're so frickin' cute I can't help myself.
    • It is not necessarily cuteness that provokes this response. Sometimes, when you get frustrated with someone, you can have the gigil reaction to the person too.
    • Nanggigigil.
    • Having a hard time controlling oneself because of cuteness, frustration etc.
    • Nanggigigil ako.
    • I am having a hard time controlling myself because of cuteness, etc.
    • This is one ‘hard’ Tagalog word for translation. One guy more or less ‘explained/defined’ gigil as this: ‘the irresistible urge to pinch someone because the object/person is well liked/loved”. Gah - que haba!!! But, that made sense, doesn’t it?
    • The fact that this word exists in Filipino must mean that the Philippines are filled with an abundance of cute things, things so cute you can barely maintain your sanity as they look up at you with big doe eyes and a quivering lip. All I can say is finally; finally there is a word that expresses my previously indescribable urge to squeeze and love on something until it dies. I’m surprised we don’t have a word for this - I can’t count the amount of times I’ve overheard things such as, “OMG! That puppy is so cute, I just want to hold it, and kiss it, and love it until it explodes …”, and what about those uncomfortable moments when a family member pinches your cheek, leaving a red welt of disgrace - this happens often enough that it warrants a word in every language, I think.
    • prami batci djica / djica lo ka prami batci / pambatydji Gigil (тагальский, Филлипины) — непреодолимое желание ущипнуть или укусить своего любимого, вызванное переизбытком чувств.
    • Gigil (pronounced Gheegle; Filipino): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute
    • Gigil (тагальский, Филлипины) — непреодолимое желание ущипнуть или укусить своего любимого, вызванное переизбытком чувств.
  • litost
    • "a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery" (and let us not forget the plaintive wailing of a dog that goes with that)
    • The Czech author Milan Kundera doesn't understand how non-Czech languages could possibly do without an equivalent to the Czech word "litost," to which an English speaker sort of just shrugs when he/she hears the word translated as "a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery."
    • Do not take him too seriously. This is only one of possible meanings, and the more precise word for it would be rather "sebelítost", self-pity. "Lítost" simply means regret, pity or sorrow (there is a German cognate "Leid"); it

is not a specialised word for cry in one's beer.

  • prozvonit
    • A better candidate for a single word for a concept for which other languages paraphrase could be "prozvonit" - literally "to ring trough", with the meaning "to give a missed call", "to call someone but only let it ring once so that the other person will call you back". I wonder whether other languages have single word for this concept.
    • In Braz. Portuguese, an appropriate way of saying this could be "só dar um toque" or, more precisely, "só dar um toque para ligar de volta".
    • English: to missed-call someone, to prank someone. Each is a single word (or has a decent claim to being taken as such).
    • German: "(jemanden) anklingeln" (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anklingeln). It's "klingeln" (to ring) with the prefix "an-". German verbal prefixes are only semi-transparent, but this is a productive example.
    • To prank or prank-call someone doesn't have the same meaning (it's done as a (annoying) joke, while what A. da Mek is talking about calling someone to get them to call you again, or at least to remind them of some event –the callee has usually agreed with the caller on the meaning of that call, not so in a prank call–), and I've never seen the term "missed call" used as a verb. I *have* seen the verb "to calldrop" though, with the meaning intended.
    • In Italian there is the noun "squillo" which in the context of phones means "a phone call where the phone is only allowed to ring once, to convey a predefined message". It is usually used in the expression "Fare uno squillo (a qualcuno)", literally "Give (somebody) a ring". The meaning is not just "call me back", from what I've heard cellphone-equipped teenagers had developed a complex etiquette of squilli used in their social relationships (I believe that

one of the meanings was "I'm thinking about you, but I don't have anything to say worth calling").

    • The "call me back" message was implied when calling parents and other older people.
    • Nowadays the teenagers probably just chat on facebook with their smartphones, but adults still use squilli by agreeing on a specific message in advance.
    • Google "missed-call me" and "prank me" (with the inverted commas) and you'll see I'm right about both.
    • I know I did when I first read you as a prank/crank call for me, as Christophe points out, involves "Is your refrigerator running?" or "Do you have Sir Walter Raleigh in a can?" (nyuk, nyuk), but Wikipedia confirms your usage. Who knew? Right Pondian? YAEUT anyone? ;)
  • saudade - nostalgie
    • "a feeling of wistful longing for something one once knew and which might never return"
    • As you said this, I'm encouraged to say that I feel that the Portuguese word "saudade" is much more generic than “a feeling of wistful longing for something one once knew and which might never return” (as also cited in the original message). It would be very natural for me to call my wife now an say "Tô com saudade! Vamos comer uma pizza?!" ("I miss you! Let's eat a pizza?!"). But I'm talking about Brazil; I don't know about Portugal, Angola, etc. **Ah, and, at least nowadays, the word "nostalgia" is stronger than "saudade" in Brazil. I think that the definition “a feeling of wistful

longing for something one once knew and which might never return” fits "nostalgia" better than "saudade". As the meaning of "saudade" is wider, it can mean exactly the same as "nostalgia" or something more unexceptional as " I miss you".

    • BTW, the Cape Verdean song "Sodade" (same word as "saudade") is really very nostalgic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_7BV-IuyKI
    • Although I don't know how strong is "I miss you" for anglophones; do you say it to someone you saw in the breakfast and want to see in the dinner again?
    • Only if you're lovesick! :)
  • SUDDEN UNDERSTANDING
    • Not sure this is quite relevant, but some Kash "accidental" verb forms (with /caka-/ prefix) might qualify, e.g. from tikas 'to see' we get cakatikas basically "overcome with seeing"-- but with a dative (animate) subj. it means to have a sudden understanding of something, a sudden insight; while with a nominative subject it means 'to appear suddenly, to pop into view (esp. if inopportunely)', and quite a few others that translate into Engl. phrases or idioms.
    • You can have such nonce-forms as "cakacika" (cika (colloq.) = TV) 'someone who watches altogether too much TV), or "caka+Number" to refer to someone obsessed with that number.
  • PHANARA
    • How many of us have such words in our conlangs? In Old Albic, I at least have phanara, an animate noun derived from the verb phana 'to shape' (hence also, phanas 'a shape'), which may be translated as 'gestalt' or 'morphic field'. A phanara is an entity that governs the shape of a particular object by guiding and informing the phaneri of its parts. Phaneri resonate with each other, especially ones of a similar kind, and of course with those of the parts they inform.
    • The whole universe is a huge hierarchy of nested phaneri, up to Éa ('The One') which encloses and informs the entire universe, and down to imperceptibly small elementary phaneri that make up everything (and can be identified, from a modern physics viewpoint, with the probability fields of fundamental particles in quantum mechanics).
    • The soul (nâra) of a living being is also a phanara; magic (léachvaras 'spirit-work') operates by getting one's own soul into resonance with the phanara of a target and in-forming it in order to achieve a particular event.
      • Very nice. Not dissimilar to Kash belief that something of the Creator resides in all things in their world (hence their belief in the Spirits of things).
  • poshlost’
    • Poshlost or Poshlost’ (Russian пошлость) is a word that has been defined as "petty evil or self-satisfied vulgarity" (Alexandrov 1991, p. 106); there is no single English translation. At more length Boym (1994, p. 41) explains: Poshlost' is the Russian version of banality, with a characteristic national flavoring of metaphysics and high morality, and a peculiar conjunction of the sexual and the spiritual. This one word encompasses triviality, vulgarity, sexual promiscuity, and a lack of spirituality. The war against poshlost' was a cultural obsession of the Russian and Soviet intelligentsia from the 1860s to 1960s.
  • חוצפה (chucpe) (иврит) — шокирующее, циничное и наглое поведение, которое формально неоспоримо. Ну, скажем, как если бы ребенок замочил обоих своих родителей, а теперь просит судью о снисхождении, потому что остался сиротой. darsi
  • 侘寂 (Wabi–Sabi) (японский) — возможность увидеть нечто прекрасное в несовершенстве. Например, в трещине на Царе–Колоколе, или в отсутствии рук и головы у статуи Ники Самофракийской.
  • Oka (язык ндонга, Нигерия) — затрудненное мочеиспускание, вызванное тем, что объелся лягушек, прежде, чем начался сезон дождей.
  • schadenfreude, as Lisa Simspon said.
    • злорадство, радость в печали, радость оттого когда кому–то плохо…
  • die Kniekehle (German)
    • Ни в одном языке мира нет названия оборотной стороны коленки.

Поэтому простреленная коленка — самое страшное наказание: как ты объяснишь врачу, что пуля прошла коленку и вышла… вышла… где?

  • der Pendler (German) — человек, вынужденный регулярно совершать длительные поездки на работу за пределы своего постоянного места жительства.
    • замкадыш.
  • Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut
  • Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude
  • Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist
  • Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind. バックシャン (bakku-shan) (японский) - когда барышня со спины кажется привлекательной, а при виде ее лица тебе становится страшно. В общем, нечто вроде: "эх, такую задницу испортила!"
  • Cafune (Brazilian Portuguese) – tenderly finger the hair of a person you love.Cafune (бразильский португальский) - нежно проводить пальцами по волосам того, кого ты любишь.
  • Desenrascanco (Portuguese) – possibility to get out of the woods without having either no plan, or no possibilities. Desenrascanço (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it). Desenrascanco (португальский) — возможность выпутаться из затруднений, не имея для этого ни продуманного решения, ни вообще каких–либо возможностей. Самый приблизительный аналог — "родиться в рубашке", но это все равно совсем не то. это называется "сухим из воды". elias_kchv: вот причем простое гугленье показывает, что, во–первых, оно пишется desenrascanço, если уж автор статьи так любит понтануться, а во–вторых, описание просто "способность выхоходить из трудных ситуаций". enrascada — трудная ситуация. чего тут сложного и не имеющего аналогов, не совсем понятно.
  • Duende (Spanish): a climactic show of spirit in a performance or work of art, which might be fulfilled in flamenco dancing, or bull-fighting, etc.
  • Fond de l’air (French) – literary translation is “air bottom”. But in fact this expression means the following: it is summer and sun is shining outside, and you should wear some light clothes, but in fact the weather is very cold. Not just cold, but extremely cold. Fond de l’air (французский) - дословно переводится как "дно воздуха". Выражение означает следующее: на улице лето и светит солнце, и вроде бы нужно одеться легко, но на самом деле - очень холодно. Не просто холодно, а прямо до дрожи.
  • Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love
  • Glaswen (уэльский) - неискренняя улыбка: когда человек улыбается, а ему совсем невесело.
  • Guanxi (Mandarin): in traditional Chinese society, you would build up good guanxi by giving gifts to people, taking them to dinner, or doing them a favor, but you can also use up your gianxi by asking for a favor to be repaid
  • Iktsuarpok (Inuit language) – just imagine that you wait somebody to come around and this somebody is not coming and you start to look in the window, open the door to see the guest coming. Something like that… Iktsuarpok (язык инуитов) - представьте, что вы у себя дома кого-то ждете, а этот кто-то не идет и не идет, и вот вы начинаете выглядывать в окно, выбегать за дверь, чтобы посмотреть, не идет ли гость.
  • Ilunga (Tshiluba, Congo): A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time. Ilunga (южно-африканское Конго) - человек, который может забыть и простить в первый раз, снисходительно отнестись во второй, но в третий раз, если ты его подставишь, надерет тебе задницу.
  • Kaelling (датский) - видели женщин, которые стоят во дворе (ресторане, парке, супермаркете) и орут, как подорванные, на собственных детей? Ну, датчане называют их именно так.
  • Koyaanisqatsi (язык индейцев Хопи, США) - "природа, потерявшая баланс и утратившая гармонию" или "стиль жизни, настолько сумасшедший, что это противоречит самой природе". Наилучшее описание жизни современного человека в мегаполисе.
  • Kummerspeck (немецкий) - дословно переводится, как "бекон горя". Вообще же обозначает действие, когда вы начинаете неумеренно есть все подряд, чтобы заглушить свою депрессию.
  • L’esprit de l’escalier (French): usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it. L’esprit d’escalier (французский) - чувство, которое испытываешь после разговора, когда мог бы сказать многое, а вспомнил или удачно сформулировал только сейчас. В общем, когда только после разговора понимаешь, как именно нужно было ответить. Дословно же переводится, как "дух лестницы".
  • Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan): A look between two people that suggests an unspoken, shared desire. Mamihlapinatapai (яганский, язык кочевых племен Огненной Земли) - невербальное взаимопонимание, когда люди обмениваются взглядом и осознают, что оба хотят одного и того же.
  • Manja (Malay): “to pamper”, it describes gooey, childlike and coquettish behavior by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men. “His girlfriend is a damn manja. Hearing her speak can cause diabetes.”
  • Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee; Greek): Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing
  • Myötähäpeä (Finnish) – when somebody does something stupid and it is you who are ashamed of it. Myötähäpeä (финский) - когда кто-то что-то сделал дурацкое, а стыдно за это почему-то вам.
  • Nakakahinayang (тагальский, Филлипины) - чувство сожаления, которое испытываешь от того, что не смог воспользоваться ситуацией, или предоставленными возможностями, потому что побоялся рискнуть, а у кого-то все получилось, как надо.
  • Nunchi (Korean): the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood. In Western culture, nunchi could be described as the concept of emotional intelligence. Knowing what to say or do, or what not to say or do, in a given situation. A socially clumsy person can be described as ‘nunchi eoptta’, meaning “absent of nunchi”
  • Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation
  • Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions
  • Rwhe (Tsonga language, Bantu diversity, South Africa) – fall down drunk and naked on the floor and fall asleep. Rwhe (язык тсонга, разновидность банту, Южная Африка) - упасть пьяным и голым на полу и заснуть.
  • Sgiomlaireachd (гэльский шотландский) - раздражение, которые вызывают люди, отвлекающие тебя от еды, когда ты чертовски голоден.
  • Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky
  • Taarradhin (Arabic): implies a happy solution for everyone, or “I win. You win.” It’s a way of reconciling without anyone losing face. Arabic has no word for “compromise,” in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement
  • Tartle (Scottish) – panic state when you are supposed to introduce a person to someone, but you cannot remember his/her name. Tartle (шотландский) - паническое состояние, когда вы должны познакомить с кем-то человека, а имя его вспомнить не можете.Tatemae and Honne (Japanese): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively
  • Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island): to borrow objects one by one from a neighbor’s house until there is nothing left. Tingo (паскуальский, Океания) - брать взаймы у друга деньги или вещи, пока у того вообще ничего не останется, кроме голых стен.
  • Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods
  • Yoko meshi (Japanese): literally ‘a meal eaten sideways,’ referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language
  • Yuputka (Ulvo language, Honduras and Nicaragua Indians) – the feeling when you walk along the forest and you feel that somebody touches your skin. For example, ghosts…Yuputka (язык ульва, индейцев Гондураса и Никарагуа) - ощущение, когда идешь по лесу, и тебе кажется, что к твоей коже кто-то прикасается. Например, призраки.
  • Is any word untranslatable? There are some fantastic words that would make welcome additions to English: who among us hasn't experienced tsundoku, for example, the Japanese word for "the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books". cursilería in Spanish is a noun derived from the adjective cursi, which means twee, naff, tacky, corny etc. This can be rendered as tacky waffle but could also be translated in many other ways in different phrases. And the magnificent phrase cursi como un repollo con lazo translates as twee as a cabbage with a ribbon. The danger with such untranslatable words is that it's tempting to infer general cultural characteristics from them, to assume for example that because the Japanese have a word for the aforementioned variety of book abandonment they must all be serial abandoners, or that the Spanish are world leaders in tackiness. All the same, it's interesting to reflect on what these words can show us about the practice of translation and its role in communication between cultures. No two languages map neatly on to one another with direct correspondences between words. Gregory Rabassa, translator of many great Latin American writers, points out in his memoir "If This Be Treason", "It seems easy to match like words (dog/cão) and proceed on. What dog connotes for me, however, is probably different from what cão suggests for António Lobo Antunes, although in common usage he must of course be satisfied with cão as I must be with dog."
  • hygge
  • Gemütlichkeit
  • Imprint
  • kniekehle. Ни в одном языке мира нет названия оборотной стороны коленки. Поэтому простреленная коленка — самое страшное наказание: как ты объяснишь врачу, что пуля прошла коленку и вышла… вышла… где? Antitanic: die Kniekehle (нем)

Emotions

  • Sonder: The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.
  • Opia: The ambiguous intensity of Looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.
  • Monachopsis: The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.
  • Énouement: The bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.
  • Vellichor: The strange wistfulness of used bookshops.
  • Rubatosis: The unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.
  • Kenopsia: The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.
  • Mauerbauertraurigkeit: The inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like.
  • Jouska: A hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head.
  • Chrysalism: The amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.
  • Vemödalen: The frustration of photographic something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist.
  • Anecdoche: A conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening
  • Ellipsism: A sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out.
  • Kuebiko: A state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence.
  • Lachesism: The desire to be struck by disaster – to survive a plane crash, or to lose everything in a fire.
  • Exulansis: The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.
  • Adronitis: Frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone.
  • Rückkehrunruhe: The feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness.
  • Nodus Tollens: The realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.
  • Onism: The frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time.
  • Liberosis: The desire to care less about things.
  • Altschmerz: Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same boring flaws and anxieties that you’ve been gnawing on for years.
  • Occhiolism: The awareness of the smallness of your perspective.

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