20 Untranslatable Words

Here is a compilation of interesting words that are untranslatable to English.  They are taken directly from: betterthanenglish.com, matadornetwork.com, and blog.maptia.com.


1. Toska (Russian)

Vladmir Nabokov describes it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”


2. Attaccabottoni (Italian)

A boring person who corners people and tells long, sad tales.


3. Jayus (Indonesian)

“A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.” (Altalang.com)


4. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)

“To go outside to check if anyone is coming.” (Altalang.com)


5. Resfeber (Swedish)

 To be jittery before undertaking a journey.


6. Kyoikumama (Japanese)

“A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement.”


7. Tartle (Scottish)

The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name. (Altalang.com)


8. Gunnen (Dutch)

To allow someone to have a positive experience, especially if that means you won’t have it (always with an element of sympathy).


9. Sabsung (Thai)

When you’re bored or have had a long day, it’s the thing that brings you back to life or livens up your day. Whatever it is that makes you happy to be alive.


10. Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese)

“The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.” (Altalang.com)


11. Torschlusspanik (German)

Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.” (Altalang.com)


12. Wabi-Sabi (Japanese)

Much has been written on this Japanese concept, but in a sentence, one might be able to understand it as “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.” (Altalang.com)


13. Dépaysement (French)

The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country.


14. Schadenfreude (German)

Quite famous for its meaning, which somehow other languages have neglected to emulate, this refers to the feeling of pleasure derived by seeing another’s misfortune. I guess “America’s Funniest Moments of Schadenfreude” just didn’t have the same ring to it.


15. Friolero (Spanish)

A person who is especially sensitive to cold weather and temperatures.


16. Hyggelig (Danish)

Its “literal” translation into English gives connotations of a warm, friendly, cozy demeanor, but it’s unlikely that these words truly capture the essence of a hyggelig; it’s something that must be experienced to be known. I think of good friends, cold beer, and a warm fire. (Altalang.com)


17. L’appel du vide (French)

“The call of the void” is this French expression’s literal translation, but more significantly it’s used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.


18. Ya’aburnee (Arabic)

Both morbid and beautiful at once, this incantatory word means “You bury me,” a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.


19. Myötähäpeä (Finnish)

 A shared sense of shame.


20. Saudade (Portuguese)

One of the most beautiful of all words, translatable or not, this word “refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.” Fado music, a type of mournful singing, relates to saudade.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s