Are There Any Untranslatable Words?


4 Answers

Luis Prada Profile
Luis Prada answered
Words. Without them we’d all be really, really good at charades. And we probably wouldn’t have gotten this far as a society. What moved us further ahead was our ability to understand one-another's idea’s across the language barrier. By learning about the experience and culture of others through passing their words through a filter that enables us to understand them, we enrich ourselves. We attain knowledge that we probably couldn’t have attained otherwise.

Our understanding of each others words is what brings us closer together. But, surely, there must be some words that can’t make the change over from one language to another? That’s the entire reason the phrase “Lost in Translation” exists. There are just some words, or entire blocks of words (but we won’t get in to that) that lose a little bit of their meaning and importance the moment they are carried over from one language to another – in this case, from another language to English.

Word: Katzenjammer

Language: German

If you’ve ever gone out drinking, and I mean really drinking, and then totally regretted that decision in the morning, katzenhammer is the word for you. Simply put, katzenhammer is a hangover so epic that you are left to wonder why the universe hates you so much. A hangover so epic that the sound of a car passing by your home has the same effect on your brain as a sonic jet screaming overhead. This is a hangover so bad that if it were a person, it would be able to punch the peak off of a mountain; whereas a regular “hangover” couldn’t snap a twig.

In short, it’s a hangover you wouldn’t even want to wish on your worst enemy.  

Word: Dohada

Language: Sanskrit

The closest we come to Dohada in English is “cravings.” Sadly, to get the full feel for the strength of the word you have to add a bunch of other words in front of “cravings.” Something like “absolutely ridiculous crazy-pants cravings”; specifically, for pregnant woman.

So, if you’ve ever had a pregnant wife who, at 3 in the morning, asked you for a bologna sandwich with gummy bears and a leaf off of the palm tree in the back yard…and she wants you to replace the bread with 2 t-bone steaks, then that’s Dohada.

Word: Schadenfreude

Language: German

Okay, this is where we get in to the territory of weird human reactions that make us both distinctly human, and distantly insane.  And sick. And twisted. You know, all of those things that aliens hovering around out in space are entertained by.

Let’s start off with a couple of words we’ve all probably heard: Sadism and Masochism. Sadism is deriving joy and pleasure from inflicting pain on someone. Masochism is the opposite – it’s enjoying the pain being inflicted upon you. These are two very stark (and dark) extremes in human nature. But did you know that the Germans came up with a world that is a middle ground between the two, that still manages to retain all of the darkness of the two extremes? That word is Schadenfreude, and it’s all about deriving pleasure and joy while watching someone else in pain.
Directly translated, the word means “Joy in Damage.” The big difference between Schadenfreude and Sadism is that with sadism, the joy you are feeling comes from your direct involvement in the pain your dishing out. With Schadenfreude, you have nothing to do with the pain someone else feels. You’re just a casual observer that is tickled pink by someone locking their keys in their car, or going through a bad breakup, or a politician getting caught in a scandal.

Word: Esprit De L’Escalier

Language: French

So you’re face-to-face with that guy in your office that you can’t stand. You both get in to a small argument that’s ready to explode. You’re both feeling it out, looking for the proper moment to strike with a powerful verbal comeback that will ravage the other guy's entire argument and send it crashing to the floor.

But, then…he says that one thing. That one thing that you can’t defend against. “Blah Blah Blah!!” he says. Everyone around it is shocked. They can’t believe he said that. He got you good. Now, it’s your turn. If you come back with something good, you win. So your brain races.  It’s scrambling. It might have something…maybe…sort of…no. No. No. You’ve got nothing. You have no comeback. You’re a laughingstock. This guy just made a fool out of you and you just stood there and took it.

Hours later, you’re on the subway on the way home. To any onlooker, you’re just a young guy or gal bored out of their mind and staring out in to space; slowly rocking back and forth with the track’s many bumps and shifts. But then…

“Oh, yeah? So’s your face!!” you randomly yell out.

Everyone around you is lucky they all brought their mace that afternoon, because, to them, you’re the definition of crazy. But what they don’t know is that you just had a moment of Esprit De L’Escalie. Literally translated, “the spirit in the staircase.” It’s when you are publically insulted and only come up with the perfect comeback after you’ve left the situation.

It’s a “spirit” because it could haunt you for the rest of your life.

Word: Blita Mpash

Language: Bantu

When you wake up in the middle of the night screaming and covered in sweat, hoping that you’re not actually being chased by a giant donut with razor-sharp teeth and with the voice of your high school bully, you’re having what’s commonly known as a nightmare.

But what if it’s the opposite? If you wake up in the middle of the night feeling a little…happy? What if you had some nighttime mental pictures of really nice, very sweet things?. A dream that just makes you feel good about yourself, and not thank your lucky stars that you laid down a plastic sheet before you hit the hay. In English, we don’t really have a word for “good” dreams. We have "nightmare" for the bad, scary ones; and the word “dream” is just a general term for all of the pictures we see in your heads while we sleep. The closest there is is a word in the Bantu language that means a “legendary, blissful state where all is forgiven and forgotten.”

Sounds pleasant, doesn’t?
Anonymous Profile
Anonymous answered
To the above poster, those words have been described, not translated. You can describe, or at least, attempt to describe anything. However, there are some words which simply don't have a direct English translation. There's a website that is full of them. It has a lot of words that do not exist in the English language.
Anonymous Profile
Anonymous answered
So help me out here...each of these words have been translated above and although as pointed out, may not be PERFECT translations they are still TRANSLATABLE.

The QUESTION was  "Are there any UNTRANSLATABLE words?"

Well....I'm waiting....
Anonymous Profile
Anonymous answered
Lagom in swedish means not to much to one side and not to much to the other side. For example not to much salt and not to much pepper, just lagom :)

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