20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#2  Postby BlackBart » May 24, 2011 9:51 am

It didn't mention 'floccinaucinihilipilification' - the act or instance of judging something as worthless. Happens a lot with some posts around here. (Not this one!)
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#3  Postby Bribase » May 24, 2011 9:54 am

Very very cool CookieJon.

This one has to be my favourite:

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.
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#4  Postby the sanja » Jul 19, 2011 6:29 pm



from there:
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 of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
This qould be tranlated on macedonian - there is a macedonian word "teshkoto" which means the same thing.
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#5  Postby HughMcB » Jul 19, 2011 6:50 pm

L’appel du vide

Not really a word is it? I mean it's an expression, there are lot's of "untranslatable" expressions. Only recently my friend was explaining one Serbian one to me, where the literal translation made no sense but it actually meant something else.

I feel like there are lots of these. Off the top of my head I can think of;
ag bualadh leathair = hitting leather
craiceann a bhualadh = hitting skin
craiceann a dhéanamh = making skin

Which all are Irish for sex. :grin:

Anyway great link, I loved the first one. And the Easter Island "tingo"! :lol:
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#6  Postby natselrox » Jul 19, 2011 6:56 pm

অভিমান

Murshid, we couldn't translate that one!
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#7  Postby murshid » Jul 20, 2011 8:01 pm

natselrox wrote:অভিমান

Murshid, we couldn't translate that one!

That's right! :)
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#8  Postby Varangian » Jul 20, 2011 9:08 pm

11. Schadenfreude

In Swedish, that would be "skadeglädje", which captures the essence of the word exactly. It is a straight translation of the German word.

17. Ponte

Italian – [PON-tay] While it literally means “bridge,” this word also refers to an extra day off taken to make a national holiday falling on a Tuesday or Thursday into a four-day vacation.

In Swedish, that is called a "klämdag", which translates roughly as "squeezed-in day", meaning the same thing as the Italian expression.

One Swedish word I think translators would have trouble with (apart from "lagom" in the follow-up article) would be "lappsjuka". Literally translated, it's "Lapp illness" ("Lapp" as in the Sami people in northern Scandinavia), but it describes a state when someone lives in isolation (like in the northern wilderness), and having a depression due to lack of contact with other people. Swedish is a language that easily allows for the combination of words, forming new words that pinpoints concepts. Arabic-speaking people I know tell me that Swedish is much better in getting concepts across in a few words.
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#9  Postby Tursas » Jul 20, 2011 9:33 pm

That seems to be "cabin fever" in English.

A more accurate title for those articles would be "20 words that don't happen to have an exactly equivalent single word in English".
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#10  Postby HughMcB » Jul 20, 2011 9:35 pm

Isn't cabin fever more delirium from being "cooped up"?
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#11  Postby Tursas » Jul 20, 2011 9:58 pm

Hmm, seems there is a claustrophobic component in the English expression, but I've always understood it as only having to do with isolation. Maybe they're not exactly equivalent after all. Probably depends on the speaker (I wouldn't use it in the claustrophobic sense, but I'm not strictly a native speaker).
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#12  Postby John P. M. » Jul 20, 2011 10:02 pm

'Hyggelig' is also a Norwegian word, same spelling, same meaning as in Danish. We also have 'koselig', which is very similar, but with more emphasis on something being 'cozy', I guess. I think the uniqueness of 'hyggelig' is that it can be used in many different scenarios - all of which would be nice, though.

We also have 'skadefryd', which is directly translated from the German 'schadenfreude'. It literally translates to damage/injury (skade) joy/elation (fryd).

Wouldn't the German 'zeitgeist' be similarly hard to translate to English? Or has the German word become so ingrained that it's become "English"? We have 'tidsånd' for that in Norwegian, which is also a direct translation, which would be 'timespirit', literally translated. And 'the spirit of the times' perhaps would convey the meaning of zeitgeist.
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#13  Postby HughMcB » Jul 20, 2011 10:16 pm

Tursas wrote:Hmm, seems there is a claustrophobic component in the English expression, but I've always understood it as only having to do with isolation. Maybe they're not exactly equivalent after all. Probably depends on the speaker (I wouldn't use it in the claustrophobic sense, but I'm not strictly a native speaker).

One can have cabin fever and be surrounded by people, it's more getting ancy from a sense of being in the same confined place with the same people, i.e. like on board ships where the expression was coined.
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#14  Postby katja z » Jul 21, 2011 6:27 am

An amusing game, but Tursas is spot on: it is really more about single-word equivalents than about translatability.

Speaking as a translator, it's not really the word* that is the unit of translation anyway, it is the utterance**.

In any given pair of languages, there will be a whole lot of words in language A that don't have exact one-word equivalents in language B, although you can usually find a word with a partial overlap and then work from there. However, there are very, very few untranslatable utterances. Sure, some will need fleshing out with some more information, or additional commentary - this is because what we say and how we say it is shaped by a number of implicit assumptions, pragmatic conventions etc., (mostly) shared by speakers of one language but less so across languages. When translating, you might therefore need to spell out certain assumptions, clarify references, explain communication norms etc. for the target reader/listener. This is still translation - in fact, this cultural mediation is a large part of what translation is about.

* Common sense says that it is completely clear what a word is. Well, we know that common sense says an awful lot of things, not all of them are compatible with facts. This is as true in physics as it is, in its own way, in linguistics. It turns out that it is surprisingly difficult to define "a word". For a small taste of what I mean, consider the following words:
1) story line
2) story-line
3) storyline
Three ways of writing down one word - except that 1) looks like two words, 3) looks like one word and 2) is in between - one and a half words, maybe?

** This is why, if you ask a professional translator to translate a certain word for you, they will usually answer with the question: "In what context?" Context is the magic word, both extratextual (context of communication) and textual. (There's a joke that goes: How many translators does it take to change a lightbulb? - It depends on context.) Taking words out of context and treating them as isolated units only happens in dictionaries. Dictionaries are extremely useful, for certain purposes and if you know how to use them (like with any other tool). They are also misleading, especially the tiny ones travellers tend to use (the ones that just give one equivalent for each word, and no or almost no examples), because they give you the impression that isolated words are somehow the basic units of language, and that if you just swap each word in your sentence with its equivalent in another language, you'll get a meaningful utterance in that language. Most often, what you get is a mess.
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#15  Postby Blip » Jul 21, 2011 8:57 am

Interesting, CookieJon. I popped it up on the RatSkep Facebook website too. :cheers:
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#16  Postby Shuggy » Oct 29, 2011 9:36 am

I'm fond of the Maori word "takihea". It's formed from taki- (which is best demonstrated by example: tahi = 1, takitahi = one by one. rua = 2, takirua = two by two) + hea = how many? So
"Takihea nga kararehe ki roto i te waka a Noa? Takirua."
???? did the animals go into Noah's Ark? Two by two.

There's no limit to the number either. Takimano would be 1000 by 1000.
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#17  Postby Regina » Oct 29, 2011 9:53 am

:lol:
Katja wrote:
** This is why, if you ask a professional translator to translate a certain word for you, they will usually answer with the question: "In what context?"

My standard reply is: Can you give me the whole sentence? (And I'm not a translator.)
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#18  Postby Scot Dutchy » Oct 29, 2011 10:28 am

John P. M. wrote:'Hyggelig' is also a Norwegian word, same spelling, same meaning as in Danish. We also have 'koselig', which is very similar, but with more emphasis on something being 'cozy', I guess. I think the uniqueness of 'hyggelig' is that it can be used in many different scenarios - all of which would be nice, though.



In Dutch "gezellig" which you can use to describe anything that is warm friendly and cozy. Also a person can be gezillig.



We also have 'skadefryd', which is directly translated from the German 'schadenfreude'. It literally translates to damage/injury (skade) joy/elation (fryd).



In Dutch schadevreugde.


Wouldn't the German 'zeitgeist' be similarly hard to translate to English? Or has the German word become so ingrained that it's become "English"? We have 'tidsånd' for that in Norwegian, which is also a direct translation, which would be 'timespirit', literally translated. And 'the spirit of the times' perhaps would convey the meaning of zeitgeist.


In Dutch tijdgeest.
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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#19  Postby mraltair » Oct 29, 2011 10:34 am

9. Prozvonit

Czech – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish, the phrase for this is “Dar un toque,” or, “To give a touch.”


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Re: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words

#20  Postby Regina » Oct 29, 2011 10:38 am

Well, I may be wrong, but I've always felt gloat is very close to what Schadenfreude describes.
And of course, there is gesellig, just a minor difference to the Dutch version.
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