Untranslatable words can be challenging when learning a new language. At the same time, they usually carry very deep meanings that are worth making an effort to know them.
Updated January 12, 2021
What are the untranslatable words that have no English equivalent?
“Wait, how do you say ____ in English?”
Anyone who speaks more than one language would know, some words in one language often are untranslatable or do not have an equivalent in another language. Some concepts or expressions are unique to a language or culture that they get lost in translation!
You simply can’t find the words in English, so you can only try to describe what they “sort of” mean. That’s the fun (and fascinating) part about our language diversity, right?
Today, we have put together a list of 20 words in different languages that are “untranslatable” in English but quite meaningful. We will try to describe them and who knows? Maybe you will want to pick up one of these languages afterward.
Discover the next 20 untranslatable words and their meanings
1. Hygge (n.)
- Danish; Norwegian
- It is a Norwegian/ Danish word that has become popular around the world. Roughly translated as “coziness” in English, it also describes the feeling of contentment or well-being. It is a cozy atmosphere where you enjoy life with lovely people. Check out some more danish phrases here.
2. Kummerspeck (n.)
- The literal translation of Kummerspeckis is “grief bacon.” This untranslatable word refers to the excess weight gained as a result of emotional over-eating. For example, it happens after a breakup or tragedy has occurred.
3. Sobremesa (n.)
- The next untranslatable word is about the easy-recognizable following state. You know how, when you are having some good conversations over dinner, and everyone is still lingering around the table after finishing the meal? “Sobremesa” describes precisely this relaxing, after-meal time, that usually lasts about half an hour or so. Cozy isn’t it?
4. Akihi (n.)
- Akihi describes the forgetfulness of someone who has just been given directions. He/she would immediately forget and walk off again. So, it basically describes me, lol!
5. Kilkanaście (n.)
- A practical Polish word that refers to any number between 11 and 19. It is the perfect word to use when you are unsure about the exact amount, but you know it is about “a dozen or so.” Interestingly enough, “Kilkanaście” has a twin sister in Chinese, “十幾” (Shí jǐ), which means “ten some.”
Feelings with no translation
Feelings are such a subtle and abstract thing that is sometimes hard to describe in your native language, let alone when translating them into English. Below we found 7 unique feeling words in different languages that don’t have an English equivalent. They range from delightful to sentimental and everything in between.
6. ᐃᒃᑦᓱᐊᕐᐳᒃ (Iktsuarpok) (n.)
- Inuit (part of Eskimo language family)
- An unrest feeling that is “somewhere between impatience and anticipation.” When you are waiting for someone, you would feel “Iktsuarpok” and keep on going in- and outside to see whether they have arrived yet.
7. Schadenfreude (n.)
- An enjoyable feeling that is derived by seeing or hearing about the misfortune of other people. “Schadenfreude” may not exist in English, but we all know that naughty, but satisfying feeling if you were to be honest. 😉
8. Разлюбить (Razliubiti) (v.)
- You can say “I love you” in all the languages, as we showed you here. But how do we say the opposite? Russians seem to have found a way. “Razliubiti”- the sentimental feeling of “falling out of love.” It is the feeling when you have once loved someone but not anymore. You can also “razliubiti” with an object or activity, such as pizza or skiing, that isn’t necessarily a person.
9. Saudade (n.)
- A deep emotional state that is related to incompleteness and loneliness. “Saudade” describes a melancholic longing or nostalgia for either a person, place or thing that is currently absent, far away, and may never return.
10. Hiraeth (n.)
- Similar to “saudade,” “Hiraeth” conveys a melancholic feeling or a deep yearning for a place or a person. “Homesickness” in English is one example of “hiraeth” that you are nostalgic about a home that you cannot return.
11. 捨 不 得 (Shě-bu-dé) (n. or v.)
- “Shě-bu-dé” is a hard one to translate. It describes a feeling when you unwillingly let go of or say goodbye to a person, an object, or a place. You probably won’t see it for a long while and are going to miss it. For example, you feel “shě-bu-dé” after a wonderful trip or after spending some good time with someone.
12. Acasă (adv.)
- The feeling of being at home. “Acasă” describes the sense of belonging and attachment to a physical place. It is a place where you feel comfortable and happy and is filled with memories. For example, a Romanian abroad may use “acasă” to describe their home in Romania.
Meaningful concepts lost in translation
Besides feelings, some meaningful concepts or worldviews in different languages are also lost in translation. They may be specific to the culture that their language represents; therefore, they are untranslatable in English.
13. 侘寂 (wabi-sabi) (n.)
- A worldview that not only embraces but also finds beauty in imperfections. “Wabi-sabi” accepts that imperfection is part of our natural cycle growth and decay. It embraces simplicity and elegance in both manmade or natural objects. A wholesome concept, huh?
14. Desenrascanço (n.)
- Roughly translated as “disentanglement.” This Portuguese word is the ability to solve a problem by using improvised solutions and available means. It is usually applied in a difficult situation that you haven’t faced before.
15. بتموني (betmūnī)
- A relational concept in Arabic cultures that involves a sense of endearment. It describes the willingness to help or tolerance of certain behavior that is slightly beyond your usual limit. But because it is from someone who you have a close relationship with, you are willing to accept, forgive, or do it for them gladly.
16. 加油 (jiā yóu)
- The literal translation is “add oil.” There is no translation in English, but the closest meaning is “go for it” or “keep it up.” It is a common phrase to say when cheering for someone who is working on a big project or facing a difficult situation.
17. تعارف (ta’arof) (n.)
- “Ta’arof” is a Persian word that reflects the important social etiquettes in every aspect of Iranian life. It has the element of both politeness and social hierarchy. An example is when person A and B are yielding to each other at the door when heading out.
Action words with no translation in English
18. Załatwić (v.)
- Charisma is a great asset to be possessed. Moreover, it can bring so much value when used during negotiations. As a result, the polish came up with an action verb, meaning that someone uses his/her personal charm and leverage connections to take care of a task. It may involve bribing as well. To use it in a sentence: I will “załatwić” this matter.
19. ぼけっと (boketto) (v.)
- Some of the states untranslatable words describe may be quite familiar. For instance, “Boketto” is a verb that is when someone is gazing or staring vacantly into the distance while not really doing or thinking about anything specific. This is so relaxing and sounds like a cousin to “flâner” which is our next word.
20. Flâner (v.)
- Flâner means a person is wandering around in the city without having a final destination or particular goal. It is just for the pleasure of soaking up the environment around. That’s my favorite thing to do when traveling in a new place – now I know it’s called flâner-ing!
Discover more with Swap Language!
By now you probably can notice that words either in your mother language or learning language may not always be translatable. When you are learning a new language with a native speaker at Swap Language, “lost in translation” words will be a fun topic to discuss and discover more!