Untranslatable Words: Wonder Words

Lost in Translation by Ella Frances Sanders brings to life more than fifty words that don’t have direct English translations with amiable illustrations of definitions of these words. A lot of these words provide insight into the cultures they originate from, such as the Brazilian Portuguese word for running your fingers through a lover’s hair, the Italian word for being moved to tears by a story, or the Swedish word for a third cup of coffee.

In this ingenious and prettily rendered exploration of the delicacies of communication, you’ll find new ways to express yourself while getting lost in the artistry of imperfect translation.

The relationship between words and their meaning is a fascinating one, and linguists have spent countless years deconstructing it, taking it apart letter by letter, and trying to figure out why there are so many feelings and ideas that we cannot even put words to, and that our languages cannot identify.

“Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon the absolute truth.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

1. German: Waldeinsamkeit

A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connectedness to nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson even wrote a whole poem about it.

2. Italian: Culaccino

The mark left on a table by a cold glass. Who knew condensation could sound so poetic.

3. Inuit: Iktsuarpok

The feeling of anticipation that leads you to go outside and check if anyone is coming, and probably also indicates an element of impatience.

4. Japanese: Komorebi

This is the word the Japanese have for when sunlight filters through the trees – the interplay between the light and the leaves.

5. Russian: Pochemuchka

Someone who asks a lot of questions. In fact, probably too many questions. We all know a few of these.

6. Spanish: Sobremesa

Spaniards tend to be a sociable bunch, and this word describes the period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with.

7. Hawaiian: Pana Poʻo

You know when you forget where you’ve put the keys, and you scratch your head because it somehow seems to help your remember? This is the word for it.

8. French: Dépaysement

The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country – of being a foreigner, or an immigrant, of being somewhat displaced from your origin.

9. Urdu: Goya

Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, but is also an official language in 5 of the Indian states. This particular Urdu word conveys a contemplative ‘as-if’ that nonetheless feels like reality, and describes the suspension of disbelief that can occur, often through good storytelling.

10. Swedish: Mångata

The word for the glimmering, road like reflection that the moon creates on water.

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