Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Untranslatable Words from Around the World

I've posted a few of these "untranslatable words" lists before, and have gotten such great responses to them that when I ran across this one yesterday I knew I had to post it.


Here are links back to the first two, in case you missed them:

  1. Words that don't exist in the English language
  2. French words that have no direct English translation

    Note the themes here...Central European/Eurasian depression, African tribal attitudes, Inuit practicality, the serious Japanese approach to life...the study of linguistics is so interesting to me in that our language shapes our thought processes and is developed so as to best communicate our cultural values. So enjoy these new ones!



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.”
Mamihlapinatapei
Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – The wordless and silent, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.
Jayus
Indonesian – A joke so awful and told so poorly that a listener can’t help but laugh.
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.”
Litost
Czech – Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, remarked that “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” The closest definition is a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.
Kyoikumama
Japanese – A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic overachievement.
Tartle
Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.
Ilunga
Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.
Iktsuarpok
Inuit – To go outside to check if anyone is coming.
Cafune
Brazilian Portuguese – The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.
(Source: matadornetwork.com, via fuzzyrush)

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