That said, the internet has spawned the likes of Google Translate to help those seeking to converse with people of other linguistic persuasions. But let’s face it, online translation tools have very limited application, especially if you’re jetting off on a jungle-trekking excursion to Cambodia.
And this, of course, is where a little pocket phrase book or nifty iPhone app. may come in handy – so there are options for those wishing to venture into new territories without getting into translation tangles. But some words simply don’t translate all that well.
So I’ve done a little research. And the outcome is this compendium of phrases that apparently drive even the most tranquil of translators to despair.
The closest English equivalent to this word is probably ‘forgive and forget’. But that well-worn meme doesn’t really do this word from the DRC language of Tshiluba any justice. Ilunga is the word used to describe someone who is ready to forgive a perceived abuse or injustice once, to tolerate it if it happens again but to neither forgive nor tolerate if it happens a third time. Ilunga is often cited as the most untranslatable word in the world…but there are plenty more, as we’ll see here.
This is a word that many people will be familiar with…especially Scottish football fans who adopted an ‘anyone but England’ philosophy at the South Africa World Cup. Schadenfreude is a German word meaning the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.
American humorist Mark Twain once wrote that some German words are so long, they have a perspective…and this word does little to dispel this notion. In German, torschlusspanik is the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages – it is most often applied to women who are racing against the biological clock to wed and bear children.
This is one of our favourites here at Lingo24…and it’s one that may resonate with those of you with a penchant for borrowing things from your next door neighbour. Tingo is from the Pascuense language of Easter Island and refers to the act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.
You know that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when a new-born kitten skids around with a ball of wool? Well, this is often followed by an uncontrollable urge to grab, cuddle, squeeze and stroke the aforementioned baby feline. And in Filipino (spoken in the Philippines…), the word gheegle describes this sensation…essentially, the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute.
Remember when your mum used to shout at you for not using a coaster on her French-polished coffee table? Well, if you’re ever guilty of a similar crime in Italy, it’s likely someone will yell something like culacino at you – as it’s the residue mark left on a table by a cold glass.
Sgriob – easy for you to say! Despite this looking like a word for something you might cough up, it’s actually the Scottish Gaelic word for an itch that attacks the upper lip just prior to consuming a dram of whisky. We promise…we’re not making these up!
8. L’esprit de escalier
We’ve all had that feeling before, where – in our head – we run through a conversation or argument we’ve just had…and think of all the best/coolest/funniest things we should’ve said. In French, this is known as l’esprit de escalier, literally translated as ‘the spirit of the staircase’.
From Norwegian, Forelsket is the euphoria one experiences when first falling in love. Awww.
Not everyone is blessed with the rapier wit of Billy Connolly, Bill Hicks or Chris Rock. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make people laugh…even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.
Jayus is the Indonesian word for a joke so badly told and so unfunny, that people simply can’t help but laugh. We’ve racked our brains and we can’t think of an English word that sums THAT sensation up.
So there you go – it seems there are words to describe just about every sensation, emotion or circumstance…it’s just a case of finding the right language. Of course, English has countless untranslatable words too – try asking a French, German or Italian translator to find an equivalent for ‘serendipity’ in their native tongue: don’t be surprised if you’re met with a furrowed-brow and a look of bewilderment!