Untranslatable words.

Whilst browsing on reddit I discovered Playing in the World Game‘s fantastic list of words which do not exist in English. These have always fascinated me since my discovery of the word saudades (pt.) because such a feeling really can’t be described in one English words. The phrase “tener ganas” in Spanish is so much more emphatic and powerful that “desire/want/need/keen-ness” in English. I often find myself wanting to say ganas as opposed it’s rough English equivalent. Some translations don’t make aas much sense, granted. For example, a European Portuguese driver may put you in the “death spot” (lugar do morte) instead of the “passenger seat”. That may have more to do with their driving as opposed to their language but we’ll leave that to the imagination.

This train of thought lead me onto untranslatable words from English. And I am really raking my brains here. We are a far more idiomatic language than I care to imagine, so I’ve thought about a few of those as well. If any of you can come up with more, please comment below!

  • Gobbledegook – the oral version of “dasldka;dka”
  • Googly – cuter than bulgy.
  • Poppycock – talking nonsense. In an elevated manner.
  • Kitsch – being ironically garish (ok, so this word is technically German…)
  • Spam – Something posing as meat.
  • Chuffed – to be very pleased with oneself.
  • Whimsy – quaint or fanciful behaviour.
  • Cheesy – cheap or low quality. Somethign which makes you cringe under different circumstances. (think the end of every high school movie)
  • Hoodwink – deceive (I guess we have desenganar in Spanih but it has a slightly different sentiment)
  • Daunting – An immense task.
  • Hassle – Kind of like a pain in the ass but less so.

As for phrases… Here we go…

  • To throw a party (How far can  you throw one?)
  • To throw/take a fit (Where do we get fits from to take them?)
  • To give a damn (To whom?)
  • “I’ll give you a phone” (Gee, thanks!)
  • “I’ll call you back” (Backwards? Behind?)
  • Here goes nothing (How does nothing go!?)
  • Change your mind. (But the brain!)
  • Fall in love. (From a great height one can only assume)
  • Spanking new. (What?)
  • Cut the mustard – (surely anyone can cut the mustard? Actually… That’s the point isn’t it…)
  • Flip the bird – [to give someone the finger] (Why a bird? It should be more dramatic if it’s a bird!]
  • Hit the books – [to study hard] (hitting them won’t help!)

I’m sure there are thousands more, but I have a cat to play with and some wine to drink!


Author: Kirsty

24, severe wanderlust

5 thoughts on “Untranslatable words.”

      1. I love your blog, by the way. About 40 years ago I was in much the same place; “what the hqiz do I do with a degree in French, for Mogg’s sake?” Just stay open to surprises; language arts open doors in many different areas that monoglots don’t have access to. Whatever you do, make sure you love it. Life is too short to be trapped in a career that you execrate. Keep on keeping on!

      2. Thank so much for your words of encouragement! I’m hoping to get into some sort of tourism thing but we’ll just have to see where I end up.

  1. Hi, I’m sending you this note because you’re a follower on my blog. I’ve ended my blog, The Siren’s Tale (http://thesirenstale.com) + started a new blog named: Belong With Wildflowers. I’d love to have you follow my new blog as well, please stop on over for a visit: http://belongwithwildflowers.com 🙂

    You can follow my new blog through email subscription, RSS, Bloglovin’, or any other blog reader. Hope you’re having a great week! –Caitlin

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