10 Untranslatable Foreign Language Words
If you thought that English could express, explain and verbalize it all – well, guess what? It can not. While English being as comprehensive and vast as we know it to be, there are words from other foreign languages which can’t directly be replaced or translated into English. Here’s a list 10 fascinating words that cannot be (and believe us, people have tried!) directly translated into English.
Each of these words is unique in its own language and the fact that it’s so, makes it incredibly fascinating; given how very delicate and fragile each and every language is to the culture it pertains to!
Here we go!
Toska – Russian
This word can be described best in the words of Vladimir Nabokov: ‘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.’
Litost – Czech
According to the famous Milind Kundera, the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, ‘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 of Litost is a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery! Deeply provoking?
Prozvonit – Czech
This word means or refers to the act of calling someone on a mobile phone and letting it ring only once so that the person who has been called, calls back, thus saving the money of the original caller.
In Spanish, the word for this is ‘Dar Un Toque’ or, ‘To give a touch’. Surprisingly, this word can be translated into languages other than English.
Torschlusspanik – German
Literally translated, this word means ‘gate closing panic’, but contextually the meaning refers to ‘the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.’
This can somewhat explain why so many older/elderly people wish to ‘recapture their youth’ in an attempt to reestablish their passed opportunities.
Wabi Sabi – Japanese
A lot has been written about this profound Japanese concept: but if one tries to understand it in a sentence, this is probably how it would go. ‘A way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.’
L’appel du vide – French
The literal translation of this French expression is ‘The Call of the Void.’
Colloquially it can be used to express the instinctive urge to jump from high places!
Ya’aburnee – Arabic
This incantatory word, both exquisitely beautiful and morbid at once, means, ‘You bury me’, a somewhat declaration of one’s hope that they will die before another person, mostly because of how difficult it would be to be alive without them.
Duende – Spanish
Though originally this word was used to describe ‘a mythical, sprite like entity that possesses humans and created the feeling of awe of one’s surrounding in nature’ – however its meaning has transitioned into describing, ‘the mysterious power that a work of art has over a person to have him deeply moved by it.’
Saudade – Portuguese
A precious, deeply beautiful but haunting word whether it is translatable or not – this word refers ‘to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.’
Fado music, a type of mournful singing relates to Saudade.
Mamihlapinatapai – Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) an archipelago off the coast of South America.
The word can be described as ‘The wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.’
The state of many a could-have-been couples, right?