I'm a language lover. I have been since I was a kid. Just about eleven months after being born, I started saying words and I've been using them ever since. I probably use words every day and I've gotten pretty good at it.
But there's still so much for me to learn. And learning languages other than English is always a fun challenge. But what makes it so much harder is that a lot of languages have words in them that we just can't translate into English. Who knows if it's because we don't have the concept in English (which makes it impossible to make up a word to label the concept) or, more interestingly, maybe we don't have the concepts in English because we don't have the word! History's first linguist, a guy named Sapir Whorf, discovered that without a word, we can't think.
So in my research I went out and found some of the most amazing untranslatable words in the non-American speaking world. Here they are, in no particular order.
This is one of the first words I learned about as an untranslatable word. It's spoken by using a ancient and primitive language from Chile, in Tierra del Fuego. (Tierra del Fuego, by the way, means "Fire, Having Land/Earth/Dirt, Which Land/Earth/Dirt Is Being This Land/Earth/Dirt".) The word, mamihlapinatapei, is unfortunately untranslatable.
This is a Russian word. It means… uhhh… it's sort of like… hm. Well it's a cool meaning, but you have to know Russian to understand it.
The Inuits only have one word for this, and therefore altho we can't know what this word means, we do know that iktsuarpok isn't important or familiar to the Inuits, otherwise they'd have 231 words for it.
The Yiddish word is used next to schlemiel a lot, both of them meaning something related to each other. The meaning is something close to… uhhhh… dammit this post is hard to write.
No idea. Looks Spanish.
You might recognize this word, but there is no English translation of it. It is similar to 'a' and 'an' but it has a meaning that those two words just don't quite capture.
Scotts talk funny, don't they?
Germans use this word. You might notice it has the word "panik" in it which is close to English "panic" but those other parts mean some other sorts of things.
In Japanese culture, you have… there are these… ummm… It rhymes with itself. Like that other untranslatable word Oingo Boingo.
This Old English word used to be English when English wasn't yet old. Once it became old, hwæt became impossible to use.
Not even speakers of Portuguese from Portugal can understand this word. Only speakers of Portuguese from Brazil know what it means.
- L’appel du vide
Altho the French have one translation of this that they can share with us (the call of the void), they have since given it another more interesting meaning that they are keeping from us.
This weird German word roughly translates into the English word, 'schadenfreude'.