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More of our Favourite Untranslatable Words

  • By Sam Sedgman
  • 6th March 2013
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Our last list of untranslatable words was so popular that we decided to put together another. We've included some of your recommendations, some of our favourites that we didn't have space for last time, and a few gems we've just discovered. Enjoy!





See something missing? We're always on the hunt for more amazing words from around the world: tweet your favourites @freewordcentre and let us know. 

Missed the first list? Check it out here.

Kabelsalat (German) – Too many crossed wires. Literally, “a salad of cables.”


Kyoikumama (Japanese) – A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement.


Cwtch (Welsh) – A hug, cuddle or snuggle. But more than that: it also means the feeling of a safe place or home that the hug/cuddle/snuggle gives. (via Lesley Ingram)


Tushka (Ukrainian)Literally, “the body of a dead animal”. Used of an elected official who has changed his political affiliation.


Saudade (Portuguese)The feeling of longing for something or someone who you love and which is lost. (via Luisa, Cristina Leston-Bandeira, and many more!)


Dépaysement (French) – The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country.


Friolero/a: (Spanish) A person who is especially sensitive to cold weather and temperatures. (A lot like our regional adjective Nesh).


Poptjie Patu (Suriname creole): Imaginary cooking while playing house. “Poptjie” means “doll”, and “patu” means “pan”. (via Chantal)


Tsundoku (Japanese)The act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books.


Jayus (Indonesian) – A joke so poorly-told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.


Torschlusspanik (German) – The fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages – literaly translated it means “gate-closing panic”


Snorker (early English) – One who gets into others people's business.


Startijenn (Breton) – A kick of energy, like putting fuel in your engine. It also denotes strength in the face of adversity. (via CT)


Xinku (Mandarin) – Thanking someone while acknowledging their hard work (similar to the Turkish phrase kolay gelsin).


Toska (Russian) – A great spiritual anguish, usually without any cause or condition. Vladmir Nabokov describes it as “a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning.”

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  • Richard

    Depaysement is not limited to being out of one’s home country. It can also apply to moving house, moving jobs etc and is akin to the German Verfremdungseffekt

  • Sabine

    “Torschlusspanik” can have a slightly chauvinist undertone, i.e. it’s usually applied to women in their mid-thirties anxious to “bag” a husband before it’s too late to have children.

  • I love “untranslatable words” so much, that I’ve made a (free) app that will teach you a new word every day of the year: many of the words on this list, is in the app! Search for World Words in the App store. Thanks for teaching me some new ones!

  • Hi! Nice try, but is it not too clomplicated like that, with Mandarin, Welsh, Suriname Creole (I mean: Creole? You really wonder why it cannot be easily translatable?), Breton, Indonesian, early English… Untranslatable words do not have to come from obscure languages the average reader does not understand. Try just English, Spanish and German as presented in my page under http://www.untrans.eu and tell me what you think. Hope you like it

  • Emmanuel Hérique

    “Dépaysement” has “pays” in it, which means “country” indeed, hence the literal/original meaning given here. However it also has “paysage” in it, which has the broader meaning of “landscape”. The original meaning of leaving one’s country is never used in modern French; the meaning is more of changing context (or whatever–mostly mental–landscape). It can have a positive connotation (“a welcome change”) or a negative one, going as far as “culture shock”. A translation would be “a change of context”. “Dépaysement” has more to do with the effect on the mind than with any physical change of setting which may or may not be there.

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