11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures
The relationship between words and their meaning is a fascinating one, and linguists have spent countless years deconstructing it, taking it apart letter by letter, and trying to figure out why there are so many feelings and ideas that we cannot even put words to, and that our languages cannot identify.
The idea that words cannot always say everything has been written about extensively – as Friedrich Nietzsche said:
Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon the absolute truth.
No doubt the best book we’ve read that covers the subject is ‘Through The Language Glass‘ by Guy Deutscher, which goes a long way to explaining and understanding these loopholes – the gaps which mean there are leftover words without translations, and concepts that cannot be properly explained across cultures.
Somehow narrowing it down to just a handful, we’ve illustrated 11 of these wonderful, untranslatable, if slightly elusive, words. We will definitely be trying to incorporate a few of them into our everyday conversations, and hope that you enjoy recognizing a feeling or two of your own among them.
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1. German: Waldeinsamkeit
A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connection to nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson even wrote a whole poem about it.
2. Italian: Culaccino
The mark left on a table by a cold glass. Who knew condensation could sound so poetic.
3. Inuit: Iktsuarpok
4. Japanese: Komorebi
This is the word the Japanese have for when sunlight filters through the trees – the interplay between the light and the leaves.
5. Russian: Pochemuchka
Someone who asks a lot of questions. In fact, probably too many questions. We all know a few of these.
6. Spanish: Sobremesa
8. Hawaiian: Pana Poʻo
10. Urdu: Goya
Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, but is also an official language in 5 of the Indian states. This particular Urdu word conveys a contemplative ‘as-if’ that nonetheless feels like reality, and describes the suspension of disbelief that can occur, often through good storytelling.
11. Swedish: Mangata