Words That Don’t Translate

When translating from one language to another, there isn’t always an equivalent word available. Sometimes the exact translation of a word in one language means something entirely different in another, and in some cases does not
exist in another language. Today we’re going to explore words that simply do not translate.

English Words That Don’t Translate:

  • Awkward – There is no direct equivalent for this English term of embarrassment, discomfort and uncertainty in Italian – the closest word is ‘scomodo,’ which means uncomfortable.
  • Jinx – There is no single word equivalent for this bearer of bad luck in Polish, so ‘jinx’ has to be translated to ‘something that brings bad luck.’
  • Shallow – “Not deep” is apparently NOT French. In the language of love, shallow has to be translated as “peu profond.”
  • Insight – There is no equivalent in Spanish, so the words for ‘perspicacity,’ ‘perception,’ ‘penetration’ or ‘intuition’ have to be used instead.
  • Nice – This word is used in a lot of different ways in the English language. In this instance the range of different meanings makes translating this word into many other languages challenging.
  • Put – You won’t find Germans ‘putting’ their pants on one leg at a time. There is no direct equivalent in German for the word ‘put.’ Instead, Germans use words like ‘set,’ ‘place,’ ‘lay,’ etc.
  • Off – French doesn’t have an exact equivalent for ‘on’s’ better half. ‘De’ seems to mostly do the trick, although more accurate translations of the preposition are ‘of,’ ‘to,’ ‘from,’ ‘by,’ or ‘with.’

Words That Don’t Translate or Exist in English:

  • Kummerspeck – A German word representing weight gain from excessive eating that stems from being sad. There is no exact equivalent for this word in English. The literal translation of this word is ‘grief bacon.’ Sounds smoky.
  • Gigil – A Tagalog word to describe when a situation is so cute it’s overwhelming or having a burning desire to hug something cute. We may not have a word for this in English, but I dare say Heart Eyes Emoji pretty much sums it up. 😍
  • Mencolek — You know that trick some people like to play on others where they tap someone on the opposite shoulder to get them to turn their head the wrong way? Indonesians have a word for it. Crosses Indonesia off top travel destinations…
  • Pena ajena / Fremdschämen – Spanish and German words used when you feel embarrassed for someone else.
  • Pana po’o – A Hawaiian word for when you scratch your head to help you remember something you’ve forgotten. English may not have an equivalent word, but there’s definitely an emoji for that. 🤔
  • Lagom – A Swedish word to perfectly sum up “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” – when something is not too big, not too small, but just [the] right [amount]. In Sweden, it also represents the idea of living a balanced life.
  • Tartle – We’ve all been there. That moment when you need to introduce two people, but you can’t remember one of their names. The Scottish have a word for it: Tartle.

These lists of words that don’t have translatable equivalents barely scratch the surface. What are some of your favorite instances of words that don’t translate? Drop us a line at info@isitrans.com to share. We may include them in a future blog post!

Written by Lynda Walz, Sales Executive