Untranslatable Words from 7 Different Languages
It is often a daunting task to understand a whole dictionary’s worth of new words whenever you start to learn a new language. However, there are often pretty similar words between languages, even outside of neighboring languages like Spanish & Portuguese. In English, there are words like democracy which are nearly identical to the Greek δημοκρατία [dimokratía] & to Spanish democracia. But it is not always this easy; in fact, some words do not even have a direct translation into English, here are a few exciting examples:
- Abbiocco – Italian
I am sure we have all felt a feeling after eating a big bowl of pasta; Abbiocco means “the drowsiness one gets from eating a big meal.” Abbiocco is similar to the idea of a “food coma.” It is often written as l’abbiocco as the definite article refers to “the feeling of.” So if you wanted to make this an adjective, it would be more like Sono [I am] abbioccato
Dopo il pranzo di domenica mi è venuto un abbiocco e mi sono sdraiato sul
– After lunch on Sunday I got an abbiocco, and I laid down on the sofa!
- 口寂しい [Kuchisabishi] – Japanese
口寂しい [kuchisabishi] means loneliness when attempting to translate, but it actually actually describes the longing for food even when you are not hungry. It is quite similar to the Korean word 입이 심심하다 [ib-i simsimhada], which literally translates to “the mouth is bored.” Grazing for snacks and stuff even when your stomach is full. In Japanese 口 [kuchi] means mouth, & 寂 [sabi] means loneliness.
[Kyō wa mō tabemashitaga mada kuchisabishī]
- I already ate today, but I am still kuchisabishi
- Estrenar – Spanish
This unique Spanish word means wear something for the first time, usually an article of clothing. And aside from just being a helpful word, there is a bit of cultural context as to why Spanish has estrenar. In many Hispanic countries, it is a commonplace to wear brand new clothes, from top to bottom, for the New Year. Some even do the same thing for their birthdays.
Está noche, Emilia estrenará el vestido que acaba de comprar
– Tonight, Emilia will wear the dress she just bought
- 缘分 [Yuánfèn] – Chinese
缘分 [yuánfèn] means fate but it specifically means the destiny, the fate or the luck by which people or things are brought together. This does not necessarily mean something good or bad. Penpals who have spoken for years but never had the opportunity to meet face-to-face may say their 缘分 [yuánfèn] is thin; conversely, upon bumping into someone in an unexpected place, one may say “it is 缘分 [yuánfèn] that brought us together.”
[Shì yuánfèn ràng wǒmen zǒu dàole yīqǐ]
– It’s fate that brought us together
- Почемучка [Pochemuchka] – Russian
The Russian Почемучка [Pochemuchka] is a curious child or someone with an insatiable inquiring mind who asks ‘why?’ all the time; to the point when it sometimes gets annoying. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is often likened to the childhood trop of asking why to what seems like everything. In fact Почемучка comes from the word почему [pochemu], which literally means why in Russian.
Меня всегда называли Почемучка, когда я была маленькой, потому что я
задавала так много вопросов
[Menya vsegda nazyvali Pochemuchka, kogda ya byla malen’koy, potomu chto ya
zadavala tak mnogo voprosov]
– I was always called Почемучка when I was little because I asked so many
- Chanter en yaourt – French
The Francophone world is famous for its many artists, from Edith Piaf to Stromae, yet despite this, sometimes the French just want to chanter en yaourt, which means to sing in yogurt. But really, this typical phrase is characterized by karaoke or singing with your friends, meaning to sing made-up words or sounds when you don’t know the lyrics to a song.
Beaucoup de chanteurs disent qu’ils chantent en yaourt
– Many singers say that they chanter en yaourt
- Saudade – Portuguese
Possibly the epitome of untranslatable words is the melancholic, Portuguese word saudade. In essence, saudade is the feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia. A yearning for happiness that has passed, or perhaps never even existed. Saudade is encompassed in many Brazilian and Portuguese songs and is a feeling that is central to the poetry and people of the lusophone world.
Não há saudades mais dolorosas do que as das coisas que nunca foram.
– There is no more painful longing than for the things that never were.