8 Words That Can’t Be Translated Into English

Last Updated March 16, 2017

Here is a list of 8 words from around the world that cannot be fully translated into English.

In a world that seems to be filled with English and a mad rush to reach absolute fluency in the same, it may seem like just about anything can be put into English from any other language. But when you come to think of the bigger picture not all of them can be translated into English.

Being in the language industry, we come across numerous words in languages from around the world. Well, we do want you to know that they cannot always be translated into an English word, like Shams in Arabic means Sun (not many are that simple).

So here we are, listing a few words from around the world that cannot be translated into another word in English, and how they’d sound if the literal translations were used (because, why not?)

  1. Kokusaijin (Japanese)while this Japanese word translates roughly as a foreigner, the literal translation of this is “an international person”. Well, that does sound like some international celebrity.

For Example-Being an international person in the country, he had his limitations.

(Well, he shouldn’t have a limitation feeling that international.)

  1. Pana Poʻo (Hawaiian)Ever had one of those bad days, when you are scratching your head, trying to remember something you forgot? Well that is what Pana Poʻo means in Hawaiian. No, not the bad day. The scratching your head part is called Pana Poʻo.

For Example- I have been scratching my head to remember where I lost my passport.

(Guess I have done my best to find it)

  1. Sobremesa (Spanish)If you Google this word, you are likely to come up with two translations—“dessert” (Google tries to convince you that it is Portuguese) and the other being “over the table”. But sobremesa has a much more elaborate meaning. It is the act of engaging in conversation with family, friends or business folks with whom you shared lunch time with. That sounds like a weekend, but definitely not reserved for a weekend.

For Example- The clients who visited us were involved in the act of engaging in conversation with family, friends or business folks with whom we shared lunch time with.

(That took more time to say than it took to say Sobremesa)

  1. Drachenfutter (German)—If you tried to drag out the literal meaning of the word, it translates to “Dragon Feed/Fodder” but in real usage it means buying an expensive gift for your wife or girlfriend to appease their anger. Well, we aren’t surprised it’s called dragon fodder now.

For Example- After a long boys’ night out, he had to get his girlfriend some dragon fodder.

(Good thinking. Should have done it before she started breathing fire)

  1. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)Anticipation can be anywhere, but if that anticipation keeps you stuck at the door and keeps you looking outside to see who is coming, that you are having Iktsuarpok. We are pretty sure, there is no one word for that in English language.

For Example- He was lost in anticipation that made him stand at the door to see if anyone was coming.

(Because, why not? Anticipation has different levels, doesn’t it?)

  1. Ji (Hindi)—Language experts have worked tirelessly to find an equivalent for this in English. Some said it’s “Sir/Madam”, while others said it’s “a means of calling someone respectfully”. Well, this respectful word can go next to any name you can think of—Sirji, Madamji, Uncleji, Auntyji, Teacherji and so on.
  1. Wabi (Japanese)—According to author Howard Rheingold (They Have a Word for It: A Light hearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases), this word means “a flawed detail that creates an elegant whole”. Argh! As deep as it sounds, we did our own hunt in the Oxford dictionary and we surely did not find a word for that. Guess that is a little flawed detail.

For Example- We did not know where to look for the flawed detail that creates an elegant whole in his persona.

(Really, we didn’t know where to look for that kind of detail)

  1. Waldeinsamkeit (German)like being lost in words wasn’t enough, this word refers to the feeling of being lost in the woods. And yes, you cannot be lost just anywhere. It must be in the woods.

For Example-As she wandered into the woods, she had the feeling of being lost in the woods.

(Obviously, she couldn’t feel like she was lost in the ocean)

That is our list of words which we believe cannot be translated to another word in English, or rather, it ought not to be translated. Hope you found that useful, and if you think there are other words that could be on the list, let us know and we will let the world know.

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