How do you say? 16 untranslatable words from other languages

How do you say? 16 untranslatable words from other languages


English is a wonderful language. In its nearly one million words there are endless subtle gradations of meaning, folded up tight like origami. Surprising synapses fire between leftover Latin suffixes, ancient Greek verbs, and odd detritus from French, German, and even Arabic. And we add to it all the time, mixing it, blending it, elongating it with words like ‘hashtag,’ ‘duck-face,’ and ‘selfie.’ (Some experiments are better than others.)

But no matter how inventive it is, there are still moments and feelings that dangle just beyond its linguistic grasp. That’s part of the beauty of travel: learning new words that fill the gaps in expression, and appreciating the ability to articulate things that would otherwise go unsaid.

16 untranslatable words from other languages

Introducing our favourite untranslatable words from other languages. Where has resfeber been all our lives?

1. Vedriti (v) – Slovenian

To take shelter from the rain and wait for it to finish.

2. Waldeinsamkeit (n) – German

The feeling of being alone in the woods.

3. Abbiocco (n) – Italian

The drowsiness you feel after eating a big meal.

4. Mångata (n) – Swedish

The rippled reflection of moonlight on water.

5. Desenrascanco (n) – Portuguese

The ability to quickly improvise a solution.

6. Dor (n) – Romanian

The longing you feel when you miss someone you love.

7. Culaccino (n) – Italian

The condensation mark left on a table by a cold glass.

8. Resfeber (n) – Swedish

The restless race of a traveller’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are mixed together.

9. Iktsuarpok (n) – Inuit

The feeling of anticipation that leads you to go outside to check if someone is coming.

10. Komorebi (n) – Japanese

Sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees.

11. Badkruka (n) – Swedish

Someone reluctant to get into the water when swimming.

12. Sobremesa (n) – Spanish

The time spent after lunch or dinner, chatting with the people you had the meal with.

13. Pana Po’ o (v) – Hawaiian

The act of scratching your head to help you remember something.

14. Utepils (n) – Norwegian

A beer you drink outside.

15. Hyggelig (a) – Danish

Comfy, cosy, intimate and contented.

16. Verschlimmbessern (v) – German

To make something worse when trying to improve it.

  • Paul Schlyter#1

    December 26, 2016

    8. Resferber (n) – Swedish

    This Swedish word is actually spelled “resfeber”, without the “r”. Its literal translation is “travel fever”.

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      Tammy Burns#2

      January 3, 2017

      Oh! Thanks for catching that typo. Whoops!

  • ‘Aumoana#3

    December 26, 2016

    I’m wondering where the Hawaiian translation comes from since the definition in our puke wehewehe (dictionary) says something different.

    pana poʻo
    v. To tap or snap the head (it was rude or provocative to tap another’s head, as the head was sacred).

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      Tammy Burns#4

      January 3, 2017

      Hmmm, well that is interesting! We found this definition in “A Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language”: “To strike or scratch one’s head, to cause himself to remember something forgotten.” We’ll have to consult with our tour guides in Honolulu to see what they have to say!


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