Jublo is a certified UK translation and digital agency based in Leeds.

Lost in Translation: 10 Words That Don't Exist In English

4mins read

Translation can often be mistaken for being a simple substitution of words, but for some languages - certain words and phrases just don’t have a translation. In different cultures, different things have significance, leading to a requirement for certain phrases or sentences to be summarised into a simple word.

From a business perspective, understanding the complexities of different languages and being able to communicate to markets in a hyper-targeted way can elevate your marketing communications and make you stand out from the competition.

So, we’ve put together a few of our favourite words that you just can’t say in English:

1. “Tartle” - Scottish

To tartle is to hesitate in recognising a person or thing, as can often happen when you are introduced to someone whose name you cannot recall; so you say, "Pardon my tartle!". As something that happens so frequently, it’s a surprise there aren’t more variations of this word across languages.

2. "Kopfkino" — German

Kopfkino translates to mean ‘mental cinema’. Effectively, it means those times when you daydream and contemplate how something could play out – a form of cinema for your brain. One for all the daydreamers out there!

3. "Saudade" — Portuguese

Saudade is a word for a sad state of intense longing for someone or something that is absent. Derived from Portuguese culture, and it is commonly expressed in its literature and music. One definition of saudade is by Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo: "a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy."

4. “Wabi-Sabi” - Japanese

A word from the Japanese language, Wabi-sabi is defined as the view or thought of finding beauty in every aspect of imperfection. It is about the aesthetic of things in existence that are “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. Wabi-sabi is also deeply influenced by the teaching of the Buddha and its school of thought can be interlinked with Buddhist thinking.

5. “Commuovere” - Italian

Commuovere is the Italian verb meaning to move, touch or stir someone to tears - most commonly used to refer to a story being told.

6. “Lagom” - Swedish

The translation of the Swedish concept of lagom is “enough, sufficient, adequate, just right”. Dubbed the ‘new hygge‘ (the Danish concept of ‘cosiness’) when it first popped up on the lifestyle scene, the word Lagom is now part of the mainstream everywhere from lifestyle blogs to new season interiors collections.

7. "Shemomedjamo" – Georgian

We’ve all been there.. when you are enjoying a meal so much you just can’t stop eating, even though you are really full! That feeling is what Georgian word Shemomedjamo describes - another one we’re surprised isn’t more commonly summarised globally.

8. "Schadenfreude" — German

A bit of a darker one, the word Schadenfreude describes the feeling of pleasure derived from another person's pain. A study in Würzburg in Germany carried out in 2015 found that football fans smiled more quickly and broadly when their rival team missed a penalty, than when their own team scored - schadenfreude in action.

9. "Koi No Yokan" — Japanese

The ‘untranslatable’ Japanese phrase ‘Koi No Yokan’ is ‘the premonition of love’. In Japan, the word for love at first sight is “Hitomebore”. Koi No Yokan is different, meaning “the feeling upon first meeting someone that you will inevitably fall in love with them”. The phrase is becoming increasingly used by younger generations, popularised by shoujo manga – comics aimed at teen females.

10. "Greng-jai" — Thai

Greng jai is a Thai word describing a feeling of not wanting to put another person out or hurt another person's feelings, a feeling of consideration for others and not performing a certain act because somebody else might be upset. 

At Jublo, we have a network of translation experts based all around the world, all specialists in their respective languages. We take the stress out of translations - whether that's your website content, legal papers or brochures, our team is here to make the whole process run smoothly.

If you’d like to find out more about how Jublo could help your business, get in touch today

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