June 9, 2021
Updated: July 20, 2022
There are thousands of untranslatable words. Today we're going to take a look at 20 of the most magical ones, each from a different foreign language. None have a direct translation in English.
These beautiful foreign words provide a fascinating glimpse into foreign languages and cultures.
Many languages are not able to perfectly capture the exact meaning of a word in another language. There are so many feelings and ideas that we can't put words to.
As every language learner knows, translating between two languages is no easy task. Each language has its own linguistic and grammatical complexities. This means many ideas become "lost in translation."
These words are often considered "untranslatable." Linguists have spent decades deconstructing and studying these words, trying to discover why.
1. Waldeinsamkeit (German)
The German word waldeinsamkeit consists of two words joined together. Wald means forest, and einsamkeit means loneliness or solitude.
It hints at both the feeling of being alone in the woods and also at a peaceful oneness with nature.
2. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)
Iktsuarpok describes the feeling of anticipation when you're expecting someone. It refers to the impatient excitement that makes you constantly check to see if they're coming.
It's that feeling that makes you look out the window countless times in hope of seeing your guest arrive.
3. 木漏れ日 (Japanese)
木漏れ日 (Komorebi) is a Japanese word that refers to the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees. The word consists of three kanji and the hiragana particle れ (re).
The first kanji means "tree" or "trees," the second kanji refers to "escape," and the third kanji means "light" or "sun."
4. Sobremesa (Spanish)
Sobremesa refers to the time spent after lunch or dinner socializing with the people you shared the meal with.
Meals are a very important part of Spanish culture. The Spanish people value the time spent relaxing and chatting after finishing eating.
The Catalan equivalent is sobretaula.
5. Goya (Urdu)
Goya is an Urdu word for the moment when fantasy is so realistic that it temporarily becomes reality.
It refers to the total suspension of disbelief you get with good, powerful storytelling.
6. Mångata (Swedish)
This beautiful word describes the reflection of the moon on water. It refers to the wavy, road-like shape that appears across the water when the moon is shining on it.
It consists of the prefixes Måne meaning moon, and gata meaning street/road. So it is sometimes indirectly translated as "moon-path," "moon-river," or "moon-track."
7. Saudade (Portuguese)
Saudade refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone you love which is gone.
It is a bittersweet, empty feeling that carries the knowledge that the object of longing may never return. It is often considered characteristic of the Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese temperament.
It implies melancholy or nostalgia. It has been described as "the love that remains" after someone is gone.
8. Kilig (Tagalog)
The Tagalog noun kilig is from Philippine culture. It is the feeling of butterflies you get in your stomach when something romantic happens.
Kilig is also used as an adjective to describe the exhilaration of an exciting romantic experience. This could be catching your crushes' eye for the first time or seeing a marriage proposal.
9. Hiraeth (Welsh)
Hiraeth is a Welsh word that refers to homesickness mixed with sadness for the lost or departed. It implies a longing for the homeland or the romanticized past.
The concept of hiraeth is similar to the Portuguese saudade mentioned earlier. It also has the Romanian equivalent dor, and the Ethiopian tizita.
It represents a mixture of longing, nostalgia, wistfulness and yearning.
10. Mamihlapinatapei (Yaghan)
The word mamihlapinatapai comes from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego. It refers to the wordless, meaningful look shared by two people who both want to initiate something, but are both reluctant to.
It can also refer to another unspoken look between two people. It captures the feeling that from just this look, each person knows the other understands, and is in agreement.
Mamihlapinatapai is the Guinness Book of World Records' "most succinct word." It is remarkably difficult to translate.
11. Hyggelig (Danish)
This Danish word refers to a delightfully cozy, intimate moment or thing. It gives off imagery of a candlelit winter evening at home with warm blankets and a bit of alcohol.
There are similar words in German (gemütlichkeit), Swedish (gemytlig), and Norwegian (hyggelig). However, there is no direct translation in English.
12. Flâner (French)
Perhaps one of the most Parisian of all French words, the verb flâner was defined in the 19th century.
It refers to strolling the streets of Paris in a leisurely way. It implies no goal or destination, but purely the simple pleasure of soaking up the city's beauty.
These aimless pedestrians are called flâneurs.
13. يقبرني (Arabic)
The Arabic word يقبرني (ya'aburnee) literally means "you bury me." The concept it represents goes far deeper than that (no pun intended).
يقبرني (Ya'aburnee) is a way to declare your hope that your loved one will outlive you, as it would be unbearable to live without them.
It expresses the desire to spare yourself the pain of a life without the person you love.
14. 热闹 (Chinese)
The Chinese word 热闹 (ré nao) is usually translated as “lively” or “bustling.” Its true meaning goes beyond these adjectives.
A place or situation that is 热闹 (ré nao )is not only fun and lively. It also has a special vibe that makes everyone want to be there.
A new, exciting bar or club may be 热闹 (ré nao), but so might a university class or meeting with friends.
15. Utepils (Norwegian)
Utepils is a Norwegian word that literally translates to "outdoor lager." It is common within Scandinavian culture, and used among beer drinkers worldwide.
Utepils has taken on several different interpretations throughout the generations. It typically refers to the act of sitting outside on a sunny day enjoying a beer. It may also refer to the first beer you drink outside on a warm, sunny day, and is the (great) name of a brewing company.
16. Тоска (Russian)
The Russian word тоска(toska) can be roughly translated to mean sadness or mournfulness. But these English words don't interpret its full meaning.
There are many shades of тоска(toska). At its lower levels it represents ennui, a vague restlessness, or a dull ache of the soul.
More acutely it can describe a strong yearning with nothing to yearn for. In particular cases, it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, a sick pining.
At its deepest it refers to a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without specific cause.
17. जिजीविषा (Hindi)
The Hindi word जिजीविषा (jijivisha) refers to the strong, eternal desire to live and to continue living. It is usually used to talk about people who absolutely love life. It suggests intense emotions and the strong desire to live and thrive.
18. פירגון (Hebrew)
פירגון (Firgun) is a modern, informal Hebrew term used in Israeli culture. It refers to the feeling of joy that something good has happened, or might happen, to someone else.
It also describes genuine, unselfish delight or pride in someone else's accomplishment. It represents a true generosity of spirit.
19. Gezelligheid (Dutch)
Gezelligheid refers to a convivial, cozy, or warm atmosphere. This can be the warmth of being with loved ones, or the feeling of seeing a friend after a long absence.
It is similar to the Danish concept of hyggelig and the German concept of gemütlichkeit.
It suggests a general togetherness that provides a feeling of warmth. Many consider it the word that most closely represents the heart of Dutch culture.
20. Merak (Serbian)
The Serbian word merak is a wonderful little word. It is the feeling of bliss and sense of oneness with the universe that comes from simple pleasures.
It refers to the pursuit of small daily pleasures that all add up to a great sense of happiness and fulfillment.
These beautiful words all defy direct English translation. They provide a magical glimpse into their different languages and cultures (and a challenge when using Flashcards!).
Have you come across a foreign word or phrase you felt you couldn't directly translate? Please feel free to let us know!
Technically the answer is no, there are no languages that can't be translated. But, indeed, we can't have a 100% accurate translation with any language.Are there any untranslatable languages? ›
Technically the answer is no, there are no languages that can't be translated. But, indeed, we can't have a 100% accurate translation with any language.Which language word is beautiful? ›
Ailyak, Bulgarian (n)
Meaning: the art of doing everything slowly with no rush, while enjoying the process and life in general; like the Swahili 'hakuna matata'