216 "untranslatable" emotional words from non-English languages


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Yeah, that certainly doesn’t have an American English equivalent. :smile:


There was a Russian word (I think it was Russian) I saw on one of these lists – haven’t been able to run it back down – which was the friendly emotion you have for someone with whom you used to be in love.


It’s fun to try to translate them, at least…

  • the bittersweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty : denouement?

  • to use or wear something for the first time : inaugurate?

  • ‘fingertip feeling,’ the ability to act with tact and sensitivity : tact?

  • children who are pleasant, earnest, and well-behaved : goody-goodies?

  • the ‘call of faraway places,’ homesickness for the unknown : wanderlust?

  • ‘with a relaxed brain,’ being quick-witted and sharp : Swiftian?

  • to roam around in a carefree way : gambol?

  • to shed clothes to dance uninhibited : strip?


synonym, “marriage”


* Coup de foudre (French): lit, a ‘lightening bolt’, sudden and powerful love at first sight.

That was me and my Mrs. right from the start. What a gal!


Well at least one of them is nonsense. Koi no Youkan would be “candy of love” (or maybe sweetness.) That might miss the nuance of how the phrase has been used, but it’s certainly not “untranslatable.”

We see these stories every year, and I suspect they’re as reliable as the Eskimos having 73 words for snow. In other words, fiction that sounds really right and seems to convey enlightenment.


“The bittersweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty” – that scene at the beginning of Gladiator where Maximus gazes on a beautiful bird and thinks of home before turning to battle the barbarians.

  • Coup de foudre (French): lit, a ‘lightening bolt’, sudden and powerful love at first sight.

I’m thinking it’s actually literally a “lightning bolt” but with the French on ne sait jamias, non?


Or the boob scene from American Beauty.


The standard rejoinder is that clearly they have just proved their thesis wrong on account of having just translated them. Perhaps they took a few more words to capture the nuance, but then again many of these “words” are in fact idiomatic expressions, which already are made up of multiple words or disparate parts. For example koi no youkan is three words. Many Chinese words are lifted entirely from a line of poetry (often appearing as either 2, 4, or 8 characters).

It’s neat to see that other cultures have decided to create pithy idioms for things that many people have already experienced, but “untranslatable” is always a stretch.

c.f. Modern critiques of the Sapir-Worf hypothesis.


Awwww. :heart_eyes_cat:


It’s in this list:

Razljubít (разлюбить): the feeling a person has for someone they once loved.


How do you get ‘candy’ out of ‘予感’, or even ‘sweetness’? Kodansha’s gives premonition, or hunch. Hadamitzky/Spahn doesn’t list it (but it’s a much more portable reference).




Of course those words and phrases are never truly untranslatable. I mean, how could they? That just sounds better than “phrases that are noticeably pithier than any reasonably accurate translation into English.” And that why there are quotes in the title.


It’s not really candy. It’s something untranslatable.


No もったいない? I am dissapoint.


I also like the observation that American English has no translations for “a page 3 girl”.

And while explaining the concept of “the bittersweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty” takes a lot more words to convey than “those naked girls in every newspaper”, the former is much more universal to human experience than the latter.


Wouldn’t that just be a “centerfold”?