Lost in Translation: Untranslatable Words 3

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAt the heart of clear communication is diction: choosing the right word. Many times we stumble in a conversation because we cannot find just the right word. We think or say out loud: “I wish there were a word for that.” Of course, the English language is always growing, a magpie that borrows a word from this language or that. But sometimes, foreign language words and phrases do not get absorbed into the English language for whatever reason. Bookshelf looks at some fascinating words and phrases from around the globe that express ideas in a very unique way or cannot be translated with one English word. Here is a tasty sampling of the global lexical smorgasbord.

flaneur: French – “a person of excruciating idleness who doesn’t know where to parade his burden and ennui” (from a dictionary of low language published in 1808); also, a man who saunters around examining society

Him il-utaat kullu firaan: Arabic – literally: “the dream of all cats is all about mice” which means that someone has a one-track mind.

Denizen dues yilanasarilir: Turkish – literally: “if you fall into the sea, hold onto a snake” meaning that if you are in a difficult situation, you will accept help from anyone.

Gonul: Turkish – literally: “heart” but it has a deeper meaning: it refers to the energy of your inner self, a part of which is shared with every human being that evokes concern for the welfare of others.

Shibui: Japanese – the aesthetic of a person or thing that is only revealed over time.

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Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia
There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: In Other Words by Christopher Moore

 


4 responses to “Lost in Translation: Untranslatable Words 3

  • boromax

    What can I say? I enjoy reading your posts. A lot, actually! In a world of non-stop social media nonsense, your blog is a breath of freshness – nay, it is a veritable hurricane of intelligent expression; like a hurricane in intensity, but cleansing and nourishing.

    • Alexander Atkins

      Hi Ed: Thanks for the kind note. It is rare to encounter thoughtful individuals who take the time to actually do what WordPress was designed to do: engage in dialog over worthwhile topics. There are millions of blogs that concern themselves with self promotion and drivel. I reminded of Macbeth’s famous line about the poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Again, thank you for your support of Bookshelf. Cheers. Alex

  • boromax

    Omigoodness. ‘Flaneur’ – “excruciating idleness.” I can think of a few modern slang terms; e.g., couch potato, slacker, mooch. These come close, but ‘flaneur’ is so delicious. Love it. Your other samples are great, too! Cats and snakes! Alex, your gonul and shibui are showing…

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