Tag Archives: untranslatable phrases

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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For further reading: In Other Words by Christopher Moore


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