Lost in translation: five untranslatable words


Having a throwback into one of our previous posts, today’s topic is about five untranslatable words. As you can see, those are expressions or terms that express a very specific concept or meaning, which is usually very linked to the culture, traditions and lifestyle of the words’ country of origin and therefore there is a struggle to translate into English. Let’s have a look into some of the best lexical gaps worldwide!

1. Sobremesa

This Spanish well-known concept is just a delight. As the sobremesa site explains, the word literally means “over the table” and it refers to the leisurely time spent after have finished a meal, before getting up from the table; this time is dedicated to enjoy conversations while digesting and relaxing. As you can guess, certainly it does not have an English equivalent because of the cultural burden.

2. Hygge

Hygge is a Danish word that has become quite popular lately, and it is not surprising because of its charming and unique meaning. The official tourist site in Denmark states that being hard to explain and harder to pronounce (‘hooga’), the closest translation into English would be ‘cosiness’. But for Danes it goes beyond: for them, the word refers to a complete atmosphere, when the feelings are enjoyable and warm. There are many ‘hyggeligt‘ situations, such as when you are surrounded by the warm glow of candlelight, or just chatting with some friends or your family, having meaningful talks. Would be this the reason why Denmark is ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world?

3. Saudade

This is just another wonderful and renowned word that everyone has felt at least once in a lifetime. Saudade is a Portuguese word expressing an emotional and deep feeling of nostalgia or melancholy because of the absence of something or someone that one loves. This longing involved is very related to fado music, so it is saudade. There is certainly no other word like this, and to translate into English you may need to use a whole sentence in order to describe it.

4. Komorebi

This Japanese word of four characters ( 木漏れ日) is used for describing the enchanting interplay between light and leaves when sunlight shines through trees. The beauty in this word also relies in its bond with nature, which is something rooted in the Japanese culture and its well-defined and changing seasons. This natural phenomenon is not an easy one to be translated into English, and as it happened with the previous examples, you may need to use a phrase or a sentence.

5. Sgrìob

Sgrìob is another untranslatable word from Scottish Gaelic, which literally means “the particular pinch on the upper lip just a moment before drinking a shot of whiskey” but also “supposed to precede a feast or a kiss”. Thus, this word is especially dedicated for those who really enjoy drinking and tasting whisky or either those who love kissing. Don’t you want to try to find a suitable translation in your respective language? Don’t be shy!

In a nutshell, this is our lost in translation suggestion. There are much more than just five, but our idea was to focus on some terms with different origins. Therefore, please feel free to help us and to send us your translation proposals if you find or know some of them. We are really looking forward to receive your ideas!

Written by Ana Jiménez Morente
Content Editor.
Communication Trainee, DG TRAD – Terminology Coordination Unit