There was a great article* by Lucy Greaves in the Guardian earlier this year, entitled ‘Is any word untranslatable?’. In it, she gives the example of the Spanish word, cursilería, “a noun derived from the adjective cursi, which means twee, naff, tacky, corny”. She also introduces us to the marvellous phrase “cursi como un repollo con lazo“, which translates as “twee as a cabbage with a ribbon”.
For interpreters and translators, there are, obviously, lots of words which can be translated in different ways, depending on the circumstances and the degree of nuance required. However, there are indeed many words from across the globe that are simply untranslatable.
There is a great blog** that has lots of these ‘untranslatable’ words and where you can spend many happy hours trying to work out what the equivalent in your language might be. This blog/website, invites readers to tweet their own examples to @freewordcentre and they’ll publish the best of them and spread the word. Here, for your entertainment, are a few of our favourites with some additional comments from us!
Kummerspeck (German) – “Grief Bacon”, or the weight you put on from comfort eating. We have all been there!
с легким паром / s legkim parom – (Russian) “With a light steam”: a friendly remark made to someone who’s just come from the bath. This sounds like something James Bond might say…
Neidbau (German) – A building constructed with the sole purpose of inconveniencing a neighbour in some way. Planning laws have a lot to answer for!
Oppholdsvær (Norwegian) – The weather when it’s not raining; a dry spell. This would not be used much in Scotland!
Tsundoku (Japanese) – The act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books. This is a great word!
Tushka (Ukrainian) – Literally, “the body of a dead animal”. Used of an elected official who has changed his political affiliation. Sadly, this is very topical at present.
Jayus (Indonesian) – A joke so poorly-told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh. We’re sure you can all think of examples!