Untranslatable Words

I like using words.  In fact, I probably overthink the correct word to use some of the time.  Words, though, are one of the main tools I have to express myself, so why not try to pick the right one?

For some reason an article published by The Independent in October 2015 entitled “10 untranslatable words from around the world” appeared in my Twitter feed recently.

I quite enjoyed it as a read. I like some of the definitions but, most of all, I enjoy saying “odnoliub”!

It reminded me of a couple of things. When Sir Terry Pratchett was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease he described it as “an embuggerance” as he approached his illness, at the start, with “mild optimism”. While the link to the full statement appears to be broken, he defined “an embuggerance” as something that isn’t a major problem, but something that you could do without.

I’ve used it to describe things much smaller than a neurodegenerative disease and always had to explain it to people! It’s such a great and useful word though, and I doubt it has an equivalent in another language.

The second thing I was reminded of was The Princess Bride where Westley would always respond to Buttercup’s demands with the words “as you wish” which actually meant “I love you”. These aren’t untranslatable words in the strictest sense, but they are words that were not (initially) heard as they were intended. I think we’ve all been in that situation – comments like “Let me know you’ve got home safely” actually meaning “I don’t want to stop talking to you yet and need an excuse to start again”!

What words or phrases do you use with obscure definitions or secret meanings?

When you are flyin’ around and around the world
And I’m lyin’ alonely
I know there’s somethin’ sacred and free reserved
And received by me only

Nobody knows it but you’ve got a secret smile
And you use it only for me
Nobody knows it but you’ve got a secret smile
And you use it only for me

Secret Smile by Semisonic

Comments 1

  1. Maham Aslam

    “The second thing I was reminded of was The Princess Bride where Westley would always respond to Buttercup’s demands with the words “as you wish” which actually meant “I love you”. ”
    This was so true mannn! Touched me in the right spots. *thumbs up*

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