Words lost in translation


It is often said that languages are a true reflection of its speakers, and more specifically, of their culture and the way the perceive the world and interact with it. This is the reason why languages are unique with each other and bear words that can be untranslatable to other native tongues. Here are a few examples of curious foreign terms with singular meanings that you may have never heard of and might be interested to include in your repertoire.

Sobremesa, for instance, literally translated as ‘over the table’, is used by Spanish people to describe the time they spend chatting at the table after the meal even when the food is gone. A truly Spanish habit which can last for hours portraying the talkative personality of these people. Another interesting term found in this Romance language is friolero, referring to those people who are especially sensitive to cold temperatures. Something which is not rare among Spaniards considering the long summer days and mild winters of their lands.

Unlike Spain, Norwegians cannot enjoy the same amount of sunshine, and as such, they really appreciate the act of utepils or the joy of sitting outside while having a beer on a hot summer day. Interestingly enough, they also have a word for anything that can be put into a sandwich such as ham, cheese, ketchup, mustard, jam, peanut butter, chocolate spread… or simply pålegg.

The German language is also rich of fun, curious vocabulary. The word kummerspeck, for example, literally translated as ‘grief bacon’, refers to the weight gained after undergoing some kind emotional distress. A more evil one, however, is schadenfreude describing the enjoyment that some people feel when hearing or knowing about other people’s problems. Yet, it seems this is not exclusive to Germans.

Japanese people, on the other hand, are known to have a special sensitivity to anything surrounding them and a good reflection of this are the many words they use packed with subtlety. The concept wabi-sabi, for example, is used by Japanese to describe the beauty which can be found in imperfections. Not as beautiful but equally delicate is the concept of komorebi, which refers to the effect of the sun rays as they filter through the trees and leaves.

Sometimes, however, we need to look into less known languages to find just the right word. It seems that Inuits – but not only Inuits – are tired of waiting their latecomer countrymen as they have even coined the term iktsuarpok to refer to this frustrating feeling. Many readers will also identify with the Pascuense word of tingo which stands for all those items your neighbour borrowed from you but never returned. Do you still remember that expensive and beautiful lawnmower?

These are just a few examples which show how hard the task of a translator is. It is not just a matter of changing the words but of capturing the essence of an idea in the most precise way. Most often than not, meaning is, inevitably, lost in translation.

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