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If only you could use these words in Scrabble. Photo: Jeremy Mates

With so much interest in our original 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words article, we decided to round up 20 more.

When linguists refer to “untranslatable” words, the idea is not that a word cannot somehow be explained in another language, but that part of the essence of the word is lost as it crosses from one language to another. This often is due to different social and cultural contexts that have shaped how the word is used.

In the novel Shame, Salman Rushdie’s narrator suggests: “To unlock a society, look at its untranslatable words.”

Here are 20 words that don’t translate directly into English; what may these words tell us about the societies in which they come from?

1. Inshallah

Arabic – [in-shal-la] While it can be translated literally as “if Allah wills,” the meaning of this phrase differs depending on the speaker’s tone of voice. We don’t have an equivalent in English, and my husband and I have adopted it into our vocabulary.

It can be a genuine sentiment, such as when talking to an old friend and parting with “We’ll meet again, inshallah,” or it can be used as a way to tacitly imply you actually aren’t planning to do something. An example would be if someone proposes a meeting at 4 p.m., and you know you won’t be able to make it on time. You can say, “I’ll see you at 4, inshallah,” meaning that you’ll only make it on time if Allah wills it to happen.

2. Takallouf

Urdu – [ta-ka-LOOF] Takallouf can be loosely translated as “formality,” and it often refers to the prodigious amount of preparation put into hosting a tea or dinner. However, it can also have a deeper, more culturally constructed meaning.

In Rushdie’s Shame, a husband finds out his wife has cheated on him and in response murders her lover. Although both husband and wife are aware of what has happened, neither of them talk of it because of the “law” of takallouf. The narrator explains:

Takallouf is a member of that opaque, word-wide sect of concepts which refuse to travel across linguistic frontiers: it refers to a form of tongue-typing formality, a social restraint so extreme as to make it impossible for the victim to express what he or she really means, a species of compulsory irony which insists, for the sake of good form, on being taken literally.When takallouf gets between a husband and wife, look out (104).

The pressure of takallouf can end up leaving many things unsaid, but to break this tradition could end up bringing shame on a family.

3. Chai-pani

Hindi-Urdu – [CHAI-PA-ni] Although it literally means “tea and water,” one way to describe this compound word is as the money and favors given to someone, often a bureaucratic worker, to get things done.

In English, we would describe the action as “greasing someone’s palm,” but in Hindi-Urdu it doesn’t have as negative a connotation. If you don’t offer enough money or gifts in the first place, someone may actually tell you that you’ve given the pani, but you still need to give the chai.

4. Bacheque

Lingala – [ba-check] Although the closest English translation of this African noun would be “con artist,” bacheque has a richer meaning. C.J. Moore describes it like this:

This is the man about Kinshasa who will sell your a car (especially when yours has mysteriously disappeared the day before), organize a night out on town for you or a tour of the local sights. Wearing a loud shirt and the best designer watch, bacheque serve a vital brokering purpose when the formal economy has dramatically broken down. They change currency, establish market prices and give the capital its characteristic feel (78-79).

5. Drachenfutter

German – [DRACH-ern-FOOT-er] While this word literally means “dragon fodder,” it refers to a type of gift German husbands bestow on their wives “when they’ve stayed out late or they have otherwise engaged in some kind of inappropriate behavior” – gifts like chocolates or flowers or a nice bottle of perfume (Moore 27).

Photo: Ethan Prater

6. Dozywocie

Polish – [dosch-VOCH] Many cultures share this concept, but Polish sums it up in a single word. “Parental contract with children guaranteeing lifelong support” (Rheingold 39).

7. Gagung

Cantonese – [ga-GUNG] Literally meaning “bare branches,” this word is used to talk about men who have little chance to get married or start families due to China’s one-child policy and its results: an excess of marriageable males as compared to females (Moore 85).

8. Taarof

Persian – [ta-AH-rof] This noun means accepting someone’s hospitality, particularly food and drink, but it also refers to showing the proper level of social respect in different situations.

Language professor Fatima Farideh Nejat sees understanding the concept of taarof and its larger social context as essential to understanding Persian culture.

9. Luftmensch

Yiddish – [LUFT-mensh] – “One who lives on air” (Moore 53).

A sample from The Joys of Yiddish:

The prototype of the luftmensh was one Leone da Modena,..who listed his skills and cited no fewer than twenty-six professions… Why would so accomplished a man be classified as a luftmensh? Because out of all twenty-six professions.., he barely made a living.

10. Kokusaijin

Japanese – [kok-SYE-djin] This nouns has a literal translation as “an international person,” but according to C.J. Moore it refers only to:

Japanese citizens who are able to get along with foreigners. ‘Cosmopolitan’ is the closest English equivalent, but this word connotes someone who speaks foreign languages and knows a lot about foreign countries and cultures. A Japanese kokusaijin may be an ordinary person with a flexible and open personality (89).

Go to the next page for 10 more awesomely untranslatable words.

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Language Learning

 

About The Author

Heather Carreiro

Heather is a secondary English teacher, travel writer and editor who has lived in Morocco and Pakistan. She enjoys jamming on the bass, haggling over saris in dusty markets and cross-country jumping on horseback. Currently she's a grad student attempting to wrap her tongue around Middle English, analyze South Asian literature and eat enough to make her Portuguese mother-in-law happy. Learn more on her blog at ExpatHeather.com.

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola Akinmade

    Happy to see “lagom” on the list!!

  • txomin

    I recently realised that Inshallah had been ‘adopted’ by my native tongue (Spanish), in the form of ‘ojalá’, meaning pretty much the same as it does in Arabic. Since then, I’ve been using that word more and more!

    • AngelD247

      “Ojala’” is, indeed, a linguistic borrowing from Arabic. The Moors were in Spain for close to 1,000 years (from 711 AD to past 1492). At the time of the expulsion many converted in order to stay. “Ojala’” worked its way into Andalusi’. As language shift from Andalusi’ to the majority (prestige) language occurred many Arabic words worked their way into Castillian. The language that was replaced, Andalusi (the substratum) influenced the language that replaced it, Castillian (the superstratum), which retained many of its features (ponology, syntax, vocab, etc.). So, “Ojala’” was not “adopted” by Spanish; rather the Andaluces who shifted from Andalusi’ Arabic to Castillian Spanish retained the use of “inshallah” as it was uttered topographically at the time. “Inshallah” should not be on this list as it is entirely translatable as “God willing.” One truly untranslatable word is the Spanish “carajo,” which is also a linguistic borrowing from Arabic.

      • bgonzales

        Carajo is a nautical term; crow’s nest in English. Caralho in Portuguese.

        It’s the least desired place to be in a ship because of its inaccessibility.

        I doubt the story about ojala is 100% true as the Portuguese version of Inshallah “oxala” is phonetically closer yet Galicia geographically a lot further away from Andalucia and Portuguese is much older than Spanish.

    • Dorian Gray

      Speaking of “Inshallah,”

      It is also a form of promise. The literal meaning of Inshalla “god willing” or “if Allah wills,” explicitly implies that I will do everything in my power to make it happen. As in: ” I’ll drive you to the to the airport, Inshallah.” Meaning that I will do everything in my power, unless, I die, my car die or someone steals my car or any circumstances that are beyond my control, people really don’t mean to suggest that God has any steaks in my getting you to the airport.”

      It is also used to convey one’s intentions or wishes is in I hope. So one would say: “I’ll see you tomorrow, Inshallah (hopefully)” or ” Inshalla (I wish) I’ll see you tomorrow.”

      So in Spanish, are you able to use the word “Ojala’” in similar capacity, as well?

      Thanks

      • Anthony Doherty

        Inshallah –

        In one of his novels Tom Clancy explained it thus: “It’s like mañana, but without the sense of urgency.”

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  • Gosia

    Actually the most common use of the word ‘dozywocie’ (No. 6) is the one meaning ‘life sentence’. Regards from Poland :)

    • Heather Carreiro

      Ha!

  • http://michelleschusterman.com Michelle Schusterman

    Okay – Frotteur is hysterical!

    • Heather Carreiro

      That’s one of my favorites! Would have come in handy in Pakistan and India…

      • Jehangir Jamali

        Frotteur in Pakistan and India? That is a bit of a surprise! I’m Pakistani and I think the word is a lot more applicable to any sort of place in Northern America where there are guys, girls, music (and maybe, but not necessarily, intoxicants)!

        Also, just wondering, how come you were in Pakistan?

        Inshallah should be in this list. While it can literally be translated in to God Willing, contextually it has all the meanings spoken about above.

        And, Takaluf is also a great word for the list. I think its roots lie in Persian but it is also used in Urdu. A guest can also ‘do takaluf’ at my house by not eating something that I offer out of formality that is based on a ‘need to refuse’ extra effort on the part of the host.

        Great list!

        • Heather Carreiro

          Thanks for the comment Jehangir!

          As for ‘frotteurs’ – I was in Pakistan for three years working education development and teaching secondary English. In my experience, I’ve never been grabbed at in public in the US (of course I tended to avoid the type of parties/clubs you mention) but I was often grabbed just while walking down the street in Lahore or in many Indian cities.

          I’ve had Pakistani male friends tell me how during their college days they would go out on Friday afternoons to crowded markets to try and grab girls’ bottoms and breasts as they walked by. I found the worst times to be busy times, like during Eid shopping. I’ve even heard stories from other female travelers of being asleep in a train couchette in India and waking up to find some random guy trying to jump into bed with her or fondle her…so yes, it does happen, not just to foreigners but also to local women. For some reason I think the guys who do this kind of stuff think it’s more acceptable to do it to foreigners, and so if a woman looks foreign she is more likely to experience it!

          • Jehangir Jamali

            Kudos to you to come to Pakistan on such a great cause!

            As for frotteurs, the image that came to my mind was one of ‘dancing in clubs and/or parties’ or grinding as it is rightly called. But looking at it from a grabbing perspective I agree with you.

            Hope you had a great time in my country and that you have more pleasant memories rather than these kind of memories!

            Once again, great article!!

    • Kate

      We get the paraphilia “Frottophilia” from the word frotteur. I bet we all can imagine what THAT means….

  • AngelD247

    “Inshallah” should not be on this list as it is entirely translatable as “God willing.” The Arabic “Allah” is, IMO, incorrectly translated as Allah, as if it were a proper name. True, in Islam it is one of the 99 names of God; but these “names” are actually descriptive titles, such as “the Merciful,” and “the Compassionate.” “Allah” literally means “The God,” i.e., a reference to the religious belief in one god, and in opposition to the polytheism practiced at the time prior to the rise of Islam. The God worshipped by Islam is the same God worshipped by Christians and Jews. Therefore, “Inshallah” means, simply, “God willing.”

    • Heather Carreiro

      Hi Angel,

      As an English speaker, I included “inshallah” because I don’t feel the entire essence/meaning of the phrase translates into English. Sure, we can say “God willing” or “Lord willing” in English (and I wasn’t implying the phrase is untranslatable because Allah may be considered a proper name – Arab Christians say “Allah” as well), but it doesn’t come across as having the same meaning because the majority of western society is really post-Christian. People don’t often refer to God in their daily lives, and the phrase “God willing” often ends up only meaning something akin to “hopefully,” which I believe (after spending 4+ years living in Muslim countries) is quite different than “inshallah.”

  • wordord

    As far as I know, English doesn’t have any verb for “the act of not speaking” found in most other languages I know about (molchat’ in Russian, tiga in Swedish, vaieta in Finnish, schweigen in German). You can use different idiomatic expressions such as *keep* quiet, *fall* silent, *be* silent, *say nothing* depending on the context, but there’s no universal, active *verb* in English.

    Swedish: “Han satt där och teg” = two parallell, active acts; the act of sitting and the act of not speaking
    English: “He sat there without saying a word” = one active act (sitting), whereas the “without saying a word” is merely a description of how he was sitting, not an active act in itself.

    I keep wondering whether this is he reason why all native English speakers I know are so talkative? ;)

    Another example: Wittgenstein said ”Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man *schweigen*”. To my mind, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof *one must be silent*” is a completely different thing…

    • Buck

      How about “shut up”?

    • Jim

      Ha – I never thought of that, but it is very true!

    • Liz

      I never even realized that there isn’t a word for being silent in English!

      I’m Dutch and there is a word for it in Dutch, it’s zweigen.
      Which is pronounced the same as the German Schweigen :)

      • Lilu

        It is actually written “zwijgen” :)

  • Lack

    Hmm, I’ve seen some of these used fairly common in English, this could just be amongst my social gruppes (yeah, I’ve adapted the Deutsch since I like the spelling) though; I use Inshallah when amongst Muslim friends, for example.

    Frotteur translates well to the English, Frottage. Itself adapted from the French ‘to rub’, as I guess the French word is as well.

    My female friends now use ‘frottager’, to refer to those creepy/pervy guys you get on trains, in general.

    I’ve also heard ‘Snorker’ used fairly commonly, although the usage seems to have morphed to mean a greasy weasel of a man.

  • http://www.ephemeraanddetritus.com MaryAnne

    Number 19 ‘Potlatch’ (meaning, yes, ‘to give away’) is actually an old, old ceremony wherein tribal village leaders held feasts and redistributed wealth rather than generally just giving away wealth. It was about reciprocity. It was also banned for a huge number of years after much, um, encouragement from missionaries, because it was seen as uncivilized and keeping the First Nations peoples from becoming properly assimilated (at least in Canada, where I’m from) so it’s still a bit of a sensitive issue, along with residential schools and suchlike. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to toss it around lightly.

    Also, it isn’t a ‘Haidi’ word, but rather Chinook Jargon, if I remember correctly, which is/was a trading language for a whole bunch of different groups, including Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, Salish, Nuu-Chah-Nulth and a few others.

    • http://www.ephemeraanddetritus.com MaryAnne

      But other than that, awesome list! After 6 years in Turkey, my vocabulary is now automatically peppered with Insh’allah, Masha’allah, AllahAllah, Eyvallah…Also ‘geçmiş olsun’ (getch-mish ol’soon) which roughly ‘may you recover soon’ or ‘may it pass’ but we used it for everything (Turks wouldn’t but they tolerated my heavy handed use of it): bad days, upcoming exams, fights with boyfriends, etc.

      • Jamie

        Maryanne, I hear ya! As a five-year almost-Turk, I too can’t speak English without throwing in some Turklish. My friends back home are now used to me saying I’ve been out “gezzing” and my mom will even pop a “geçmiş olsun” into an email if I’ve been ill. I’ve personally always wanted to use the phrase on someone with kidney stones (as in “may it pass quickly”) but somehow I doubt a Turk would find it as funny as I would. :)

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks for adding more on that definition! I found it in several books and thought it was interesting, although none of them offered a very in-depth definition that put it in a greater cultural context like you’ve offered. I’m guessing what you’ve mentioned (the inability of many to truly understand the tradition, ie the missionaries) has a lot to do with why it’s considered ‘untranslatable,’ since the cultural concept gets lost in the translation.

      I admit I’m no expert in Native American languages – I did find it listed as ‘Haidi’ in one source, although now looking at the Ethnologue it seems Haida is the more common spelling (so sad there are so few native speakers left!) and the Oxford English Dictionary does list ‘potlatch’ as Chinook jargon, so I’m going to go ahead and change that in the article – thanks for the correction!

  • http://www.dscardworld.com Acekard

    Only Gagung and taarof can be used in Scrabble, as they’re the only ones under 7 letters!

    • Heather Carreiro

      Didn’t even think of that! Guess we’d need a longer Scrabble board to include these other languages…

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  • Nitin

    Regarding Frotteur – I know! Did you ride public buses in India and Pakistan or was it a general phenomenon? I grew up in India and sadly am familiar with this, but am a bit concerned for my pregnant American wife who hasn’t yet experienced it in her previous trips to India. We’re traveling again in December, flying out of Dulles, and hoping for no frotteurs — in India or at the airport!

    • Heather Carreiro

      I rode public buses, trains, rickshaws, pretty much everything – I found it was normally worst in crowds where people were rubbing up against each other anyway and the frotteurs thought they could get away with it. Crowded markets (especially in Pakistan after Friday prayers when the student-age boys were free to roam around), train stations – those were pretty much the regular places it happened. I didn’t have much trouble on buses, but I usually rode slightly nicer AC buses in Pakistan (since I often traveled alone) and that was usually in the Northern Areas where if any man was caught doing that to a woman he’d be at the mercy of the mob.

      Hopefully if your wife is visibly pregnant that will deter some frotteurs. Make sure you teach her “Mat karo! Mai police ko bulao-ungi!” Sometimes I chose to say nothing, but if it was a younger guy I’d usually turn around, look him in the eyes and say something in English or Urdu with a pretty nasty tone of voice.

      • Rhea

        Frotteurs and people like that are why women used to have hatpins. On a crowded bus, better get it out of the hat and have it ready in case it’s needed. If no hatpin, try an elbow.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Oh and congrats on the pregnancy by the way! My husband and I are expecting in late January, so no traveling for us this winter – hope you guys have a great visit. I’d love to be in the subcontinent this time of year. It’s freezing here in New England!

  • Nitin

    Congrats, Heather! My wife is expecting in March but we are traveling any way. She’s had enough of this winter already and wants to be in South India, on a beach, with a good book. She’s Welsh-Irish (and for the last few hundred years American), so can’t stand the cold. I’m from Delhi, so I can’t stand the heat. Actually I’m from around Rawalpindi, for the last two thousand years at least, but recently underwent a rather violent displacement to Delhi.

    • Nitin

      By “recently,” I mean 63 years ago. Realized that the post veered off the bend, headed for enigmatic but got to(o) unintelligible.

    • Heather Carreiro

      It’s below freezing here in Massachusetts – South India with a good book sounds rather nice!

      Has anyone from your family been back to visit Pindi since Partition?

  • Renaud

    “Frotteur” is actually a word I’ve only heard in the meaning a mechanical piece of direct current electric motors. In this context, it corresponds to the brush that conveys electricity to the rotor.

    I’ve looked up in my dictionary, and “frotteur” with your meaning does appear but the example quotations date from the 19th century: “Il est souvent difficile de distinguer un pick-pocket d’un frotteur, car dans une foule leur façon de procéder est la même (Macé, Joli monde, 1887). (“It is often hard to tell a pick-pocket from a frotteur, as in a crowd, the way they act it the same”).

    “Frotteur” might be usual in French Canada but not here in France.

    The word “pont” with the exact same meaning as the italian word “ponte”, does exist in French, though.

  • Paul

    Inshallah has also been adapted into other languages of Muslim countries where the average person doesn’t speak Arabic. I lived in Senegal for 6 months and it was considered a Wolof word by many less-educated people (this also often happened with French words in Dakar). I never got the impression of the second meaning of not intending for something to actually happen. Senegalese seemed to use it for pretty much everything in the future, although I guess not much happens on time there.

    Wolof, the national language of Senegal, has TONS of words that I would consider untranslatable in the sense of losing some connotation. That’s what I loved so much about learning that language! One of my favorites is sai-sai (sigh-sigh) which can mean trouble-maker (in a somewhat playful way usually, especially if used to describe a little kid), a person trying to fool you (into paying more than something is worth, for example), or a guy with lots of girlfriends/a player. I have a t-shirt that says “Sai-Sai bu Mag” (big sai-sai) which definitely implies the last meaning when worn on a 22-year-old guy but doesn’t have quite the same negative connotation since it can be used in kind of a cute way, but it’s funny trying to explain that to people.

    You could probably do several of these lists just on Wolof (and many other languages I’m sure) because the entire approach to language is completely different then what you’re used to if you grew up only speaking English or other European languages. Just to say “boy” is “xalebugoorbi” (khah-LEY-boo-gore-bee; x/kh=throat clearing sound like Chanukkah; lit. “the child that is male”) and is not really ever used in the same way that we use the word “boy”. They also have a word “boy” said pretty much the same way and again the best translation is “boy” but used between young males as a way to call out to or address someone familiarly, roughly like “hey man!” or “yo dude!” Being a white kid raised in the southern US it took me pretty much the whole six months to become comfortable with hearing the term and not thinking of it as racist; I never got comfortable using it!

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks for sharing Paul. I’d love to publish something on learning Wolof here on Matador Abroad. Email me (heather@matadornetwork.com) if you’re interested in contributing!

  • Meg

    “frotteur” is a word that I NEVER heard before in such a context of otherwise, and I’m French, born and raised in France! Is it Canadian French?

    As a VERY common and hard to translate French expression, I would suggest “N’importe quoi!”. It means “that’s something ridiculous or so outstanding I can barely think about it”.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Hmm maybe it’s gone out of use or is only used in some French dialects, but not actually in France? Will have to look into that!

  • http://www.amandagrey.com Amanda Grey

    My favourite untranslatable word in English (into French anyway) is “serendipity”. I would love to know if other languages have a suitably vast word for this concept.

    • Marishka

      “Serendipia” exists in Spanish as a traslation to that word, exactly the same meaning. But I never heard no one using it here.

  • http://carina31.wordpress.com/ Carina Burns

    As far as a frotteur goes; after living in Paris from 1975 to 1980; I certainly experienced my share of des frotteurs dans le Metro…. meaning of a frotteur in the Metro!

    Amicalement,

    C

  • Dorian Gray

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful words.

    On Takallouf: I love the word, and being a native Urdu speaker, I would like to elaborate on it a bit.

    First it should be pronounced as {ta-kal-loof) not as (ta-ka-loof)

    “Delicate,” is the closest word in English to Takallouf.

    It has three primary meaning / usage in Urdu. Most commonly it is used for: “act with inner reservation” or “inner hesitancy.” As in when offering someone something to eat/drink or to keep (gift/tip) and the recipient exhibit hesitation or reservation about accepting it. Similar concept as in English when we say, “Don’t be shy, go ahead and take it.”

    Takallouf is an action, so one “practices Takallouf” or “act with Takallouf.” Therefore, you would say: “Please don’t practice Takallouf with me, and take it / have it; or you would say: “Please don’t act with Takallouf, and accept it / have it.” A host would often plead with his guests: “please don’t act with Takallouf here, make yourself at home.”

    Second most common usage for Takallouf is as the original post suggests “social restraint,” “being tactful” or “being polite, or “out of respect.”. Therefore, you would use it as: “I could’ve called him out on his flaws (could be anything) but I didn’t out of Takallouf (respect/politeness); or I could’ve corrected him, or told him off, but I didn’t out of Takallouf.

    In this second usage the word Takallouf is usually used when dealing with strangers, one’s guests, parents and other elderly folks or people of authority. Similar concept of social restraints / protocols as in the western world when we don’t tell someone (strangers/boss/judge/teacher) that he has a bad breath or he is a liar.

    One generally does not practice Takallouf with family members or with close friends.

    The “law”of Takallouf that Rushdie’s narrator is referring to is something archaic to serve his story, but in Urdu speaking world no one would possibly associate the word Takallouf with the word “law,” or “obligation,” for Urdu speaking world it is simply a matter of “choosing to be polite” with someone.

    In the above usages, a native Urdu speaker would use this word a few times on a daily basis.

    Thirdly and much less commonly it is used for “delicate” or “exquisite detail” as in the example of hosting a formal tea or dinner (requiring or investing great care in preparation.) As in: “The tea was arranged with utmost Takallouf.”

    In this usage, a general native Urdu speaker might use this word once or twice a year, if at all.

    Thank you for reading.
    Dorian

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks for sharing Dorian! I think when Rushdie uses “law of takallouf” he’s just using the phrase in a literary way.

      You mention the pronunciation, what syllable would you put the stress on? I’ve always heard it as “ta-ka-LOOF” – or at least that’s how my American ear has interpreted it!

      • Dorian

        Hi Heather,

        Re: Takallouf

        Both Ls should be pronounced separately, [Takul-luf]

        This pronunciation key is even better than the one I included in my original post.

        The “Loof” sounding ending is incorrect, it should sound like “luf” of Lufthansa.

        Cheers

        Dorian

      • Fatima

        Heather,

        I can’t tell you the joy I experienced reading through both your lists. I am not a linguist in any sense of the word, but I enjoy immersing myself in different cultures and learning about them. There really is no better way to feel like you belong sometimes than to have someone explain an untranlatable word

        In regards to takalluf, Dorian is completely correct. The meaning used by Rushdie is one I’ve never heard before, and all three of the meanings Dorian gave are ones that are commonly uses in India/Pakistan. She is also correct on how to pronounce it.

        One word that I think would fit on this list is the urdu word ‘yaad’. I think about it at least a handful of times a year and try to figure out an English equivalent. I haven’t succeeded yet! To translate it as literally as possible it means ‘to remember someone.’

        “I’m thinking of you”, or “I was thinking of you” is the closest I can come up with it in English. It really just means that memories of you are coming to me (this is why these are untranlatable right, they come out sounding incredibly incorrect in terms of grammar!) “Tum yaad aarahay ho” means “You are being remembered.” I wish I could up with a better way to explain it. If you’ve lived in India and Pakistan, I’m sure you’ve heard it!

        • Heather Carreiro

          Yes! “Yaad hai” and all of its forms is another great expression. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • grist

    The French word ‘si’ meaning to agree with a negative statement has no equivalent in English. I’ve been trying to use it, but most people confuse it with the Spanish ‘si’ which is just the same as the English ‘yes’.

    • http://angelabrett.wordpress.com Angela

      This is ‘doch’ in German. I wish we had a word like that in English; or at least a universal rule as to what yes and no mean when responding to a negative question/statement. It’s used in this kind of situation. Imagine somebody says this:

      The word ‘Schadenfreude’ can’t be translated into English

      If you reply no, usually you mean, ‘no, it can’t be translated.’ But if you say yes, someone might wonder whether you mean, ‘yes, it can’ or ‘yes, [you're right], it can’t be translated’. If you say si or doch it unequivocally means ‘you’re wrong, it can be translated’.

      Probably not the best example, but I thought I should try to explain it since people might not understand the usage from grist’s post.

    • Jim

      “Jo” in Danish. Very useful and something we miss in English. (And, I might add, is also absent in Russian.

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  • Jim

    The Danes have a great word “hyggeligt”, which is usually translated as comfortable or cozy, but it is much broader – describes a nice atmosphere like a pleasant evening at a guesthouse with friends or sitting around a fire drinking hot chocolate. Speaks to the Danish cultural love of being together, talking, and not paying close attention to time.

  • Jim

    And to give English it’s due, we have a couple words that I’ve found hard to translate into the three languages I know – Russian, Danish, and German. We have a very broad definition of the word “experience” that is hard to translate easily. Another is the way we use the word “fun”. Also broader than most equivalents from other languages.

  • Josh

    Got another one for you: the Acadian French Cajun word “lagniappe”, which is a little something extra, or more specifically, an extra little gift a customer gets with a purchase. It’s a marriage of Spanish, French, and Quechua Indian words.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Nice one! Thanks for sharing.

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  • http://www.bogartindustries.com/blog Daan

    Unfortunately, the explanation for Taarof is mostly wrong. In no case does it refer to accepting of hospitality, for example. It’s also pronounced [TAA-rof]

    Taarof is the practice of negotiating without losing face, and is probably best translated as white lies within certain contexts. A typical example would be paying for a cab at the end of a ride. When asked what the price might be, the driver might respond with “it’s free, it was my pleasure’, on which the opposite party responds “no, I insist”. This goes back and forth for a while, until the taxi driver quotes a price and real haggling can commence.

    Likewise, people may make offers of hospitality that both parties know are not be taken serious. For example, an invitation to spend a night at someone’s home, even though there is no space. The hosts makes this offer for, traditionally, he has to. The guest realizes this, so he will decline. Both parties save face.

    Taarof does have a connotation of hospitality and respect, but the meaning of using the exact word has gravitated more towards the metaconversation of both parties. For example, when offered a gift, you can ask if it’s Taarof. If it’s not, you’re dealing with genuine hospitality. This change in meaning is due to many reason, mostly the westernisation and increased contact with neighbouring countries.

    Other cultures do have this concept even though they don’t have a dedicated word to it, and use the more general term of politeness. Even though it’s much less extreme, it’s considered impolite in Belgium to accept an offer of coffee on the first offer. A correct interchange will go as follows, in case you really want coffee:

    “Do you want some coffee?’
    “No, thanks”
    “Are you sure?”
    “No, you don’t need to go through the trouble”
    “It’s no trouble at all”
    “Well, in case you are making some for yourself, I’ll have a cup”

    In any case, an easy google would have given you more insight

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks for the added insight Daan. For the short definition used in the article, I was working off the academic research by professor Fatima Farideh Nejat. The overview of her interpretation of the word/concept is linked to above.

  • Laura

    Si in French and Doch in German is the same as ‘jawel’ in Dutch. It CAN be translated in English, but that’s only with the very childish ‘does too!’ Jawel is not connotated with childish behavior.

    Schadenfreude in German is the same as ‘leedvermaak’ in Dutch.

    And the Danish word hyggeligt has about the same meaning as the Dutch word ‘gezellig’.

  • M

    In fact, ‘dozywocie’ usually means ‘life imprisonment’.

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  • Sam

    These have been great lists — it’s a fascinating concept! A word I’ve always found particularly beautiful is the Finnish “kaiho.” It’s similar to “longing,” but it implies a deep, involuntary solitude. The thing you yearn for is impossible or nearly impossible, yet you feel incomplete without it; the result is a terminal, poignant melancholy.

    “Sisu” is another good Finnish word.

  • Marina

    The Ponte reference in Italian also exists in Venezuelan Spanish! In fact, in January many people go straight to the calendar to see what the Pontes are for the new year.

    Moreover, many people in Venezuela don’t work/go to school for Mardi Gras, so the ponte was from Friday march 18 (and some people Thursday!!) all the way to Wednesday!!! (and other happy go lucky people didn’t go to school on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday which means the ponte was LOOOONG)

    Would like to know if it applies to Spanish from other countries as well ;)

    • Tiago

      “Ponte” is also very used in Portuguese for both meanings, the day off and the construction named in english by “bridge”.

  • Iga

    Indeed, “puente” in Spanish, “pont” in French, the word “ponte” is quite popular in Europe, but it’s true, it’s difficult to translate it into English.
    As for the Polish “dozywocie” it’s normally life sentence, and it’s rarely used in the meaning provided.
    I agree with the person who indicated lack of verb for “not speaking” in English, there’s “milczeć” in Polish, which is not the same as “shut up” (stop talking).
    Not a word, but an expression “j’assume” in French can be translated lamely as “I take the responsibility for what I’m saying”, but it’s far more colloquial.
    The Spanish “ojala” has indeed an Arabic origin!
    Cheers!

  • lou

    Those looking for an “active” word for be silent might prefer the phrase “holding your tongue”, which indicates you are choosing not to speak even though you have something you might say. If you’re trying to tell someone else to not speak, “shut up” has become more prevalent, but a lot of my grandparents’ generation (in their 80s and 90s now) would tell us to “sit still and hold our tongues” when we were being rowdy. I’m more likely to use it in the personal sense now, that is, “I wanted to comment on her awful dress, but I held my tongue.”

  • spicemaan

    It is pretty surprising and interesting at the same time that while there are so many comments made about the Arabic/Urdu (as well as its forms in Turkish) phrases, there are almost none made about the Japanese word. I am part Japanese and part Pakistani so a comparison is legit in my case.

    “Kokusaijin” is correct but not common. Actually I have never heard that word before used around me. People do say “kokusai-teki” which means exactly the same thing without making you imagine whether you are from a country called “kokusai” or whether this person is trying to tell you that you are not fit to be Japanese or are no longer so. The Japanese are very careful people and they would definitely try to use the safer way of praising you without making you feel alienated.

    One letter can bring a whole different meaning to things. A foreigner may feel awkward if not offended being called a “Gaijin” (short form of a foreigner, largely accepted but literally means an outside human, outsider) because this person would think that the proper way would be saying “Gaikokujin” (a foreigner, literally a human from a foreign country). Most people accept “Gaijin” not because they tolerate the meaning, but because it is, in Japanese grammar, a short form. “Jin” is the suffix for a person or human related to the letter before it.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks for sharing! Part Japanese, part Pakistani – what an interesting background. Do share your family history!

  • http://nicdopowiedzenia.wordpress.com/ Jonas

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard – let alone used – the word “Drachenfutter” in this or any other sense my whole life, so that might be a regional thing or a special expression of whoever told you of it…

    There is a german equivalent to the italian “ponte” in the sense of an extra day off: “Brückentag” (“bridge day”)

    Also, I’d like to propose another word: polish “kombinować” which, in it’s literal sense only means “to combine” but is used in a broader sense which I would explain as doing something in a way, which is not the right way but makes you reach the desired outcome.

  • A.S.

    I was hoping I’d see the portuguese word «saudade» here!

    Great list though :) 

  • lewis82

    One word I can’t translate in French is “Grandfathered”, such as “I’m lucky that my cell phone contract has been grandfathered, else I’d pay much more”.

  • None

    Well, one of the nicest German words kind of complicated to translate: Habseligkeiten

    It is normally translatet as posessions or belongings. But this doesn’t describe it completely.A direct translation would be: little things which are blessed for you, but a better description is: all the little things which are important for you without great material value.

    • Mnorri

      Something of sentimental value, perhaps?

  • http://dimension7.wordpress.com Baro

    Inshallah can be, however, translated into Spanish, almost literally. We use the expression “if God wills” with the exact same meanings.

    As A.S. mentions, there’s also the Portugese (and Galician) word “saudade”, which in certain contexts could be translated as “homesick”, but is actually any kind of anguish caused by missing anything (including people), in a more profound way than just “missing” it. For example, in Galician, “Teño saudade de ti” is not the same as “Bótote de menos” (I miss you)

  • Angeluz

     ”Ponte” also had an Spanish version: “puente”,  and also means bridge, and those sneaky day we get out of nowhere to make a small holiday from a week-end plus a red day. Interesting to know: sometimes if the red day is a Sunday or Saturday, we move it to Friday or Monday. 
    We are supposed to be “the third world of Europe”, but we are having a big time of it. 

  • Howard Jan

    Snap! as in Snap, look at that cool car. or Oh Snap I dropped my pencil.  

  • Klaus

    I am German and have never heard the word Drachenfutter in said context.
    Also, ponte exists in German (Brücke) with the exact same meaning.

  • Nalesk2326

    “Ponte” also exists in French (we say “pont”). Must be a European thing :)

    • Aaaa

       It’s used in Mexico as well.

  • Aviem

    In Hebrew, the word for bridge, “Gesher” is used in the same way as “ponte” in Italian

    • Marishka

      In Spanish, we say “Puente” with the same meaning too, but maybe Italian sounded more elegant :)

  • Divabolica

    Koselig. In Norwegian it derives from Kos- which can be translated into cuddle,  but also to enjoy oneself, in a very low key ( pietistic )  manner. Often something you do with family or friends. It’s kind of related to lagom,- one should enjoy oneself in the company of others, but in a non exessive way.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FEN4OQEMFILDPJQONCCWKL7UKI bouvin

      At least that is directly translatable to Danish (not too surprising, I know) as “hyggeligt”.

      • Erikke

        In Dutch: gezellig

      • guest

        The word hyggelig is used in Norwegian, as well, and it isn’t really the same as koselig, even though they fall under the same category (: 

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_T423CWICYDXS3YLYTAFLZWBQNI Charlotte

          Our Swedish trevlig can beat your koselig and hyggelig any day, and I’ll throw in mysig for good measure!  ;)

          Just kidding — I believe that all of this can be expressed in various shades of “nice” and “cosy”.

        • Geir

          “Koselig” was the first word that came to my mind after I saw “hyggelig”. “Hyggelig” is far more translatable than “koselig”…

      • Lou-cifer

        no, the word hyggelig exists in Norwegian too, koselig is different nicer and more familial.

  • asd

     In-sha-la = OJALA in spanish

    • Luis

      And OXALÁ in Portuguese, with no explicit reference to God / Allah. Although not very common, you can just say “Oxalá it won’t rain today”. (great list, btw!!)

      • http://ohsombra.tumblr.com ohsombra

        funny I just used the exact same example up there ;)

  • Norman

    I live in Italy, so I liked your PONTE. It is interesting that Italians use the English word PRIVACY in Italian, because they have no word for the concept! 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Z4CJFSWSF6NJQ2QO56FEBHKHJM K

     I agree with PacRim – perhaps a better title would be words that do not have equivalent English *words*.  The meanings of these words can easily be translated, as you have just done.

  • Hana

    Jung is pronounced “jung” not “yung”… and it doesn’t necessarily mean stronger than love, it perhaps burns less hotly but is more enduring.

  • HistoryDave

    “Lagom” used to have an English equivalent – “competence.”  One did not seek to get ahead, one sought instead a competence, which was defined as enough to support yourself and your family in independence.  This usage was common in 18th-century America.

  • Comicstar

    Isn’t “inshallah” just “God willing”? I mean, I’m an atheist so I don’t know much about how that phrase is used properly, but it’s fairly common and seems to mean exactly the same thing.

    • http://ohsombra.tumblr.com ohsombra

      It is exactly that, in spanish we have “ojalá” which is a mispronunciation of the original word in arabic, it also has no religious connotations, it’s something more like “hopefully”, it’s a pretty useful word… Ojalá no llueva = Hopefully it will no rain…

  • anchoredpaperplane

    i love this! but was also expecting to see the portuguese saudades :) and ponte in portuguese is used the same way as in italy.

  • Guest :)

    Ponte (the Italian) word is in German also known as “Brückentag”. It has the same meaning, but literally translated it means bridge day! :)

  • RSFreitas

    And how about the portuguese word FADO, a mixture of destiny, faith, fortune, lucky and so on…?

  • Filipe

    One more word for you: saudade

    It’s a portuguese word similar to “i miss you”, but it has a very deep feeling in it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/luisliquito Luis Liquito

    ” saudade ” Português.

  • Axc

    It’s very difficult to translate the word “saudade” in portuguese. It’s the feeling about missing someone, but is slightly different missing someone (sentir falta) and to feel “saudade”, probably because “saudade” is a noun. 

  • Ckcupcakeb

    L’esprit de l’escalier (or l’esprit d’escalier), usually translated as “staircase wit”, is the act of thinking of a response, argument or clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it. The phrase can be used to describe a riposte to an insult or any witty remark that comes to mind too late to be useful, after one has left the scene of the encounter. The phenomenon is usually accompanied by a feeling of regret at not having thought of the retort when it was most needed or suitable.

  • Dan

    In his wonderful novel “The Periodic Table”, Primo Levi tells of the Judeo-Piedmontese word “havertà”:

    “‘Havertà’ is a Hebrew word, crippled in both its form and meaning and quite suggestive. Actually it is an arbitrary feminine form of  ‘haver’, which equals ‘companion’ and means ‘maid’, but it contains the accessory notion of a woman of low extraction and of different customs and beliefs that one is forced to harbor under one’s roof; by inclination a ‘havertà’ is not very clean and is ill-mannered, and by definition she is malevolently curious about the customs and conversations of the masters of the house, so much so as to force them to use a particular jargon in her presence, to which, besides all the others mentioned above ['pegartà', 'goyà', 'manòd'], the term ‘havertà’ itself obviously belongs.”

    • LaElena

      Wonderful chapter of a wonderful book! Full of untranslatable words. Love it. Good choice!

  • Mike The Knowitall

    Ponte is the same as faire le pont in French, not untranslatable then…

  • Mszappata

    The word “frotteur” definitely has a Russiqan translation, although it is formed form the original French word.

  • guest

    I also miss the Norwegian word “forelsket”. It translates best into that of being in love, but its meaning runs much deeper than that; it’s more heart felt (and at times terrible).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=629159208 Heidi Mathews

    Inshallah – It is also used in Spanish, and very frequently. We say “Si Dios quiere.”

    Ponte – We also use it in Spanish. “Puente” can be used to say bridge or that extra day for holidays.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stealthanugrah Fiel Mahatma Sahir

    I would like to say that Inshallah is translatable into English. I say it all the time in English, a.k.a. God willing. God willing, I’ll get to go to Indonesia next year. It’s completely translatable. 

  • mememe

    Meraki (Greek):
    doing something with soul, creativity, or love

  • Mark

    Inshallah can be translated as ‘God Willing’, a phrase known by many English speakers. Churches often use ‘DV’, the Latin abbreviation for Deo volente.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_T423CWICYDXS3YLYTAFLZWBQNI Charlotte

      I agree, many languages have expressions meaning “God Willing”. Sure, it’s two words instead of one, but you wouldn’t say that merci is untranslatable into English just because it needs two words to say thank you. 

  • Mark

    Couldn’t ‘Lagom’ be translated as Temperance? ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperance_%28virtue%29 )

  • Cvi solt

    As for 17 – ponte, it is definitely not untranslatable. Puente in Spanish and גשר in Hebrew mean exactly the same

  • http://contact.fullxri.com/contact/=alx Alex

    Fun fact: Polish dożywocie (dozywocie) also means “Lifetime jail sentence”.

  • Franco

    “Gigil,” or “Gerret” are both untranslatable Filipino words. It’s the feeling of wanting to hug or squeeze babies who are really adorable.

  • Ale Garavito Aguilar

    A Portuguese word: Saudade 
    Meaning: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudade

  • shai zilberman

    the gridge thing in italian, exist as well in hebrew, the word ”gesher”, with the same meaning execally, both literal and practical :)

  • Guest

    Inshallah, in Spain we say Si Dios quiere and I think it has the exact same meaning. Also, we call puentes to those four days vacations, just like in Italian (:

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Larissa-Morelli/100002045195360 Larissa Morelli

      We do the same thing in Portuguese – “Se Deus quiser”

  • Nathan

    Welsh – “Iawn” it can mean yes, it can meanok, it can mean very, can mean correct, it can be a question and can also be an answer, it changes all the time with the context. i.e “Go iawn” means “real” whereas “Da iawn” means “Very good”  ”Wyt ti’n iawn?” “Are you alright?” and there are soooo many more examples

  • taimunozhan

    The Spanish word “Puente” (bridge) is also used in the same way as Italian “Ponte”. :)

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_T423CWICYDXS3YLYTAFLZWBQNI Charlotte

      We have a Swedish word for the same phenomenon, “klämdag”. It literally means “squeezed-in day”,  because the supposed working day is squeezed in between a Saturday or Sunday and a national holiday.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Larissa-Morelli/100002045195360 Larissa Morelli

        And we have a verb for doing that in Brazilian Portuguese: “enforcar” (to hang, as in hang to death). Whenever (and we do every time we can XD) a holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, the Monday or the Friday will get “hanged”, and we have a “feriadão” (literally a big holiday).

    • p.

      We have a German word for it “Fenstertag” literally “window day”. Same concept.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_T423CWICYDXS3YLYTAFLZWBQNI Charlotte

    When the fairy tale Goldilocks is translated into Swedish, “just right” is translated as “lagom”. So I would say that the concept of lagom is well known to English speakers, even if they need two words to express it.

    It could also be argued that lagom is just another way of describing the golden mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mean_(philosophy)

    Much as I’m proud of my Swedish heritage, I believe that the Greeks were first on this one (as usual)! :)

  • Jslankyman

    good article but i think that translating the untranslatable kind of ruins the whole idea of an untranslatable word

  • Mwrees

    English: self-righteous (no direct translation to Spanish)
    Spanish: inergumeno

  • Kate Mysak

    Hi,
    thanks for the great post!

    as for “ponte” – there is the same word in German – “Brückentag”.

    Brigde day :)
    ahoi!
    kata

  • Pechanni

    An untranslatable word which I love in my language, danish, is “nå”. It’s a word with no clear meaning, so it transforms itself to whatever you want it to be, defined by how you say it.
    1. You want to indicate that it’s time to proceed: When you’ve had dinner and been talking for a while, and you want to leave the table or start doing the dishes. When you’ve stopped to chat with someone on the street, and you want end the conversation to step back on your bike. When you’ve been procrastinating something, and it’s time to begin. “Nå.. I should get going” Here the English equivalent is “so..” or “well…”2. You’re being told something new, maybe surprising, or something contrary to what you believed. “This isn’t mine, but I think it’s OK for you to use it.” “Nå!” In English it would be “Oh!”3. To show indifference: Someone says something that you don’t care about or you find irrelevant. “Yes, I kissed him, but we’ve been friends for years!” “Nå. Should that make it any better?” Sometimes briefly shaking your head, lifting an eyebrow or shrugging.4. To show that you finally understand: There’s something you’ve always wanted to know, and someone finally gives you the explanation: “Nååå!”5. To indicate there’s nothing to worry about/wrong after all: Someone is worried, you or another person, but then the other person says something that lets you conclude everything is okay. “But I already did the shopping” “Nååå, then we don’t need to hurry”.6. To show that you disagree or question a decision, or a statement: “I decided to move, I’m tired of living with my parents.” “Nååå, do you really think that’s a good idea?”7. To suggest that what another person said could imply something more, sometimes unreasonably, just to tease: “Anne and I had dinner last night”. “Nåååå, are you gonna have children soon then?”

    It has many more uses and variations. I think foreigners speaking danish would recognize it quickly, but learning to juggle with it and knowing how to say it to use it the way we use it is difficult. The slightest difference in intonation could mean the difference between coming across as a snob or a regular person.

  • Fiasito

    No. 17, Italian “Ponte”, wow in Colombia we use the exact same word, but in spanish, to refer to the exact same thing. Puente. 

  • Pierre

    In Russian they say “Zavoy” for an extremely long drinking session (possibly several days) during which one can’t help drinking continuously until  he blanks out completely

  • Andrew Barber

    The English equivalent of ‘frotter’ is ‘frottage’. Some of these are just beautiful. I heard of a Japanese one once that translated as ‘the feeling of wanting to test a new sword on a prisoner of war.’

  • justaperson

    By the way, the word “takallof” comes from Arabic, and one of its meanings is pretentiousness.  While the Persian word, “taarof” has a similar Arabic origin, which means getting to know one another.

  • Femmedeluxe

    In Pittsburgh, where I’m from, we have a word for #13. Snorker, that’s the perfect translation – Nebby.
    Nebby (or a neb-nose) means someone who always has their nose in someone else’s business. I don’t know where it comes from, but we all grow up saying it.

    “Why are you watching what the neighbors are bringing in their house? Stop being so nebby.”

  • CWE

    How about the serbocroatian (and I believe this word is common to various other Balkan languages) word “inat” (pronounced ee-NOT)?  It is frequently mistranslated by Westerners as “malice,” “spite,” etc., with a correspondingly negative and even pejorative connotation.  However, in its native cultural context in South Slavic/Balkan culture, inat is perhaps best described by Dragan Milović of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, London, as a feeling or attitude “of proud defiance, stubbornness and self-preservation – sometimes to the detriment of everyone else or even oneself.”  The word simultaneously carries connotations of “pigheadedness” (negative) and “stick-to-your-guns” (positive.

    • Mamma-Cat

      I wonder where you are from :)

      Good example, I could never quite translate “inat” and feel that all of its the aspects of its meaning have really been covered.

      I do have to point out, however, and mostly for the sake of other readers, that Serbo-Croatian is not used to sum up the languages spoken in this part of the Balkans. Even though the languages spoken in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro are almost completely mutually intelligible, we still use separate names for each of them – ergo, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin. This is a tricky issue in these areas. Finally, we all know that the criteria for language identity have more to do with extralinguistic factors, such as culture, history, politics, self-identification of native speakers and so on, than with linguistic factors, such as mutual intelligibility and language structure.

      • CWE

        @0104dc5d3dfd240e32e20170b3af56a9:disqus  You are correct (and I am aware) that we now refer to Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and now also Montenegrin (in the last 5 years) as separate languages.  However, this is primarily for nationalistic political reasons since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the wars of the 1990s, and not the result of true linguistic differentiation. I didn’t get into this in my original comment because I thought it was a more nuanced contextualization than most readers in this forum would care for, and also because the term “inat” predates the artificial segregation of these languages into the current B/C/S(/M).  I know from a friend that this term is also used in Albania and Bulgaria, and I believe it is even more widespread in the Balkan/South Slavic region, and is perhaps even an Old Church Slavonic derivative.

        But you are right, the complexities of identity in this region are incredible.  For instance, in today’s Former Yugoslavia, the difference between ethnicity and nationality/citizenship can be confusing…Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian refers primarily to where one lives/is from, while Serb/Croat/Bosniak refers to ethnic identity.  So you may be Serbian, but be a Croat, or be Bosnian, but be a Serb (such as Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić, and the other leaders of the Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War).  The fact that the areas of ethnic majority do not line up clearly with the political boundaries is one factor that contributes to the instability in the region.  Kosovo is a prime example of this…historically and culturally, the Serbs view Kosovo as the heartland of their people (hence the slogan commonly seen as graffiti in Serbia that reads “Косово је Србија” = “Kosovo is Serbia”).  But in the last several generations, ethnic Albanians have come to outnumber the Serb population in Kosovo dramatically.  To Serbia, the notion of Kosovo NOT being part of the Serbian state is inconceivable, it would be tantamount to Israel ceding Jerusalem to an independent Palestine.  But to the people who currently live in Kosovo, predominantly ethnic Albanians, an independent Kosovo is the only logical option.

        To answer your question, I am an American, but I studied B/C/S in college in Chicago, where I also dated a Croatian-American girl (who grew up in Zagreb in the 90s), and my personal interest led me to study the history of the region as well.  I wrote a paper on the role of nationalism in the dissolution of Yugoslavia (with a retrospective considering the historical pattern of nationalism in the region, such as the WWII-era Ustaša and Četnik movements), and in the process I interviewed a number of Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, and even a couple of American servicemen who served in the region in the ’90s…if you’re interested, let me know and I’d be happy to send you a copy.

  • Palomadd

    In Spanish, “estrenar” means to wear or use for the first time. As in to “estrenate” a pair of shoes or a new blender. 
    Also, “empalagar” means to saturate with sweetness. It is a reflexive verde, as in “I “empalagated” myself with chocolates” or “this chocolate is empalagating” 

    Note that I made up the English versions (estrenate and empalagate) just to that I could illustrate the examples. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WVOT4H4M7J4KMDTGBJV2UJ6PTI Meelie

    InshAllah = God willing…  How is that not translatable?

  • mark

    I consider myself a quite literary able Polish native and I have never heard the word “dozywocie” used in that meaning. It means only “lifetime jail sentence”.

  • Word lover

    Just for the record, “wabi” does not in fact rhyme with “Bobby”. The “wa” part is far closer to the “ha” of “happy”, although it’s not a perfect match phonetically speaking. If you pronounced it as rhyming with “Bobby”‘, most Japanese would not understand you.

  • magda

    The Polish word dozywocie does not mean ‘ Parental contract with children guaranteeing lifelong support’ I have never ever in my life heard anyone use it like that. The word means ‘life imprisonment’.

  • Yaiza Peraza

    Of course we have “puentes” in Spain too! The calendar is full of them!

  • Silvia Zape

    The word “Ponte” is not absolutely untransatable, since it also exists in Spanish, as “Puente”, and in Catalan, “Pont”, with this special meaning.

    • Marishka

      Yes, but there is not one-word translation to English, so for native English speakers is untranslatable.

  • Anonymous

    takallouf has some similar concepts in Japanese. Japanese have two words: honne, and tatamae:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honne_and_tatemae

    tatamae is often translated as “facade”, i.e. the side you show the world, vs. honne, which is the inner self and the truth.

  • Anonymous

    Whoever wrote that “gagung” is COMPLETELY WRONG.

    The proper Cantonese transliteration is gwong-gwan, which sounds NOTHING like ‘gagung’.

    http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/dictionary/words/13024/

    At least he got the meaning right. And this is a valid term in both Cantonese and Mandarin. According to Baidupedia, it dates back to a Ming Dynasty manuscript.

  • Patricia Romero

    “Inshallah” is the origin of the Spanish word “Ojala” which has more or less the same meaning.

    • Donna M Bruschi

      Two of my favorite words ever.

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

    • Rommel Andrews

      I usually translate “ojalá” as “hopefully”, or “I hope so.”

  • Ben Efits Ski

    Fiero

  • Ben Efits Ski

    Fiero

  • Muhammad Owais Qureshi

    Hi there I just reached this page dnt know how , but It’s interesting , I’m a Urdu speaker and I would like to say the way you have defined Takallouf is great but “Rushdie’s Shame” is defined kinda incorrect , the appropriate word for it would be “Hitch-Khichana” meaning “Hesitation”.

  • Taty J-c

    I would say “inshallah” is pretty much “si dieu le veut” in french like, I don’t know, we use it in the same manner!

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Tom Waller

    Dożywocie means ‘life sentence’ for Jail.

    Parental support? wat

  • Rommel Andrews

    Spanish also has the word “puente” (bridge) to mean a “holiday bridge”, like the Italian “ponte” (#17).

  • Amanda Plakosh-Angeles

    candil de la calle – Spanish – used to describe someone that is kind to strangers but mean to their own family

  • Amanda Plakosh-Angeles

    candil de la calle – Spanish – used to describe someone that is kind to strangers but mean to their own family

  • Amanda Plakosh-Angeles

    candil de la calle – Spanish – used to describe someone that is kind to strangers but mean to their own family

  • Amanda Plakosh-Angeles

    candil de la calle – Spanish – used to describe someone that is kind to strangers but mean to their own family

  • Amanda Plakosh-Angeles

    candil de la calle – Spanish – used to describe someone that is kind to strangers but mean to their own family

  • Amanda Plakosh-Angeles

    candil de la calle – Spanish – used to describe someone that is kind to strangers but mean to their own family

  • lee

    Filipino pronoun kita – a special dual pronoun. It’s so hard to explain. Let me put it this way. It is used for two persons: the speaker and only one recipient. It’s like there’s this exclusive bond between the two.
    Its essence is best seen in the sentence “Mahal kita” or I love you.

  • http://ohsombra.tumblr.com ohsombra

    Inshallah means exactly: God willing… In spanish we say Ojalá which is a mispronunciation of the original arabic but also it has no religious connotations, it’s something more like “hopefully”

  • groszek

    6. dozywocie….seriously? i don’t know who create this definition, but the meaning is totally different. We use it to describe a punishment (mainly jail) which will be continued to the end of our life of a convict, and I think “the end of life” is key phase. I have never heard to use it in connecting with children supporting their parents or sth…

  • Moby

    Excellent…job!

  • Dani

    In brazilian portuguese, we say the perfect equivalent of Inshallah! We say “se Deus quiser”, which means “if God wants [it]“.

  • Marishka

    Here in Spain almost every little village has a local word for that concept. I like “licenciado”, which clearly defines someone who is always “snorking” people, but the origin has nothing to do with smelling. It’s very common in La Mancha, the region where I come from.

  • Marishka

    I love that one. In Spain we have “ea” as a very useful word, but it’s not soooo versatile as yours :)

  • Marishka

    Oh! So there’s a word for that feeling at least in one language! It’s very annoying just making starnge and girly sounds without a proper word to describe what you feel.

  • Rach

    theres a word in chinese that means “princess disease” which usually refers to a woman who is either so lazy or dainty that she cannot do anything herself (think about all of the spoiled kids in your life and this would refer to them)

  • Bash Fa Rran

    The phrase “in sha’ Allah” (Islamic Arabic) -used for promising- really means “after god well” ,for example when I say” I will come, in sha’ Allah” it means I intend fulfill my promise but if i didn’t god’s well forbids me from doing so for what is best for me and you – because Allah always wants the best for those who believe – .
    it really implies a great and deep believe and understanding of religion because if this phrase got misused it will demolish your picture in your addressees’ minds because they have built thoughts and projects on your sacred promise and not fulfilling your promise will be a big issue for them…unfortunately that was many many years ago even before i was born ….nowadays you use it just to get your self out of an embarrassing situation that needs promising… which is something – in my opinion- religiously unethical .

    PS. I said Islamic Arabic because christian Arabs use the word /rub/ literary means “god” and they don’t use Allah referring to god.

  • Rodrigo Lannes

    #1 Inshallah – In portuguese we have “Se Deus quiser”, wich means just the same thing “If God wants” or “by God’s will”.

  • Weronika

    Dozywocie means rather that you have a sentence given in court to stay in custody/yale till the end of your life

  • Umay

    “Ayıp” in Turkish just can’t be translated. It means something would bring -or brought- shame or something you should feel ashamed for doing. A bit like rude but not quite. For example, if you reject a present it’s ‘ayıp’. It is also used on its own to show disapproval. I’m a native Turkish speaker and started learning English when I was five but I never came across a word that just captures the meaning quite right.

  • halfadecadeofgerman

    I’m German. Never in my entire life have I heart of “Drachenfutter”.

  • Heather Carreiro

    Fascinating – thanks for sharing Dan!

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