More Untranslatable Words

In previous installments of our collection of linguistic curiosities, we spoke of untranslatable words in French. This time, we’ll learn some words from other languages that don’t have equivalent translations.

We all like to watch the sunlight peak through the trees and reflect on the ground, but it seems that the Japanese like it so much that they even have a special word to refer to the image: komorebi.

The reflection of the moon on the surface of the water is another one of nature’s gifts that we enjoy admiring. In Turkish and Swedish, that image has a name: yakamoz and mångata, respectively. In addition, yakamoz can be used to refer to any type of light that reflects on the surface of the water, not just the light of the moon.

One of life’s simple pleasures is enjoying a beer with friends, and even more so if it’s outdoors, under a tree. Norway’s long and dark winters make it all the more special when the climate permits such an occasion, so they decided to name it: utepils.

Speaking of friends, have you ever had a friend tell such a bad joke that you just had to laugh? In Indonesian, they call this jayus.

And if there are friends and beer around, oftentimes there is also a good meal involved. In Italian, the word abbiocco is used to refer to the drowsiness that you feel after a heavy meal.

Another curious word related to food that has no equivalent is pisanzapra. In Malay, this term is used to refer to the time it takes to eat a banana.

Finally, a word that describes a feeling that surely many will feel at some point (or have felt) if we travel to a foreign country: akihi. In Hawaiian, this term is used for those moments when you just finish listening to directions and then walk off and promptly forget them; this means that you’ve gone akihi.

As we always say, when we come across words like these in a translation, the challenge lies in how to incorporate them into the target text as naturally as possible. A professional translator has the tools and the preparation needed to tackle this type of challenge and achieve a naturally flowing text.