20 more awesomely untranslatable words from around the world
If only you could use these words in Scrabble. Photo: Jeremy Mates 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. 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. 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. 2.
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