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Can't seem to find the word...
January 6, 2013 4:17 PM   Subscribe

21 emotions English has no word for. Some things "light us up". Some things "leave us cold". Such dim metaphors only hint at the unspoken universe of feeling, dimensions we can only guess that we share. A new infographic explores "untranslatable" feeling-words from other languages.
posted by Twang (132 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite

 
The English word for schadenfreude is schadenfreude, that's the beauty of having a thief of a language.
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on January 6, 2013 [67 favorites]


Sometimes not having the right word for something is what can make fiction and poetry so beautiful.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:23 PM on January 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


No Heimat/los/igkeit, I see, though a number of words in that general area.
posted by hoyland at 4:29 PM on January 6, 2013


As far as I can tell, these are all perfectly cromulent expressions.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:31 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, they but embiggen the smallest language.
posted by chavenet at 4:33 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The English word for schadenfreude is schadenfreude now probably lulz.

I'm actually serious about that, and cite the following:
lulz 340 up, 226 down
1. A corruption of 'lol' or a purpose misspelling of 'lol'.

2. An idiotic excuse to do ANYTHING offensive or disturbing (and as such, funny) used mostly by Chantards (4chan, IIchan, etc.) Gaiafags, or any usual member of Encyclopedia Dramatica.

3. Something funny that is caused at the expensive [sic] of others.
posted by jaduncan at 4:34 PM on January 6, 2013 [20 favorites]


"La parole humaine est comme un chaudron fêlé où nous battons des mélodies à faire danser les ours, quand on voudrait attendrir les étoiles."

- from Madame Bovary

["Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."

- from a translator whose name I don't know]
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:42 PM on January 6, 2013 [29 favorites]


Just wait until Pei-Ying Lin gets her hands on the DSM-IV.

In all seriousness, though, this is wonderful.
posted by scratch at 4:44 PM on January 6, 2013


there are English words to describe all of these emotions, whether they're representing emotions that are shared, universal, even culturally alien to most English-speakers.

This project is really about emotions where there doesn't seem to be (after asking around the office at the RCA ) a SINGLE English word used to express them.
posted by Bwithh at 4:44 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is there a word for the sudden and irrational rage I often experience at the rampant misuse of infographics to display information that really doesn't benefit from being visualized?
posted by oulipian at 4:44 PM on January 6, 2013 [66 favorites]


An older Dutch friend told me that her brother's family tradition was to do Sunday morning breakfast together with the entire family piled into the parents' bed. The children treasured this as their weekly promise of togetherness, and everyone laughed and ate together this way. With this story in mind, Gezelligheid -- a Dutch word for "comfort and coziness of being at home, with friends, with loved ones, or general togetherness" makes sense to me.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:45 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I note that Austrians have 11 different words for the grief of crashing your 5-series BMW.
posted by jimmythefish at 4:45 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Chinese emotion between triumph and togetherness sounds a lot like solidarity.
posted by bzbb at 4:46 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article seems to assert that Lin has discovered new emotions. Interesting - can there be new emotions? I would say that the answer is a qualified yes. Emotions are cognitions (yes being emotional is a type of thinking!), most people seem to miss that.
posted by Brent Parker at 4:48 PM on January 6, 2013


that feeling I get when I look to the west
posted by philip-random at 4:49 PM on January 6, 2013 [22 favorites]


Huh? "Ti voglio bene" just means "I love you." It has both a romantic and a platonic (agape/philos, whatever) sense, but it certainly translates directly to English.

Also: phrase ≠ word.
posted by psoas at 4:54 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's no such thing as "untranslatable". I wish such a belief would die.

Most of the time when folk say that something is "untranslatable", they mean that English doesn't have a single word for something that another language has a single word for. But English doesn't have a single word for lots of things. I mean, by that standard, we have no word for "breakfast cereal", because that's two words.

Everything which has ever been said in any natural human language ever to have existed can also be said in any natural human language which has ever or will ever exist.
posted by Jehan at 4:56 PM on January 6, 2013 [32 favorites]


Can't seem to find the article - did we kill it? I get "Page not found" and searching the home page draws a blank.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:57 PM on January 6, 2013


Ennui.

It is always ennui.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:02 PM on January 6, 2013


I have 19 words for snow, all of them obscene.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:03 PM on January 6, 2013 [28 favorites]


"Pena ajena" in English is "vicarious shame."
posted by moonbiter at 5:08 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Psoas,

with all due respect I think you're way off. "Ti voglio bene" is what you would say to a parent/child/relative exactly because it has no sexual connotations (that would be "ti amo", which does indeed man "I love you", and therefore may imply a non-platonic longing).

In other words, if you're a 17-year-old boy and the girl with red hair and blue eyes tells you "ti voglio bene"....you've fallen squarely into the friend zone, and she is letting you know, gently.

Italian speakers learning English are at first a bit puzzled that you use the same word for platonic and possibly-not-platonic love. Even in the strongest of mother/child relationship, for instance, a mother would not say "ti amo" to her child.
posted by MessageInABottle at 5:10 PM on January 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


Is there a word for the sudden and irrational rage I often experience at the rampant misuse of infographics to display information that really doesn't benefit from being visualized?


Tufte-ing?
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 5:13 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is there a word for the sudden and irrational rage I often experience at the rampant misuse of infographics to display information that really doesn't benefit from being visualized?

That's your infograr fix. Which is two words.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:13 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Pena ajena" in English is "vicarious shame."

douche chill
(sorry)
posted by Lorin at 5:15 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The English word for schadenfreude is schadenfreude, that's the beauty of having a thief of a language.
Even though English has a great deal of borrowed words in its vocabulary, the rate of borrowing into English today is not really different than most European languages. English hasn't been a high-borrowing language for at least 150 years (long before we borrowed "schadenfreude") if not much longer.
posted by Jehan at 5:16 PM on January 6, 2013


The English word for schadenfreude is schadenfreude now probably lulz.

Similarly, pena ajena is basically a facepalm.
posted by Cash4Lead at 5:18 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm slightly bugged that she didn't provide transliterations. I hope I got these right.

Chinese (Mandarin reading)
xin1teng2 "the feeling somewhere between sympathy and empathy..."
jia1you2 "a form of encouragement..."
huo4da2 "a rather relaxed emotion..."
jiu1jie2 "worried, feeling uneasy..."
tan3te4 "a mixture of uneasiness..."

Japanese
setsukashii "missing something..."
setsunai "emotion between bittersweet..."
tokimeki "the bubbly feeling..."

Korean
jeong "great emotional attachment..."

Russian
toska "great spiritual anguish..."
posted by zompist at 5:24 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can't seem to find the article - did we kill it? I get "Page not found" and searching the home page draws a blank.

Me to. I think it's because the PopSci website auto-directs to PopSci.com.au, and they haven't published it on the Australian site.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:34 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


The English word for schadenfreude is schadenfreude, that's the beauty of having a thief of a language.

It's a double-edged sword. The English word for angst is not angst.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:35 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I read that there was a Russian word for the specific kind of fondness you have for someone you used to love but no longer do; can anyone confirm?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:35 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do articles like this get written in other languages. or is it just English that worries that somewhere there is a language with a concept English hasn't appropriated yet? I mean, does French stay up at night worrying that Swiss-German has a word for the perfectly melted cheese on a bite of raclette? I suspect not.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:36 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


The English word for schadenfreude is schadenfreude now probably lulz.

I would argue that schadenfreude is less... active than lulz -- the latter connotes that the speaker is a participant in the inflicting of the badness, while the former doesn't.
posted by Etrigan at 5:37 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, "lulz" doesn't really work as a synonym for schadenfreude. Schadenfreude has connotations that the misfortune is a comeuppance, and that the small happiness one feels at seeing it is a vaguely guilty pleasure.

But lulz is often connected to outright cruelty. It's simply the enjoyment of the suffering of others for the hell of it. In fact, "lulz" can be used to describe the enjoyment of a callous sociopath for causing another's misfortune. Schadenfreude is much more vicarious.
posted by Wemmick at 5:38 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ironic that the German language (representing a people many characterize as stoic, often mechanical and obsessed with order) seems to far surpass English when it comes to expressing emotion and range of feeling in succinct, eloquent terms.

then again, Germany also gave us Wagner.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:39 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


English also doesn't have a word for that feeling that occurs when you've just allocated your last byte of memory and so have no available capacity to experience feeling.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:40 PM on January 6, 2013


I note that Austrians have 11 different words for the grief of crashing your 5-series BMW

Fahrverschmerzen.
posted by zippy at 5:42 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ti voglio bene" just means "I love you." It has both a romantic and a platonic (agape/philos, whatever) sense, but it certainly translates directly to English.


"Ti amo" is the direct translation of "I love you". "Ti voglio bene" does not have a sexual or romantic connotation. It is used between couples to express feelings of tenderness, of caring but is most used to express deep affection and liking to family members. I don't think I would say "ti voglio bene" to my cat, maybe because I'm Gelato's least favorite person even if I'm the one who saved him from becoming a popsicle.
posted by francesca too at 5:44 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ironic that the German language (representing a people many characterize as stoic, often mechanical and obsessed with order) seems to far surpass English when it comes to expressing emotion and range of feeling in succinct, eloquent terms.
I'm pretty sure that is Franco-Prussian, Great War, and WWII propaganda speaking there. Go hang out with some actual Germans for at least five minutes and you will find the stereotypes evaporate quickly (as they do with pretty much anyone). Sure, there are some German stereotypes that hold. But the only emotionless killing machine I've ever met was a German UN peacekeeper, and he did exhibit quite a bit of glee about the people he was applying his 'peacekeeping' to.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:44 PM on January 6, 2013


The only English word i can think of right now that manages the neat package of sense/feeling a la schadenfreude is "nostalgia;" meaning the sense of longing for what used to be, which so often includes a specific longing for a certain level of comfort and safety (that we usually admit is inaccurate). Nevertheless we feel it and it can easily find our behavior governed by it.

That's a lot packed into one word.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:44 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Although arguably "nostalgia" gets its layers of meaning from ancient Greek, which is in some ways quite a Germanic language (and/or vice versa). Schadenfreude is harm-joy, nostalgia is homecoming-ache... both a longing for familiarity and a knowledge that one's "home" in the past can never be regained.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:51 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


What? No Fremdschämen? It's a MetaFilter favorite.
posted by ambrosia at 5:52 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Saudade" perhaps the most beautiful word in portuguese...
posted by ig at 5:53 PM on January 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


I love foreign words like these for feelings. poshlost. sehnsucht. weltschmertz. mamihlapinatapei... Sometimes English seems inadequate as a language for emotion, and I wonder if it isn't for cultural reasons - if collectively, the English speaking world devalues certain kinds of human experience and finds them suspect. Surely if we wished to describe such emotions in English, we'd have invented or borrowed terminology to express them equally succinctly.
posted by Wemmick at 6:00 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not that these terms can't be translated, it's that the native speakers often don't want them to be.

English can get pretty close, if the rules are single-word translations:

saudade = elegiac
tokimeki = twitterpated
viistima = vegetating

The elusive exactitude is a matter of identity more than mutual intelligibility... but that's the inbuilt poetry of our native tongues. Our languages have elegant shorthand for our everyday experiences. Sometimes we like to show it off, sometimes we'll use it to assert our uniqueness.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 6:01 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm crushed to find that I've lost a chat log with a polyglot friend in which we set out to create words for really important missing concepts, including a German word for "the disappointment that the server has carried the tray of food past your table to someone else," and an Italian word meaning "the realization that the food the next table is getting looks way better than what you ordered."
posted by darksasami at 6:03 PM on January 6, 2013 [27 favorites]


"the feeling somewhere between sympathy and empathy, to feel the suffering of loved ones"

That's not between sympathy and empathy, that's just empathy.

This project is interesting for what it is, but it is most certainly not identifying "Emotions For Which There Are No English Words."
posted by desuetude at 6:05 PM on January 6, 2013


I read that there was a Russian word for the specific kind of fondness you have for someone you used to love but no longer do; can anyone confirm?

It is a pernicious myth.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:08 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is not, however, a vermicious knid.
posted by Etrigan at 6:26 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


zompist, the word you're looking for is natsukashii, for the sense of longing and nostalgia. It's not that English doesn't have a word (nostalgia), it's that we don't use the word the same way. Natuskashii, like a lot of adjectives, is often used as an exclamation here. You can often hear someone say it upon seeing something from the 70's (there was kind of a boom on nostalgia here in the last year or so), but, say, in America, I doubt you'd hear this:

(30-something sees Voltron figurine)
"Nostalgic!"
posted by Ghidorah at 6:34 PM on January 6, 2013


An older Dutch friend told me that her brother's family tradition was to do Sunday morning breakfast together with the entire family piled into the parents' bed. The children treasured this as their weekly promise of togetherness, and everyone laughed and ate together this way. With this story in mind, Gezelligheid -- a Dutch word for "comfort and coziness of being at home, with friends, with loved ones, or general togetherness" makes sense to me.

I love that word - learned it from a Dutch friend in the past year. She said that it especially applies to small, cozy, dark, warm, crowded places. I associate it with "the stuff that will become nostalgia." It's terrific.
posted by entropone at 6:35 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you read the text of the infographic, it becomes clear that the designer isn't a native English speaker. Awkward. But kind of makes the project amazing; I would not do this well with my second language.
posted by clavicle at 6:39 PM on January 6, 2013


I have 19 words for snow, all of them obscene.

ilickyabumbumnow is one of them, right?
posted by mannequito at 6:40 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Is there a word for the sudden and irrational rage I often experience at the rampant misuse of infographics to display information that really doesn't benefit from being visualized?

Seconding Hollywood Upstairs Medical College here. The object is "chartjunk"... The sensation is unpronounceable in human tongues, and might best be conveyed in a 3D pie-chart illustrating different degrees of rage with shaded slices that don't add up to 100%.
posted by graphnerd at 6:40 PM on January 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


I would just like to mention that the Chinese words 忐忑, for describing "a mixture of uneasiness and worry, as if you can feel your own heart beat", are formed from the radicals 上, which means up, 下, which means down, and 心, which means heart. Which is quite cool.
posted by destrius at 6:46 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


What's the term for the annoyance one feels, when trying to access an article on an American site, only to be constantly redirected to the Australian version of the site where the article in question doesn't fucking exist?
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:47 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Chinese emotion between triumph and togetherness sounds a lot like solidarity.

It actually literally translates as "add oil", as in adding fuel to a fire. But the way it's often used (I'm pretty sure, not a native speaker) is something like "let's go!" or similar expressions in English. You could use it to cheer on a sports team, for example. I guess some radical leftists might use "solidarity!" like this, but "加油"(pronounced jia1 you3) is a much more common expression.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:50 PM on January 6, 2013


Good grief, the infographics.
posted by scose at 7:06 PM on January 6, 2013


Uburoivas - VPNvy
posted by Devonian at 7:07 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I want a word for that feeling when I have just done something ill-advised or stupid and I realize it and reach to click the Undo button to erase it, only there isn't an Undo button because this is real life, there's no button to click, and I feel this brief flash of shock in the simultaneous recognition that what I've just tried to do is really dumb and yet disbelief that I'm pressing Undo on reality with my brain and it isn't working, why isn't it working, why isn't there an edit window?
posted by nicebookrack at 7:10 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


but maybe that's just me
posted by nicebookrack at 7:11 PM on January 6, 2013


"There's no such thing as "untranslatable". I wish such a belief would die."

But there actually kinda is: There are plenty of foreign words whose contexts make the full meaning of the word untranslatable. You see this a lot in philosophy, where you have to use a foreign term of art (e.g. Sein) because there just isn't an English one that means the same thing.
posted by klangklangston at 7:17 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the most appropriate English translation for schadenfreude would be a Nelson Muntz-esque "Ha ha!"
posted by anthom at 7:18 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Being bilingual, I can think of number of every day words that don't translate well from one language to the other. Some words' literal meaning might work for one specific context but not the gamut of cultural situations. Words that have cultural and emotional qualities tend to fall into this bucket for me. For example, happiness & bliss are the usual translations for 幸福 and they work well but those English words have such specific usage compared to the Chinese word. I'm not surprised other languages have words of depth that English lacks.

Solidarity would be a stretch for 加油 (jia you), it's quite close to the Japanese phrase 頑張って (ganbatte) but even that's not a perfect mapping. All the English encouragement phrases I can think of lack that balance of non-committal, "I support you, you can try harder but you're on your own" meaning.
posted by tksh at 7:19 PM on January 6, 2013


She tried to translate this for me, but kept giggling, so I finally quit listening.

Some sort of undergarment worn by adult females: schtapsdhemfumflaupen.
posted by mule98J at 7:25 PM on January 6, 2013


There's no such thing as "untranslatable". I wish such a belief would die.

I beg to differ. For a start, there are words that a language or culture has no need for. Every year we get a leaflet about 'snow emergencies' (which, I would hazard, is a phrase that makes no sense to some people reading this thread), detailing the parking restrictions for snowplowing. It contains a sentence or two in several languages directing people to (IIRC) call the city for a translation, but some of these languages have no word for snow (or at least no word known to the city). How do I know this? They write '(snow)', without making an effort at transliteration (if applicable). I assume local speakers of these languages (Hmong, Amharic and I think something else) have borrowed 'snow' from English but perhaps they came up with something else. In any case, it's an example of a translator being thwarted.

I'd also throw out 'the dreaded lurgee' as an English example. I imagine everyone the world over is able to describe the symptoms of the dreaded lurgee, but if I'm translating something, how do I convey that the lurgee is fictitious? It's part of the meaning of word, it's why the lurgee is always 'dreaded' and so on. I want that implication as part of my translation. But experience shows that saying "I think I'm coming down with the dreaded lurgee" to someone who's never heard of the lurgee may lead them to think a) it's a real illness and b) it's actually serious (and hence dreaded).
posted by hoyland at 7:26 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


A lot of these words don't describe emotions per se, but an emotion combined with its cause or the object of one's feelings. That is a very silly conflation. A far more correct way of describing these are words that describe experiences for which there is no corresponding singular English word.
posted by Edgewise at 7:28 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's no emoticon for what I'm feeling!
posted by SansPoint at 7:31 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, and the other word they forgot:

That mixture of anger and relief that happens when you finish editing your earnest, soulful reply to the MeFi post, and discover that, before you can hit the send button, the mods have archived it.

I'm pretty sure that's universal.
posted by mule98J at 7:34 PM on January 6, 2013


Everything which has ever been said in any natural human language ever to have existed can also be said in any natural human language which has ever or will ever exist.

I don't know that I agree with this - it's not like there is a Turing-completeness for natural languages, and that anything expressible in one can be expressed, albeit possibly tortuously, in another.

When saying something in a language, the form with which you say it is often extremely important. A re-wording of an English poem into other English words which have closely equivalent meanings loses something. There is a music to English, and words have overlapping shades of meaning, dual or more meanings, and vary in pithiness, elegance, formality, and many other things depending on cultural context. A lot of this is likely to be lost in rewording or translation.

Not only that, but all of those things change with the passage of time. Passages of text from the past no longer really communicate what they used to.

I've often thought about old, dead languages as being a little analogous to dinosaur DNA - we can read it, study it, take something from it and learn about those times - but without the live environment of those times to reanimate and flesh out the bones of the language, it will never be what it was, and would never communicate precisely what it once did.

I'm not a linguist or a philosopher, though. If anyone knows of any intro-level works which talk about these aspects of language, I'd be interested in reading them.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:38 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I read "poshlost," I imagine a misdirected snob in a snowbank.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:44 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


A few of my friends and I also spent some time years ago trying to collect useful words in other languages that didn't exist in English. After a while, however, we realized that almost everything could be captured in a two-word English phrase. Not exactly, of course, but maybe 87%.* Obviously every word has multiple meanings, associations, and evoked contexts that aren't just untranslatable, but not readily articulated even in a novelistic paragraph. But leaving aside the fine nuances, almost every word we could think of could be replaced with a two-word phrase, particularly if you are a bit creative and willing to adjectivize and so forth. It's a fun game to try.

* 87% because, based on my limited machine learning experience, that seems to be about how well everything works...
posted by chortly at 7:51 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


in America, I doubt you'd hear this:

(30-something sees Voltron figurine)
"Nostalgic!"


You wouldn't hear that word by itself, but "wow, nostalgic" or "Dude, nostalgic" would work, I think. Or, if you're more concerned about sounding proper, "How nostalgic".
posted by wanderingmind at 7:56 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah? Well none of those other languages have a word for "krunk" so TAKE THAT OTHER LANGUAGES.
posted by Dr. Zira at 8:07 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I beg to differ. For a start, there are words that a language or culture has no need for. Every year we get a leaflet about 'snow emergencies' (which, I would hazard, is a phrase that makes no sense to some people reading this thread), detailing the parking restrictions for snowplowing. It contains a sentence or two in several languages directing people to (IIRC) call the city for a translation, but some of these languages have no word for snow (or at least no word known to the city). How do I know this? They write '(snow)', without making an effort at transliteration (if applicable). I assume local speakers of these languages (Hmong, Amharic and I think something else) have borrowed 'snow' from English but perhaps they came up with something else. In any case, it's an example of a translator being thwarted.
A quick search assures me that Amharic and Hmong have a word for "snow". Indeed, the Semien mountains in Ethiopia often get snow. I don't know what the city's translators were doing by using the English word "snow" in their leaflet for these languages, but it's not untranslatable.
When saying something in a language, the form with which you say it is often extremely important. A re-wording of an English poem into other English words which have closely equivalent meanings loses something. There is a music to English, and words have overlapping shades of meaning, dual or more meanings, and vary in pithiness, elegance, formality, and many other things depending on cultural context. A lot of this is likely to be lost in rewording or translation.
If we include the specific form of how something is said, then yes some things are untranslatable. I understand that's is why a lot of people think there is such a thing as untranslatable word: they're looking for one word to replace another.

I also understand the issue around cultural context, but that's a bigger worry for understanding and meaning as a whole. Were it to be taken as utterly true, then the works of Shakespeare are untranslatable into modern English, never mind Latin or Greek works. That is, no English speaker living today can "read" Shakespeare, as they can't ever hope to understand the context of the words fully. Indeed, going further, only Shakespeare could ever read Shakespeare, as no two people have exactly the same experiences to attach to words. Words only capture a given amount of what we mean or understand, and hold a fair deal of vagueness and assumption that we individually fill in or ignore. I suppose perfect translation is impossible because perfect speech is impossible: language itself is flawed, and words are only shadows of "things". Translations are only shadows of shadows, but I don't feel we should worry too much about their flaws when we every day accept the flaws of speech as it is.
posted by Jehan at 8:10 PM on January 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


The absolute best word for an emotion is mono-no-aware, the Japanese term for the feeling when you are happy but feel acutely that the moment of your happiness will pass. For example, if you are sitting on the porch with your wife and watching the sun set as the condensation drips off your glass of tea, and feel a gentle sadness that this moment, this moment, will never exist again.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:11 PM on January 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


wanderingmind, while any of those might work, the word itself isn't something you often here as an exclamation. The usage of natsukashii and the usage of nostalgic are one of the main differences. Partly, though, that's a difference in the languages themselves. Subjects are pretty much optional, and there is an unbelievable amount of exclamation in the language.

In other words, even the 'wow' part of the 'wow, nostalgic' is, in itself, unnecessary in Japanese, but without the 'wow,' just the word 'nostalgic' alone, as an exclamation, would sound outright odd in an English conversation.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:16 PM on January 6, 2013


We have a match for the Chinese one that's "A rather relaxed emotion and attitude towards everything, accept all the facts instead of worrying about it".

Hakuna Matata.

Sure, Disney we borrowed it from Swahili, but our language is full of borrowed words and phrases.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:19 PM on January 6, 2013


Viistima (Estonian)

The feeling of slightly laziness, can't be bother by anything. Don't want to work nor going anywhere.
The translator was feeling pretty viistima himself.
posted by deathpanels at 8:23 PM on January 6, 2013


There's no such thing as "untranslatable". I wish such a belief would die.

I wish this belief, which I've always heard stated by people who don't speak at least two languages fluently, would go away. Some things don't really translate properly. You can think thoughts in other languages that are too awkward to come up with in English. You can sort of muddle out a translation, but it often loses its poetry and depth of insight.

It's like trying to explain a sunrise to the blind. If you can really speak a non-English language, you can have remarkable, novel thoughts that would never otherwise occur to you. My experience was in French, which is pretty close to English -- but, having lost fluency in the years since, I can no longer remember the particular thoughts I was freshly able to express.

So, I can't give you a proper example, but the poetry books are full of them. There's an old saw about translations -- the beautiful ones are never faithful, and the faithful ones are never beautiful. But no translation is completely faithful. There is always context and connotation, and translation works mostly in denotation.

I suspect that the farther from English you get, the stranger and more alien your new thoughts would become.

Words don't really exist, but we think in them -- if you learn new words, you can think new thoughts. This is the foundation of all education. That's (part of) why all disciplines come up with special shorthand words, so that they can think about entirely new things. Some of these ideas are so complex that you have to learn the discipline to understand what the word means -- you have to learn the language to be able to think the thought.
posted by Malor at 8:43 PM on January 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


A quick search assures me that Amharic and Hmong have a word for "snow". Indeed, the Semien mountains in Ethiopia often get snow. I don't know what the city's translators were doing by using the English word "snow" in their leaflet for these languages, but it's not untranslatable.

Double-checked. It's Laotian, not Amharic (my excuse is that the font is small and I can't read either). It snows in Laos, too, though. How about a language without number words? (I have a vague memory of reading something about localised sign languages without numbers, but I may be imagining it, as it seems like a weird thing to develop if the local spoken language has numbers.)

However, 'snow' should work for some language. Wiki says Bambara has a word for snow, but it's a loan from French. (Of course, it says it has never snowed in Mali, but it seems to have done so last February.) Supposedly some languages don't distinguish snow and ice, which is only half an example--if you're translating into a language that distinguishes, it's probably apparent from context which is meant.
posted by hoyland at 8:45 PM on January 6, 2013


I clicked on this and said to myself 'if hiraeth isn't listed, this chart is useless'. It was the first Welsh word I learned, and it is glorious, multilayered and sad and loving all at the same time. It is intrinsically Welsh, too, in a way that is difficult to explain.

I love this idea, and I hope more words get borrowed into English the way schadenfreude has.
posted by kalimac at 8:46 PM on January 6, 2013


Oddly enough, no language has a word for "a word that doesn't appear in my language."
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:55 PM on January 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


"La parole humaine est comme un chaudron fêlé où nous battons des mélodies à faire danser les ours, quand on voudrait attendrir les étoiles."

"Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."

"Human speech is like a cracked cooking pot on which we beat out melodies for bears to dance to, when what we wanted was to move the stars."

Imperfect, but much closer.
posted by Wolof at 9:10 PM on January 6, 2013


sonic meat machine, come drink sake with me under the fading, moonlit cherry blossoms, and all of us can spend our brief time together in cyberspace's transience to preserve these many emotions into haiku form before we part forever

(no seriously mono-no-aware is awesome)
posted by nicebookrack at 9:20 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It does make me pretty grar that people seem to always feel the need to spice up something like this with a dubious, potentially meaningless claim ("untranslatable!" in this case). Why can't they just call it, like, "Some Foreign Words I Find Charming."
posted by threeants at 9:20 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's like trying to explain a sunrise to the blind. If you can really speak a non-English language, you can have remarkable, novel thoughts that would never otherwise occur to you. My experience was in French, which is pretty close to English -- but, having lost fluency in the years since, I can no longer remember the particular thoughts I was freshly able to express.

I don't know that I would say I have new thoughts in another language, but that sometimes there's a framework already there in the form of vocabulary for thoughts I'm having anyway. I can spend a lot of time thinking about Heimat, Heimatlosigkeit and the notion of a Wahlheimat and I don't have equivalent words in English. Am I conceiving of these concepts the same way I would if I were German? No, probably not, I don't have however many centuries of cultural information. But they're still swirling around my thoughts of belonging and place and impacting those thoughts.
posted by hoyland at 9:20 PM on January 6, 2013


I wish I'd stayed fluent in French, hoyland, because I remember the feeling of, for the first time, coming up with a new, French thought, and realizing that I couldn't correctly translate it. Whatever the idea was, it needed French to exist; it sort of lived in a place where my English vocabulary didn't go. But, since I've lost my French, I've also lost the ability to think whatever it was. I don't believe it was anything earthshattering, just a little thought or observation or something, a concept that didn't exist in English in any way that I could see. I wish I could tell you more about it, but even if it were fresh in my head, I would have a hard time.

I think that's why the Arabic translations always sound so strange and broken and half-literate. I'm sure what they're saying is quite beautiful to a native speaker, but you can feel that much is being lost in bringing the ideas to a new language.

English and German are very closely related, though, aren't they? I was under the impression that they were almost sister tongues? It may not be a very strong effect in that case. It would be interesting to talk to a native, say, Chinese speaker, or someone who spoke Hindi, and see what their opinions were. I bet there's a bunch of Chinese stuff in particular that doesn't come across well, if at all.

I'm not really a believer in Chomsky's universal grammar. And I can't help but wonder, perhaps almost cattishly, if only an English speaker could have come up with the idea.
posted by Malor at 9:51 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]



Is there a word for the sudden and irrational rage I often experience at the rampant misuse of infographics to display information that really doesn't benefit from being visualized?


There probably is in Chinese. And it would have its own character.
posted by readyfreddy at 9:57 PM on January 6, 2013


The English word for schadenfreude is schadenfreude, that's the beauty of having a thief of a language.

Name me a language that isn't a thief.
posted by readyfreddy at 9:58 PM on January 6, 2013


We have no word in English to describe what is inside a hot dog.

Metafilter is untranslatable in to any other language.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:21 PM on January 6, 2013


“Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever.”
—Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
posted by Wemmick at 10:25 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


what is inside a hot dog

beef, fat, salt, sugar, paprika, nitrites, water, herbs

The not knowing what's in the sausage joke is one of my pet peeves.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:30 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anybody can come up with a new word. That's how languages evolve.

Recently I invented a word to use for that smug sense of satisfaction I feel when I'm standing in line at the supermarket and my line moves faster than all the other lines.

Now I'm working on a new word to describe the smug sense of satisfaction I feel when I've invented a new word.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:59 PM on January 6, 2013


This is a good thread. One of my favorite writers is Donald Keene. Those of you familiar with his work probably already know why. Translation is not what monolinguists think it is. Translating anything more complicated than road signs requires of the translator the skill of the original writer, plus he must be sensitive to nuance in either language. Word for word translation between certain languages is not only difficult, it's impossible, for reasons that many in this thread have already touched upon.

Keene, in his book "Appreciations of Japanese Culture" offers a couple of chapters that give us glimpses of a translator's world. He writes: "I have been told that in Egyptian Arabic every word means itself, its opposite, and something to do with a camel."

He goes on to discuss his relationship with, and affection for, the great Arthur Waley, and in the process illuminates the reader with notions about equivalence between Heian Japanese and modern English. He mentions in passing that Waley could do his magic in any of several Asian languages. At the end, the thoughtful, aspiring translator is inspired to sew his lips and eyelids shut, curl into a tight little ball, and just listen to Led Zep until the mothership comes.

(I've had many hours of pleasure reading Keene's books. I recommend them all to any who have even a passing interest in things Japanese, or who just enjoy impeccable scholarship and prose that sings.)
posted by mule98J at 12:02 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


One thing we try to teach our students is to try to approach the readings we give them as a reader of English. No matter how much we push it, there are always kids who, electronic dictionary in hand, translate the stories word for word. I try to point out that, if, after mastering English •and• Japanese (because they are nowhere near, at fifteen, masters of their native language. Fluent, yes, but not masters), then they decide to spend a few years of graduate school learning translation, then maybe I'll let them try the translation route.

For myself, more and more I'm finding myself wanting to use Japanese in my English conversations, simply because some things are much easier to get across in Japanese. Some of this has to do with me slowly, slowly getting better at Japanese, but another part of it has got to be the length of time I've been living in a non-English culture.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:10 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I never get the excitement over schadenfreude. The German language joins far more words together than English, so if you can translate it into two words, like for example "malicious glee" then give English the same unhyphenated, word shoving-together rules as German, then you would have maliciousglee. "He brightens in preparation to laugh in his startling German roar, saying 'No? Yes? maliciousglee, yes?' And Mario loses a dollop of chocolate down his chin, because he has this involuntary thing where he laughs whenever anyone else does, and Schtitt is finding what he has just said very amusing indeed."
posted by guy72277 at 1:23 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The German language joins far more words together than English

That putting it somildlyIcannotmakejokesaboutanythinglikethatbutIwilltry.

I've been trying to work the word donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft into conversation with my German friends, but they usually pay the bill, get a taxi, and go home before I'm done.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:33 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Y'all who are saying there are no untranslatable words, are you bilingual? I've lived in Japan for 16 years, and been a translator for 5, but I still frequently encounter Japanese words which I can't translate, and instead need to work around.
posted by Bugbread at 1:33 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think any concept is translatable, it just depends on whether a language has adopted a snappy-sounding word for it or not. There are obviously loads of nouns that don't have a direct translation as the object doesn't exist in the other culture.

However, sometimes (like in the film "the Gods must be crazy" when the mechanic is trying to translate complex English legalese on guilt and ownership for a Kalahari bushman) the simple nature of the language makes the task impossible.
posted by guy72277 at 1:59 AM on January 7, 2013


Am I the only person who remembers Sniglets?
posted by zardoz at 2:40 AM on January 7, 2013


I'm with Bugbread on this one. Mrs. Ghidorah works in a Japanese department store. Already, we've hit a cultural roadblock, because a department store in Japan isn't much like most in the States, where there are floors set aside (departments, if you will) for mens wear, or women's, or household goods. But then, each and every brand on sale is actually its own little store, some employees working for the department store, others working directly for the brand on sale. Anything you would buy, you'd buy in that little... what? Kiosk? Counter? Desk? Store?

Nope. Uriba. The place where things are sold. I've been looking, I've asked translator friends of mine, trying to find one English word that would be able to explain the nuanced difference between the place where my wife works, and, say, Neiman Marcus, or Fields, or whatever. Nothing really has come close yet.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:46 AM on January 7, 2013


But then, each and every brand on sale is actually its own little store, some employees working for the department store, others working directly for the brand on sale.

I think that's what is called a "store-in-store retail model" (although they're just referred to as department stores). These are common in the UK and Luxembourg (and I would have thought any dept store world wide with a cosmetics floor). Is there a one word description in Japanese for this concept or is it just a retail model that is unheard of in the US?

Here's HTC doing it in Deutschland...
posted by guy72277 at 3:03 AM on January 7, 2013


Yeah, that's a classic type of department store.
posted by Space_Lady at 3:07 AM on January 7, 2013


See, for me, growing up, department store meant Sears, or Penny's. the Japanese (or European, evidently) style store was utterly alien to me. Even so, what would the word be for that shop? A shop? A kiosk? It just doesn't feel right, either word.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:30 AM on January 7, 2013


Probably the easiest way to describe it is as a department store with concessions; the concessionaire operates their concession within the broader department store.
posted by jaduncan at 4:03 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mateix; is a Catalan word which is an intensifier. It has no direct translation as a single word but changes in English as the appropriate reflexive pronoun.
And Saudade as referrenced by ig again has no direct translation but a work around.
It is interesting that several of these types of words are related to the emotion of nostalgia.
posted by adamvasco at 4:50 AM on January 7, 2013


I don't know that I would say I have new thoughts in another language, but that sometimes there's a framework already there in the form of vocabulary for thoughts I'm having anyway. I can spend a lot of time thinking about Heimat, Heimatlosigkeit and the notion of a Wahlheimat and I don't have equivalent words in English. Am I conceiving of these concepts the same way I would if I were German? No, probably not, I don't have however many centuries of cultural information. But they're still swirling around my thoughts of belonging and place and impacting those thoughts.

Interesting point. There's a series of words that cover the the nuance of something you hope for in the near term to something you hope for the near future to something you can hope for in the far future and variations thereof. (ex. 希望, 指望, 祈望, 想望, 期望) Is this a mode of thought English only speakers typically have?

Other way around, I have trouble translating the words for ethic and morale into Chinese. I'm not sure if there there is the same thought process in Chinese without invoking Tao, which adds a very different flavour.
posted by tksh at 6:00 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


As someone who frequently and most times unconciously makes up words I love this post. I find language and the process of how we get our thoughts into spoken language really interesting. It makes me wish I was multilingual because I'd have a lot more 'real' words to use and think in.

For as long as I can remember when talking and trying to express something I would come up with a recognizibly English word to express some thought, feeling or concept. In lower school I was taught, you don't do this, you only use actual, real words. Okay? It wasn't until University where in long discussions one of these words would pop out that I realized what I was happening. I'd be talking and one of my made up words would pop out. Someone would catch it a say 'xxxx' isn't a real word. At first I would backtrack until one day I asked, 'yeah I know it's not but did you understand what it means? Every time the answer was wel,l 'yes I did and then sometimes, 'but it's still not a real word.'

This led to some thought and as University life gives time for discussions about what is a 'real word.' Usually my made up words expressed some thought or concept in a concise way, in the context of whatever we were discussing. The word could be defined in English but by usually using a lot more words. This is what I think is being described in the OP.
It was interesting because my made up words didn't seem to hinder the listeners understanding of what I was communicating at all. Many times I noticed that people wouldn't even notice when I say something using a made up word.

With my group of friends it became a bit of an in fun joke to pick up on these words. With them I was able to relax and just talk and not worry about it. It did become somewhat of an issue when I started a part of my University life when I was doing a lot of public speaking. When writing it is never a problem to recognize and not make up words though I did and still find that especially when writing in some stream of consciousness zone that I almost write or wish I could write these made up words.

In public speaking, especially when it was a discussion or not off prepared remarks, occasionally these words would pop out. By then I was aware of it and people (my friends) would notice, but interestingly enough other people didn't seem to notice or at least not notice in a way that was negative. I got a lot of positive feedback about whatever I was speaking about and my ability to communicate to people when talking. I still do, made up words and all.

I still question what a 'real' word is. If it easily communicates whatever it is that you are trying to communicate is it not real?"

I'm also still careful about not doing it. Years of 'you have to use a real word' have done that. I wish I could give some examples of my words but when I use them I forget about them. I also can't do it on the fly. They only seem to pop out when I'm not thinking as much about what I'm saying but saying what I'm thinking, if that makes any sense.

I think I may start trying to keep track of my made up words not real English words when they occur. The start of the digital, online age has been adding a lot of new 'real' words to the language as people collectively decide that a word represents, or short hands some new concept or way of communicating. "Lulz', that has been mentioned comes to mind as one of those words. I feel like I'm in better company now.

I find language and communicating quite fascinating when I think about it.
posted by Jalliah at 6:07 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mateix; is a Catalan word which is an intensifier. It has no direct translation as a single word but changes in English as the appropriate reflexive pronoun.

I think this is kind of a non-example because it's seemingly totally translatable, even if not a one-to-one mapping. Equally, Danish verbs don't vary with person and number, but it's not a problem translating to English, where they sometimes do, or German, where they always do.

I just watched a Danish series called The Protectors on Netflix and an insistence that words map to one thing was what made for the most comical subtitle errors (the subtitles were a bit ropey in places). Someone would walk into a room and say 'Hej', which would be 'Hi' in the subtitles. But when they left the room, saying 'Hej' again, in half the episodes, it would be 'Hi' again in the subtitles. And yet the same people who made that clanger managed to translate the seventeen thousand different uses of værsgo.
posted by hoyland at 6:08 AM on January 7, 2013


Probably the easiest way to describe it is as a department store with concessions; the concessionaire operates their concession within the broader department store.

I'd say concession - or, if it is a more temporary setup, "pop-up store".
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:18 AM on January 7, 2013



Oh I just thought of something that I use all the time.

It's not a made up word but a word and concept I got from another language. It's from one of the Iroquois languages, Mohawk I think, though I believe it may have similar use in the other languages.

At one time I spent a lot of time in their community. When leaving I would say goodbye. Seems normal right? Not so much with this group. To them the translation of goodbye, into their language meant a type of goodbye that means you are never going to see them again. The concept is one of finality for ever and ever. Instead they would regularly use the word 'Ona' which is short for some longer word which I can't remember. It doesn't matter, 'Ona' does just fine. It's a goodbye that means more like, 'see you later until I see you again.'

I started using it because I love what it represents and that's what was used in that community. It went from being a word that I would translate in my head to the concept. It means what it means. I still use it now though mostly only with my husband and he does likewise. If we say anything but ona when saying goodbye it feels weird and wrong. Totally and utterly wrong.

With other people, especially people close to me, who don't know the word I still use goodbye but my first choice of word, but it's not what my brain wants to use if I'm not really thinking to much about it. Ona pops out a lot. I end phone conversations with my parents with ona quite a bit. I should ask them first if they even notice or think it's weird and if they understand what it means.

I do use when talking to other First Nations people I meet, even from nations other then Iroquois. Not everyone gets it but I've gotten a lot of great responses from people that know at least some of their language. I've gotten comments usually with a bright smile like ' ah someone that knows how to say goodbye right'.

So yeah, Ona. Great word and concept.
posted by Jalliah at 6:30 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's no such thing as "untranslatable". I wish such a belief would die.

Most, if not all poetry is untranslatable.

Each word may be translatable (though even that is debatable because homonyms are important in poetry and they differ across languages) but the expression as a whole, building on the nuance of each word while giving the phrase rhythm and rhyme is rarely possible in another language.
Many poets like Octavio Paz have argued that poetry is not translated. Instead the translator is asked to create a new poem in another language.

For example, lets take Neruda. A fragment of a Neruda poem, translated by Tapscott says:

loved you without knowing I did; I searched to remember you.
I broke into houses to steal your likeness
though I already knew what you were like. And, suddenly,


Seems simple. But, it might be surprising to learn that the phrase "I broke into houses to steal your likeness" can be translated literally (by me) from the original Spanish as "In the empty houses I entered with a lantern to steal your portrait"

Tapscott has made some alterations. The lantern is gone. Neruda didnt explicitly say he was breaking in to the houses but it is implied I suppose. The original "retrato" means "portrait" to me but "likeness" may in fact fit in better with the overall theme. Sacrifices have also been made to render a translation which sounds smooth in the rhythms of english. Anyways, thats just one line from one poem from one poet.

Diferent translators produce different translations. There is no one correct translation because, by any reasonable definition, the original poem is untranslatable.
posted by vacapinta at 6:30 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]



Sorry about multiple posts but I just recalled more about what 'Ona' in concept represents verses 'goodbye' as was explained to me in English. It's deeper then just 'see you later, when I see you again'. It means I want to see you again. I'd be happy to see you again. I hope to see you again.' It represents not only the desire to stay connected but that in some way we are connected.'

You would use 'goodbye' or whatever word in their language that goodbye represents with someone that you don't really care about or desire to never see again. It can be used as an insult.

That's a whole lot of explanation for this one short word.

I really don't know if this is some universal translation amongst all people who speak these languages or if it's just evolved in this one community.

I was also told by some older community members who are fluent in their own language that when talking to non natives they will use goodbye because they have too because they don't know any better. Though I did gather that sometimes it's used with a cheeky twinkle of an in joke. I found it particularly funny when I was observing some talks between the group and government officials over a dispute. I noticed that some got ona and some got goodbye. lol
posted by Jalliah at 6:46 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most, if not all poetry is untranslatable.

Aha, but now that's something else - adding another layer of complexity by requiring that a translation not only preserves the intended meaning, but also "[gives] the phrase rhythm and rhyme".
posted by guy72277 at 7:38 AM on January 7, 2013


Most, if not all poetry is untranslatable.

Better to say poetry is even less easily translatable than prose. If I am translating a five-hundred-year-old French poem, what am I trying to preserve in the translation? The rhyme scheme? The meter? The imagery? Am I trying to render the allusions into terms that will be familiar to a modern reader? Luckily Douglas Hofstatder has already thought about this: Le Ton Beau de Marot examines dozens of translations of a Renaissance poem written by Clément Marot -- each one of them faithful in a different fashion and each one different from all the others.

Anyone who has ever spent any time translating anything other that the driest technical works knows that the choice in translation is not whether or not to put your own spin the translation but rather in what fashion to do so so as to convey as much of possible as the original meaning to the intended audience.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:51 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


For Ona, could a simple "see ya" be explained in the same way, depending on context and intonation? A parting, newly formed couple says "see ya", "It means I want to see you again. I'd be happy to see you again. I hope to see you again", whereas when some bitchy high school girls say "see ya" to the nerdy girl it's meant it as an insult.

So if some non-native English-speaker asks you what "see ya" means, you'd have to explain the whole gamut of possible meanings.
posted by guy72277 at 7:56 AM on January 7, 2013


"I never get the excitement over schadenfreude. The German language joins far more words together than English, so if you can translate it into two words, like for example "malicious glee" then give English the same unhyphenated, word shoving-together rules as German, then you would have maliciousglee."

But "Schade" doesn't primarily mean mischief — it primarily means "harm." And "freude" isn't just glee, it's "joy" first.

I think you're succumbing to what I'd call the thesaurus problem, where it's assumed that words with congruent meanings are entirely the same words, rather than realizing that they're all approximations of each other and that you'd choose the best word for the task. And for "Schadenfreude," that word is "Schadenfreude."
posted by klangklangston at 8:41 AM on January 7, 2013



For Ona, could a simple "see ya" be explained in the same way, depending on context and intonation? A parting, newly formed couple says "see ya", "It means I want to see you again. I'd be happy to see you again. I hope to see you again", whereas when some bitchy high school girls say "see ya" to the nerdy girl it's meant it as an insult.

So if some non-native English-speaker asks you what "see ya" means, you'd have to explain the whole gamut of possible meanings.


To a point yes I think it could. I'm getting far out of any area of expertise at all. I don't know much about the language itself with the exception of few words and things I was told by some people who speak it.

What I was told by some largely fluent speakers is that there is much more background that could be said to be based on how the language represents how people see themselves fitting into the larger world. That many translations of words and the way they are used just don't fit exactly into English because the meta concept of the worldview is different. The one that they tried to explain, which I think that I eventually understood was the difference between the idea of an individual as their own separate entity living in the world vs the worldview of a community living as individuals.

I had a couple of people tell me that their was no real direct word that means the same as "I" in the English sense of how it is used. ' I 'as an individual. "I went to the store" would be more 'We went to the store.' Of course people would know that the speaker was speaking about themselves. Both speaker and listener didn't go to the store but underlying is a concept of worldview where I and we are connected beyond just physical self. I hate to use the word spiritual because of all the stereotypes that go with it but in a sense that is what is being expressed. So 'I' is used when using English because there just isn't anything better. A fluent speaker might use I but in their mind it means something different, conceptually then our English understanding of the concepts behind "I". A bit of the actual meaning is lost in translation because the languages developed under different worldviews at very meta level.

So Ona in that sense expresses something that relates to people being together beyond just themselves as individuals but as part of a whole in a concise way. It took me a bit to get my head around how a 'we' conception of the world and language would be different then a more "I" conception of the world and language would mean when trying to translate back and forth but it is different.

Some of the people talked about it in a historical sense, relating it to the historical struggles that came with colonization and the problems in trying to really understand each other in communication. The translated words might have seemed the same but their meaning to each party involved was different because the languages came from different concepts of who and what people are in the world.
posted by Jalliah at 8:44 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


'That feel' when you don't know the translation into English of the emotions that you are experiencing.
posted by wcfields at 9:01 AM on January 7, 2013


Better to say poetry is even less easily translatable than prose.

Well, that depends, doesn't it? I am not sure one can ever meaningfully translate classical Chinese poetry, partly because every poem carries inside it echoes of other poems, which it's really hard to reference in a translation, and the lengthy digressions distract from what is a fairly compact form. Viking poetry with it's kennings (and, maddeningly, kennings within kennings, where you obliquely refer to an event from myth or history which reference is an oblique comment on the subject of your poem) has similar problems. On the other hand, Umberto Eco's Mouse or Rat: Translation as Negotiation discusses the problems of prose translation at considerable length (but entertaining and informative length).

All of which is a bit of a digression from the point of the post -- the idea that some concepts are more easily expressed in one language than another seems hardly worth debating; whether any language has a concept that cannot be translated into another (with sufficient effort and caveats) is, I imagine, where the dispute can take place.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:16 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd say concession - or, if it is a more temporary setup, "pop-up store".

That's the individual unit within the broader store though.
posted by jaduncan at 10:00 AM on January 7, 2013


The absolute best word for an emotion is mono-no-aware, the Japanese term for the feeling when you are happy but feel acutely that the moment of your happiness will pass

This is also the term for a person who has not yet realized that one of the speakers in their stereo has stopped working.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:40 AM on January 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


加油/jiayou is, as you'll find all over the internet, literally "add gas", which means "accelerate", and its usage is essentially "Do it!", "You got this!", "Kick their asses!", et al. phrases of encouragement in English.

心疼/xinteng is, "heartache as a verb", also as an adjective.

纠结/jiujie, also a verb, is "hesitation from indecision or discomfort".

We don't have these in English? I think if you take word classes away as a limiting rule, English certainly has a lot more of these concepts. Chinese in particular likes to verb words.

I know from, because I translate this stuff.

Ojibwe, now there's a language English fails at word-mapping for!
posted by saysthis at 10:48 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


twoleftfeet: Oddly enough, no language has a word for "a word that doesn't appear in my language."

Has anyone called wossisname to check this:)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:23 AM on January 7, 2013


I wish there was a word for the feeling of realizing that you're too old to ever really grok a new language, to ever acquire the nimbleness, deft, finesse that native speakers fell into as children, and so you're left yearning like Tiny Tim outside the toy shop with your nose pressed against the cold glass.
posted by Twang at 12:15 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


@saysthis Ojibwe, now there's a language English fails at word-mapping for!

I was just thinking that! Mino-giizhigad!
posted by Twang at 12:16 PM on January 7, 2013


My favorite is "hueva" from Spanish.

The simple translation would be 'laziness', but there is more to it.

One says "Tengo hueva" the same way one says "Tengo hambre" or "Tengo dolor de cabeza", I am hungry or I have a headache.

There is a difference being made between being lazy and suffering from laziness.

Maybe suffering from is not the best way to put it, because one can also say "Que hueva tan deliciosa".

All I am saying is that by speaking Spanish I have come to acknowledge that laziness is as fundamental as hunger, or maybe even gravity.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 2:49 PM on January 7, 2013


"the feeling somewhere between sympathy and empathy, to feel the suffering of loved ones"

That's not between sympathy and empathy, that's just empathy.


but English could really benefit from a word between the two. I often feel like I should choose empathy over sympathy because of the somewhat unempathetic connotation of sympathy. but sometimes, even thought I feel like I could empathize, i.e. I could imagine myself in the same position, I still feel sorry for someone that coincides with a feeling that something similar won't happen to me. I want to be able to console someone without having had the same experience and without feeling superior or unempathic. any suggestions?
posted by sineater at 3:21 PM on January 7, 2013


sineater, they're not mutually exclusive, and you don't need to have had the same experience to feel empathetic, and sympathy isn't pity. Sympathy is a feeling of compassion from understanding someone's emotions; empathy is like sympathy's more literal sibling, vicariously experiencing someone's emotions.

I'm all for more words to express more shades of meaning. Good grief, am I ever all for that. But more words don't add more objective terms for describing emotions, they multiply the fuzzy grey spaces between definitions.
posted by desuetude at 8:12 PM on January 7, 2013


Metafilter is untranslatable in to any other language.

Metafilter has already been translated.
posted by ersatz at 2:32 AM on January 8, 2013


Jehan: Everything which has ever been said in any natural human language ever to have existed can also be said in any natural human language which has ever or will ever exist
Was agreeing with you until you dove off the deep end here.

Using only Pirahã, it is simply not possible to count to ten. That alone rules out a shitload - an Imperial shitload, mind you, and not one of those 10^6 turd piles they refer to colloquially as a metric shitload - of sentences as translatable into Pirahã.

It's probably also rather difficult to translate Bertrand Russell's Principia Mathematica into Pirahã, regardless of numbers. And I know for an absolute fact it is impossible to translate the User Manual for the Whirlpool 26.4 cu. ft. Side by Side Refrigerator into Pirahã.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:40 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


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