Find Out What These 16 Wonderful Untranslatable Words Mean

There are about 6500 languages spoken around the world. Of those, about 2000 are spoken by less than 1000 people, including busuu, which is spoken by just a handful of people in Cameroon. The most widely spoken language is Chinese, with over 1 billion speakers worldwide.

With so many languages it’s hardly a surprise that some words are untranslatable. Whichever language you’re learning, you might come across words that can’t be translated into your native language.

Here are some of our favourite untranslatable words:

  1. Akimbo – English

The position of standing with your hands on your hips and your elbows pointing outwards.

  1. Friolero – Spanish

Someone who is especially sensitive to cold weather and low temperatures.

  1. Dépaysement – French 

The feeling you get when you’re not in your own country.

  1. Schnapsidee – German

An idea that sounds so crazy you’d think someone had it while they were drunk.

  1. Schilderwald – German

A street that’s got so many street signs on it you get lost.

  1. Culaccino – Italian

Sounds like a coffee but it actually means the mark a wet glass leaves on a table.

  1. Saudade – Portuguese

A sad yearning or pining for something that probably doesn’t exist, a bit like nostalgia in English.

  1. Tosca – Russian

Longing, restlessness, anguish or boredom – when you ache for something.

  1. Pochemuchka – Russian

Someone who asks too many questions.

  1. Zalatwic – Polish

Working for cash but also using bribery, your charm, friends, connections or family to get something done.

  1. Yakamoz – Turkish

The luminescence a certain sea creature creates on the surface of the water.

  1. Inshallah – Arabic

Literally translated into Enlglish it means, “if Allah wills it”, but in Arabic its meaning differs depending on slight changes in tone. It can also mean that something is unlikely to happen.

  1. Kyoikumama – Japanese

A mother who pushes her child to achieve academically.

  1. Tsundoku – Japanese

The act of buying a book and then not reading it and adding it to a pile of other un-read books.

  1. Shān zhài – Chinese

Innovative businesses that can be very successful and are based on fake or pirated goods.

  1. Shàng huŏ – Chinese

A term used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it means having too much internal heat.

Those are our favourites, what are yours? Let us know by commenting..

Continue your language learning today!

Leave a Comment:

84 COMMENTS:

  1. mirta

    Hola, quisiera darme de baja y no sé como hacerlo, gracias. Mirta

    • Laura

      Hola mirta,
      Por favor contacta con nosotros en el siguiente correo: team@busuu.com y nuestros compañeros te podrán ayudar.
      Muchas gracias!
      Un saludo.

  2. Stella M. Osorio

    M uchas gracias por enviarme este material, todos son muy interesantes. Lo curioso es ver
    como en estos idiomas Asiaticos, con una palabra definen una o dos oraciones enteras que en los
    idiomas Latinos y hasta en los sajones se necesitan justamente una o dos oraciones para explicarlo.

    Muchas gracias

    • Laura

      Muchas gracias por tu comentario Stella,
      Es muy interesante comparar las diferencias entre los idiomas y culturas de todo el mundo!
      Seguiremos escribiendo más posts como este!
      Un saludo!

  3. Sonia

    Great Article,
    here is my favorite untranslatable word:

    Sprach·ge·fühl
    ˈSHpräkɡəˌf(y)o͞ol/
    noun
    intuitive feeling for the natural idiom of a language.
    the essential character of a language.

    • Laura

      Hi Sonia,
      Thanks for your comment, that word is very cool!

  4. anna

    nesh – English midlands slang for number 2

  5. Donatus Raus

    very entertaining blog, here is another German expression you might consider “Hirngespinst” an idea or belief that lacks all tangible proof – like a cobweb of the mind “Hirngespinst”

    • Laura

      Hi Donatus,
      Thank you for your comment and thanks for the new “untrasnlatable word”!

  6. Potier Jacques

    pour se rendre compte

    • Laura

      Hi Jack,
      Thank you for a new “untranslatable word”!
      What does “pour se rendre compte” mean in English?
      Thanks!

  7. Einar Vikingur

    Here is an untranslatable word from Icelandic: drullusokkur.

    It literally means a sock which contains mud, but that mud really is soft excrement. The meaning is that drullusokkur is a person (a man, not a woman) who is very nasty and untrustworthy, although not horribly evil.

    • Laura

      Hi Einar,
      Thanks for the new word:”drullusokkur”!
      It is really interesting!
      Thank you!

  8. Ksenia

    Very nice list of words! Thank you!

    • Laura

      Thank you for your nice comment Ksenia!
      Continue your language learning today!

  9. Avinash Limaye

    For Many Years I Worked in Middle East & North Africa, but I never understood the meaning of the word
    #12. INSHALLAH. to day I got the correct meaning of the same right. Thanks.

  10. Jen

    Number 3 sounds like homesickness in English if the “feeling” is a sad one

  11. Hirad

    Khaste nabashid – Persian
    Persian expression of a nice wish for some one who has done a good work.
    The word-by-word translation is “Do not be tired” and it is implied to appreciate the work of the other person and wish for them that their tiresome goes away very soon.
    source: urbandictionary

  12. George

    1. The first Russian word mentioned on this page should be spelled “toska”, not “tosca”, which is the name of the main character in the famous opera by Puccini. It also makes sense to add that in the stress in the word falls on the last syllable – “tos-KUH”. I don’t know why you believe it is untranslatable. In fact, it is close in meaning to the word “грусть” (groost’), which is easily translatable. Granted, “toska” has a few more nuances but still quite clear.

    2. The second word is spelled correctly according to the traditional transliteration. However, to better reproduce its pronunciation I would recommend to spell it with “oo” or “ou” instead of “u”. The stress falling on the third syllable, it sounds similar to “smooch” rather than “much”.

    • Laura

      Hi George,
      Thank you for your feedback, we really appreciate it!
      We have changed the first Russian word : As you know, in English “c” can be pronounced as “k”. Probably, it is better to change it to “toska” in order not to mix up with the Italian opera “Tosca”.

      Thanks!

  13. Erik

    Onderdeur – Afrikaans

    It describes movement past something on the underside. For example if an animal digs a hole to crawl under a gate or a fence, then it went “onderdeur” [under-through]

    • Laura

      Thank you for a new “untranslatable word”
      We really appreciate your nice comment!

      ontinue your language learning today!

  14. Ramón Díaz

    What about “madrugada” a Spanish word used frequently in Spanish speaking countries but with no straight translation into other languages

    • Laura

      Hi Ramón,
      Thank you for the new word,What does “madrugada” mean in English?
      Thanks!

  15. M

    Another untranslatable word: koselig – Norwegian

    When something is cosy, nice, cute etc 🙂

    • Laura

      Thank you for your comment and the new “untranslatable word”!
      Thanks

  16. denis

    je veux à prendre englais

  17. Muhammad shoaib

    I did not know before these words thanks.

  18. Name

    Thanks,
    Akimbo ! for sure it is an English word. Thanks a lot.

  19. Nonna sadek

    Very useful list of words but it would be more convenient if the sound of letters are written to facilitate the pronunciation.
    Albakaa lellah : is an Arabic word to be said for condolence in case of death.
    Sorry for unwriting the phonetical sounds as I do not know how to get them on the iPhone.

    • Laura

      Hi Nonna,
      Thank you for your nice comment and feedback!
      We really appreciate it!
      Thanks!

  20. deepjyoti sonowal

    i like German words ‘Schnapsidee’ ! 🙂

  21. Isabella Lopes

    The meaning of “saudade” at number 7 is actually the emotion when you miss someone/something that is far from you at the time. It can even be a place or a time that you miss. You can’t miss something that doesn’t exist! It’s a very pure emotion and probably my favourite word from my mother tongue! It’s a very powerful word in its meaning 🙂

    • Laura

      Thank you for your comment!
      Definately Saudade is very powerful word!
      Thank you for kind words!

  22. Federico

    Hi people of busuu!

    Adding to Ramón’s suggestion, “Madrugada” – Spanish
    the period of the day between midnight and dawn.
    Even though I think it’s used in Portuguese too, as many other words due to the same origin between the twoo languages and the proximity of the speakers both in the Iberic peninsula and Latin America, where most of the speakers of these languages are found.
    On the other hand, “Tardecita” – Spanish
    a brief period of the day wich goes approximately between an hour before dusk and an hour after dusk. Also, as far as I know, neither is it used in Portuguese or there’s a translation for it in that language.

    • Laura

      Hi Federico,
      Thank you for completing the translation of “madrugada” and “tardecita”.
      Really interesting words!
      Thanks!!

  23. Lycia

    There is an italian word I find difficult to translate into English. It is

    Magari!

    Which means “if only”, but would be said in reply to someone who suggests a nice situation, which the person who answers doesn’t usually believe is true or can happen, but would like to be true. Sorry, but it’s really complicated to explain!

    • Laura

      Hi Lycia,
      Thank you for comment! We really appreciate it!
      “Magari” is very cool!
      Thanks!

  24. Eric G

    Schadenfreude – German

    The pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortunes
    >=)

    • Laura

      Hi Eric,
      Thank you for the new “untranslatable word”

      Thanks!

  25. YOUSEF

    “InSha’ Allah” an Arabic Word. It is a Quranic Verse (Don’t say I’m going to do a thing .. it wouldn’t without Allah’s Well”, in any contract there is a clause “Force Mejoure” … this -at its’ most- is Allah’s Well … hope you find it usefull.

    • Laura

      Hi,
      Thank you for your comment,
      We really appreciate it,everything what you said is really useful and interesting!
      Thanks.

  26. Lisa

    I don’t think ‘saudade’ is untranslatable.

  27. saule

    Lots of interesting indeed not words untranslatable themselves but also their meanings. Doesn’t it seem that 7.Saudade – Portuguese (a bit like nostalgia in English) and 8.Tosca – Russian have some close same meaning of feelings to miss smb/smth? …. thanks Busuu a lot))

    • Laura

      Hi saule,
      Thank you for your comment!
      We found these words really interesting and different!
      Do you know any other untranslatable word?

      Thanks for your kind words!

  28. Betsy

    Two words with the similar meaning…

    Gemutlichkeit (with umlaut on u) – refers to a feeling of cosiness, contentedness, comfort and relaxation. It is difficult to translate using one word because it refers to a specific kind of feeling and situation. It encompases social, mental, emotional well being, warmth, physical comfort, being surrounded by things that make you feel at rest and light of spirit.

    The Danish “Hygge” is similar.

    • Laura

      Hi Betsy,
      Thank you for your comment!
      Really interesting words! We have two new “untranslatable words”!
      Thanks!

  29. Chris

    This is awesome! I have a favorite that’s not on this list as well: betsubara. It’s Japanese, roughly translates to “dessert stomach” – used to explain the phenomenon of always having room for dessert after finishing the main meal.

    • Laura

      Hi Cris,
      Thank you for your comment,
      A new “untranslatable word”: “betsubara” is really cool word!

      Thank you!

  30. Miranda

    The English word come-uppance is a strange one, as in “she’ll get her come-uppance for being dishonest “.Has a sense of retribution or being punished eventually by fate for one’s misdeeds.

  31. Miranda

    I am really enjoying this page. Thanks to everyone for the lovely and fascinating words. Drullusokkur in Icelandic seems to express a similar concept to the Australian word for a male who is a not very nice person – a “drop kick” ( this comes from Australian Rules Football – a pass where ball is kicked after being poised above then dropped onto the player ‘s foot as he is swings his leg to give a huge kick).

    • Laura

      Hi Miranda,
      Thank you for your comments,
      We really appreciate all the information!
      Thanks for your kind words!

  32. steelydan

    What utter nonsense. All of these words are translatable. It might take more than one English word to express its full sense, but it’s fully possible to render their meanings in English, as the fact that you’ve done exactly that demonstrates.

    There is no such thing as an “untranslatable word.”

    • Laura

      Hi Steelydan,
      Thank you for your comment,
      The idea was exactly that!
      Not able to be expressed or written down in English using just one word!
      Thanks.

  33. Fernando

    The word “friolero” (No. 2 on the list above) is said “friolento” in Colombia to refer to a person who is very succeptible to low or fresh temperatures or to any slight change in temperature from warm to fresh or cold.
    Thanks

    • Laura

      Hi Fernando,
      Thank you for your comment and information!

      Thanks

  34. Guillermo Baez

    I’d like to buy a system of DVD”s toimprove my german, like newsreel with the subtitle in getrman, or some movies, stories, so I can see & read in german. I will appreciate any suggestion, than you!
    from: baez23@att.net

    • Delia

      Superbly illtiinaumng data here, thanks!

  35. Nannette Sidebottom

    I have been teaching myself Japanese for many years, and with the help of Busuu.com, learning more!
    In reading the list of untranslatable words, I found ‘tsundoku’ to be a very interesting addition. I am one of those people who have been buying books, not reading them and adding them to the pile of unread books. ~ Very funny!
    Addendum: I am reading some of the aforesaid in my spare moments. How about that?

    • Laura

      Hi Nannette,
      Thank you very much for your comment and kind words,
      We appreciate it.
      Thanks.

  36. khaled

    Hi.
    Very nice article.
    You must not miss the word MAALESH In Arabic specially in Egyptian accent Arabic…means much like “mi dispiace” in Italian but not exactly the same since it can be used ironically or seriously.

    • Laura

      Hi Khaled,
      Thank you for your comment and for the new “untranslatable word”

  37. Omar Saady

    Hi

    Nice list of words from different languages

    Inshallah means God willing

    • Laura

      Hi Omar,
      Thank you for your comment!

  38. Sadiq

    Salam,
    Inshallah means “Create God” in arabic so, “In Shaa Allah” will then be “If Allah wills it”.
    Bissalam

    • Laura

      Hi Sadiq,
      Thank you for your comment!

  39. All Graduates | Spanish Translation Service

    Thanks for sharing. This Friolero is highly appreciative that this resource is out here to help beginning translators as well as expert translators improve their foreign vocabulary as well has hone their skills. Please keep on sharing more so that others will continue to appreciate language learning.

    • Laura

      Hi!
      Thank you for your kind words!
      We really appreciate your nice comment!
      Gracias!

  40. Imogen

    I like hygge (Danish) and sisu (Finnish)

  41. Wessling

    Hi,
    I’m a Spanish speaker and I disagree with Friolero,
    we call it FRIOLENTO which means the same thing.

    Regards,

    • Laura

      Hi Wessling,
      Thank you for your comment!
      “Friolero” is used in Spain and “Friolento” in South America.
      But both of them have the same meaning.
      Thanks!

  42. Ines

    Friolero in German (slang) is Frostköttel 😉

    What I always found interesting is, that although there is an antonym for hungry (hungrig) -> full (satt), there is no one for thirsty (durstig) in German. Is there one in other languages? Maybe in one of the countries which have hot regions or a desert?

  43. Anis.akhgar

    yes it is nice list but i try to find the meaning of word if some body help us it is so nice.

    • Laura

      Hi,
      Thank you for your kind words! 🙂

  44. Marwa

    Very interesting thank you. One slight comment about Arabic.
    Inchallah doesn’t imply that its “unlikely to happen” at all!!
    You got it right that it literally means “if Allah wills it” so yes: If Allah (God) Wills something to happen [in the future], it will happen…
    Some of its usages may be: “I will wake up tomorrow at 8 Inchallah”. So me waking up at 8:00 in the future is in the Hands of Allah, as I might otherwise have a bad dream at 5, for instance, and stay up instead 😛
    In other words, it’s simply saying: I leave it (any future plan) in the Hands of the Almighty the Most Merciful, Allah (SWT) :)))

    Cheers,

    • Laura

      Hi Marwa,
      Thank you for your kind words and for all the information about “Inshallah” the Arabic word!
      We really appreciate it!
      Thank you!

  45. Mohammad Rafiq Salih

    Salam Dears,

    Hope you are fine and doing well.

    In fact, I am speaking in Pashto which is speaks in Afghanistan. The word In Shaa Allah is very popular in our language as well.

    With Best Regards

  46. lindor stanley

    nice , thank for your new words

  47. far

    Thx a lot.its very useful

    • Laura Santos

      Thank you for your kind words!
      Continue learning with busuu! 🙂

      • Dr.arniker hamsa

        thanks for all these words
        what about the German word kaputt?

        • Laura Santos

          Hi!
          Thank you for your comment!
          kaputt? Could you tell us more about it?
          Thanks!