Find Out What These 16 Wonderful Untranslatable Words Mean

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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!

Emma is one of the French Language Experts at busuu. Originally from London, U.K, Emma moved to Brighton to study Anthropology and Languages (French and Spanish) and later spent time living on the French overseas department, La Réunion. In her spare time she loves travel and culture, crochet, cooking and singing!

84 COMMENTS

  1. 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

    • 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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”

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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”.

    • 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!

  8. 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]

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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 🙂

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. “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.

  15. 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))

    • 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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).

  20. 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.”

    • 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.

  21. 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

  22. 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?

  23. 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.

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

  25. 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.

    • 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!

  26. 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?

  27. 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,

  28. 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

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