Friday, March 2, 2012

Awesome Untranslatable Words From Around the World (200th Post)

I'd love to say that I'd planned something special for my 200th post on this blog, but to be honest, I was just logging in and noticed the little "199 Posts" ticker. My 100th post passed unremarked, whatever it was, but this time around I would like to humbly thank y'all for reading. Friends, family, complete strangers, arch-nemeses, thank you kindly.

By way of a thank-you for watching me manipulate the English language for 200 posts, here are a load of words it's impossible to directly translate into my mother tongue. I'll give you a bunch of definitions that I found online, then offer one untranslatable word of my own that I found in Israel at the end. Ready? Here we go. 

From the Daily Mirror, we have:  

Jayus - Indonesian: someone who tells a joke so unfunny you can't help laughing.
Kamaki - Greek: the young local guys strolling up and down beaches hunting for female tourists, literally "harpoons".
Dii-KOYNA - Ndebele, South Africa: to destroy one's property in anger.
Hira Hira - Japanese: the feeling you get when you walk into a dark and decrepit old house in the middle of the night.
Shnourkovat Sya - Russian: when drivers change lanes frequently and unreasonably.
Gadrii Nombor Shulen Jongu - Tibetan: giving an answer that is unrelated to the question, literally "to give a green answer to a blue question".
Layogenic - Tagalog, Philippines: a person who is only goodlooking from a distance.
Rhwe - South Africa: to sleep on the floor without a mat while drunk and naked.
Creerse La Ultima Coca-COLA EN EL DESIERTO - Central American Spanish: to have a very high opinion of oneself, literally to "think one is the last Coca-Cola in the desert".
Vrane Su Mu Popile Mozak - Croatian: crazy, literally "cows have drunk his brain". (I love this one.)
Du Kannst Mir Gern Den Buckel Runterrutschen Und Mit Der Zunge Bremsen - Austrian German: abusive insult, literally "you can slide down my hunchback using your tongue as a brake".
Tener Una Cara De Telefono Ocupado - Puerto Rican Spanish: to be angry, literally "to have a face like a busy telephone".
Bablat - Hebrew: baloney, but is an acronym of "beelbool beytseem le-lo takhleet" which means "bothering someone's testicles for no reason".
Snyavshi Shtany, PO VOLOSAM NE GLADYAT - Russian: once you've taken off your pants it's too late to look at your hair.

From Boingboing:
-I couldn't find a translation, but apparently the Dutch phrase for 'pays too much attention to insignificant details' translates to ant fucking
-Afrikaans: "Jou mammie naai vir bakstene om jou sissie se hoerhuis te bou Vieslik!" your mother engages in prostitution in order to raise funds for the building materials necessary to construct a brothel from which your sister will operate.
-German: "backpfeifengesicht" - a face in need of a fist
Wikipedia gives us the translation for the French L'espirit d'escalier, literally "Staircase wit". It's the snappy comeback you think of after the moment has passed. 

German just knows how to do excellent words. From the BBC, we have Kummerspeck, or "grief bacon": the weight gained by emotional overeating (definition theirs). Also, Drachenfutter - literally translated as dragon fodder - are the peace offerings made by guilty husbands to their wives. 

Matador Network had a list with several of the really common ones--apparently untranslatability is a widely agreed-upon trait. 

Ilunga. Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) : a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”
Saudade. Portuguese: This word “refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.”  
L’appel du vide. French – “The call of the void” is this French expression’s literal translation, but more significantly it’s used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.
Wabi-Sabi. Japanese: “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.” Note: Alternate translations I found had wabi-sabi as 'the one flaw in an otherwise perfect entity that, by its existence, makes the person beautiful'.
Toska. Russian: "No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom." -Vladimir Nabokov

And from NPR:
korinthenkacker. German:  Literally "raisin shitter" — that is, someone so taken up with life's trivial detail that they spend all day crapping raisins.
meraki. Greek: This is a word that modern Greeks often use to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love — when you put "something of yourself" into what you're doing, whatever it may be. Meraki is often used to describe cooking or preparing a meal, but it can also mean arranging a room, choosing decorations, or setting an elegant table.
yoko meshi: Japanese. Taken literally, meshi means 'boiled rice' and yoko means 'horizontal,' so combined you get 'a meal eaten sideways.' This is how the Japanese define the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language: yoko is a humorous reference to the fact that Japanese is normally written vertically, whereas most foreign languages are written horizontally.

Finally, when I was in Israel in January, I learned their word for the Holocaust: Sho'ah. It's not a direct translation, because 'holocaust' is derived from Greek and literally means, more or less, 'the ashes left after a fire'. Sho'ah (or Shoah) can translate to calamity, but the deeper translation has no direct equivalent. It was demonstrated to me at the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, called Yad Vashem. 
The final room of Yad Vashem has, in its center, a pit surrounded by a railing. Stand at the railing and look up, and you see a conical board with hundreds of pictures and stories and names, that circles the edge of the pit and continues on upwards. Stand at the railing and look down, and you see a pit. The sides of the pit are rough, jagged sandstone. It goes down and down until, about thirty feet below you, there's a pool of still water. You can see the pictures and faces and names above you reflected in the water, but no matter how hard you look or how long you try, you can't quite make out the picture in the water. You will never quite be able to see the reflection as clearly as the real thing. That is the meaning of shoah: the reflection in still water that is impossible to see clearly. 

Thank you, once again, for reading. 


Jenn C. said...

Fascinating. The last paragraph, in particular, is hauntingly beautiful...
On a less serious note, may I direct to the post and comments of a related reddit page...?

Andy said...

Thanks for reading, Jenn C! (And thanks also for the link-I'm sure I'll be spending a few hours scrolling through and chuckling...)

Anonymous said...

The dutch translation for the 'ant fucking' is 'miereneuken'!

Atlas said...

Jayus describes you to a T, as does rhwe :).

ben said...

Great post.The importance of a technical translatio being accurate and efficient can indeed not be overstated. Especially in the ever faster moving world of globalized business, successful information and technology transfer within multinational businesses can make the difference between win or lose.

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