Great Words – but Difficult to Translate

Fountain pen in hand isolated on white background

There are some words in a variety of languages that can’t be effectively translated and are best left alone for the user to enjoy in their language of origin.

In the German language, it may be hard for the German translator to explain the term warmduscher. This is a person who is a Goldilocks like character and can only tolerate warm showers, which implies that he or she is a bit of a softie.

Gurfa, an Arabic word, is the volume of water than one hand may hold. This may be difficult for even the most accomplished Arabic translator to convey, let alone an English German translator trying to translate the meaning into German!

Nunchi, a Korean word means gauging and listening to someone else’s mood. These are specific words for specific situations that are difficult to translate

Schadenfreude, another German term means gaining pleasure from another individual’s misfortune. The most appropriate English translation would probably be the word “sadistic” which, funnily enough, itself originates from the supposed antics of the Marquis de Sade, a French man. However, the literal translation is not quite the same, giving the German term its own special nuance

These hard to translate words have attracted illustrator and writer Ella Frances Sanders to compile them into a book form which will be released publicly next month by Penguin Random House book publishers called “Lost in Translation”. Some of these words are listed as follows:

  •  In Swedish, tretår can be broken up so that “tår” means literally a cup of coffee while “patår” means a refill and “tretår” is a 2nd refill.
  • The Japanese word tsundoku means not reading a book after purchasing it and adding it to the pile of other books that are unread.
  •  The Caribbean Spanish word cotisuelto means a man who decides to wear untucked shirt tails.
  •  The Dutch word struisvogelpolitiek means “ostrich politics” quite literally. When interpreted, rather than being simply translated, it means a person is acting in such a way that he or she hasn’t noticed something bad happening and fails to respond to the situation.
  • The Finnish word poronkusema means how far a reindeer can travel in comfort before needing to take a break.
    The German word drachenfutter means “dragon-fodder.” This is another challenge for the average  German English translation service provider. In the literal sense it means a present giving by a husband to his wife when trying to compensate for a bout of poor behaviour.