21 words that cannot be translated

I find it harder and harder to locate a relatable knowledge base that can provide solid academic ground for research (or the result of other people research) while mentaining a close to the young approach.

“TED-ideas worth spreading” has been around since 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design and has naturally expanded into a global community with content of high quality on all related fields.

The two annual TED conferences, in Long Beach or Palm Springs and in Edinburgh, Scotland, bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less. The result of this clash is often amazing and I have found myself on many nights tucked under the blanket with a hot beverage in one hand, a pen in the other and TED talks in my ears.

On the weekend before the latest TEDGlobal (June 24, 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland) 22 volunteer translators got together for a quick workshop and made a list of 21 untranslatable words.

The list is fascinating in it’s diversity and the phenomenon of having untranslatable words tells a story about culture, history and specificity, although I am sure it can be explained by anthopologists better.

The full word list has received the name of “21 Words Worth Spreading” and can be found below:

Dutch:
pretoogjes: ‘fun-eyes,’ the eyes of a chuckling person 
who is up to some benign mischief
ˈprɛto:xjəs

Polish
bakalie: any dried fruit, nuts, and candied citrus peel used in baking or added to ice cream
baˈkaljɛ

Croatian
milozvučan: having a voice that sounds nice and sweet
milozʋutʃan

Serbian
мерак: pleasure derived from simple joys, such as spending time feasting and merrymaking
mɛ̌raːk

Norwegian
dugnad: a planned (semi-)volunteer work session in/for a community or local interest group
du:gnad

Spanish
sobremesa: the time spent after lunch or dinner, talking to people you shared the meal with
so.bre.mé.sa

French
savoir-être: knowing-how-to-be, soft skills, the relational equivalent of savoir-vivre
savwarˈɛtr

Czech
panenka: a trick to confuse your opponent, named after Panenka’s surprising penalty in the 1976 European Championship
ˈpanɛŋka

Bulgarian
чародей: an arch-Bulgarian wizard, magician, sorcerer, necromancer, enchanter
ˈt∫arodei

Russian
тьмутаракань: the back of beyond, the middle of nowhere, the underdeveloped depths of the country
tjmʊtərəˈkanj

Greek
φιλότιμο: ‘friend-honour,’ to respect and honour your friends, the quintessence of Greeks
fiˈlɔtimɔ

Italian
fattapposta: ‘made-on-purpose’: passkey of Italian conversation, can mean any object, especially when clarified by a gesture
fat.tapˈpɔsta

Thai
tɕāj: sincere kindness and willingness to help others, even before they asked, without expecting something in return
náːm

Japanese
いただきます: a phrase to start a meal with gratitude to all: from cooks and farmers to lives to be eaten
itadakimasu

Swedish
mångata: a roadlike reflection of the moon in the water
moːnɡɑːta

Klingon
Qapla’: “Success” or “good luck” often used as an exclamation or in parting (“farewell”)
qχɑpˈlaʔ

Latin
aemulatio: Roman alternative to plagiarism: to show respect for literary predecessors by delivering an improved version of their work
aimuˈlaːtiɔː

Arabic
mo:ru:ɐ: the peak of manhood, a mixture of bravery and kindness
mo:ru:ɐ

Chinese
yù: jade, a five-stroke character representing five virtues: benevolence, righteousness, bravery, wisdom, trustworthiness

Armenian
χatʃkɑɹ: ‘cross-stone’, a carved, memorial stele bearing a cross
χatʃkɑɹ

Urdu
goya: a contemplative “as-if” which nonetheless feels like reality
goya

I have made it into a personal goal to get to talk with a native of the mentioned nationalities and have them explain in their own words what I am missing out on, a sort of a linguistic bucket list If you may. Can you think of words in your language that would be hard if not impossible to translate?

Photo: Ryan Lash, License: Creative Commons by-nc/2.0

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